Bellesa.Co And The Danger Of Self-Declaring Virtue

MONTREAL – By now, you’ve likely read plenty about what happened with Bellesa.co – how, following on the fawning praise of a Bustle article, backlash from within the adult industry was swift and severe, leading to an extended mea culpa from its CEO, and the (likely temporary) removal of the site’s video section.

All of this has been ably chronicled by other writers, so I’m not going to rehash here what others have already noted about the startling tone-deafness and hypocrisy manifest in a tube-scraping site presenting itself as an ethical, female-friendly porn site.

Instead, I’d like to focus on another aspect of the story, which is the inherent danger of self-declaring your corporate virtue, particularly in the adult space.

Part of what stands out most to me about the Bellesa story is the venom of the industry’s response to the site’s marketing and self-promotion. Plenty of tube-scrapers exist out there, after all, but I have rarely seen such a united front of criticism directed at such sites.

Some might be tempted to peg sexism as the reason for the rage directed at Bellesa and its founder/CEO Michelle Shnaidman, if for no other reason than the heavy use of “bitch” as a descriptor of her in some of the criticism published since Bustle ran its article. I don’t think the vitriol directed at Bellesa is a sex/gender thing, however; I think it’s a direct result of the way Shnaidman positioned and promoted the site in the first place.

When you say your goal isn’t to “dress-up Pornhub” but to “undress Pinterest,” and hold yourself out as someone who did “extensive research” on the adult market before launching your site, it’s probably best if you differentiate your site from other free porn sites in ways which go beyond rhetoric, slogans and hand-picking pirated videos you consider female-friendly.

While rage against tube sites is nothing new in the adult space, what is new about the Bellesa story is a site-founder being lavished with approving attention from a mainstream media outlet (or “mainstream media” as the adult space defines the term, at least) while the site is near the beginning of its rise to prominence.

The name Fabian Thylmann, for example, didn’t start circulating in the mainstream media until long after Pornhub had become the subject of seething resentment within the industry. In effect, much of the steam of the industry’s outrage engine had already been blown off by the time mainstream outlets began giving Thylmann far too much credit as a keen, innovative businessman, while largely ignoring the deeply problematic nature of the business model which propelled the site to popularity.

Another significant difference between Bellesa and previous free sites which have been excoriated by rightfully outraged members of the adult industry, of course, is the apology on Shnaidman’s part. Can you picture any of the figures originally associated with Pornhub coming forward and saying: “You’re right, we never should have posted all these pirated videos; my bad, we’re going to take them all down now”?

I’m not saying we should all blithely accept Shnaidman’s apology and trust that Bellesa will emerge on the other side of this controversy as the upright corporate citizen it claimed to be in the first place, but I think we should at least be willing to give Shnaidman some benefit of the doubt, and an opportunity to restructure the site as she has indicated she intends to do.

I think it’s appropriate for the eye the industry keeps on Bellesa to be a skeptical one, if for no other reason than Shnaidman’s claim she extensively researched the adult space before diving into it. Among other things, had she adequately performed this research, Shnaidman may not have concluded there was such a dearth of porn being made for women as she expressed in the Bustle piece – or that the answer was to collect and redistribute for free such content, when it’s quite clear the intent of the original producers was to be compensated for their efforts.

In a broader sense, I hope the Bellesa story also serves as an object lesson in the perils of self-proclaiming one’s virtue. In my experience, if you’re truly an ethical, upstanding business or businessperson, your reputation will come to precede you without the need to toot your own horn.

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