Back in 2018, Diana Deets, a cam performer, was burnt out. She’d been camming for a few years and had amassed 700,000 followers on Instagram — an impressive following, though not necessarily superstar status. But she was famous enough to be recognized when she went out in public, something that terrified her as a sex worker who highly valued her and her family’s privacy; plus, she was exhausted from performing long hours on cam and sick of fending off constant critiques about her face and body in real time while streaming. “I did get tired of people commenting on my looks when I was camming,” she tells Rolling Stone. “It kinda bothered me.”
An aspiring artist, Deets attempted to make a living by selling her acrylic paintings, but it wasn’t quite enough to totally supplement her income. “At that point, I was like, ‘How can I make money off my art?’ and that’s how I decided to do digital art,” she says. “And that’s how I created Coconut Kitty.”
“Coconut Kitty,” or @coconutkitty143, as she is known on Instagram, is a hugely popular Instagram model and creator on OnlyFans, a subscription-based platform popular among NSFW creators that allows influencers to directly monetize content. In her photos, Coconut Kitty’s face is essentially a heavily edited version of Deets’: She has enormous, saucerlike eyes, a smattering of freckles on her cheeks and nose, and cascades of mermaid-length hair. Significantly, she looks young — much younger than Deets herself, though Deets refused to reveal her real age to Rolling Stone, deeming it “irrelevant.” “I wanted to make something that looked like a real-life anime character — small chin, big eyes — that was made in my likeness, because I use a picture of myself and I edit it,” Deets explains. “I just wanted to create a fantasy, just a character. And I was able to hide my identity and still make money off my art.”
Deets says she wasn’t shy about the fact that she heavily edited her image, referring to her profession as “art and magic” in her Instagram bio and not deleting older photos on her page. She had some reservations about editing her own face to such an extent — mostly about promoting unrealistic or unhealthy beauty standards — but she figured all the big magazines used tools like Photoshop so why couldn’t she? Plus, using a heavily filtered version of her own face helped distance herself from some of the painful critiques she would get while camming. “Whether they say you’re pretty or ugly or your boobs are lopsided or this or that, it doesn’t matter because it was literally a character I created,” Deets says. Coconut Kitty “gave me an opportunity to disassociate myself” from the criticism.
The gambit worked: On Instagram alone, Coconut Kitty has amassed more than 3 million followers, and 11,000 on OnlyFans. But she says she never could have anticipated that by editing her photos to look younger, she would be accused of exploiting and grooming minors while receiving a barrage of death threats, and launching a conversation about internet minor safety and sex work. More broadly, the controversy surrounding Coconut Kitty’s Instagram presence has raised questions about the ever-fluctuating lines between fantasy and reality on social media, and the ethics of representing yourself as something you decidedly are not — even when, as an influencer with a large platform, misrepresentation is sort of, kind of, part of the gig.
“People are taking these pictures of me and creating a story they thought would go viral,” Deets says. “And they were right, and it did.”
Last June, a TikTok creator named Bekah Day was perusing Reddit’s “Instagram versus reality” forum to find content ideas for her page. A 24-year-old mom from Ohio, Day became popular on TikTok for her ongoing series with the same name, and she saw that a number of people had posted side-by-side photos of older photos of Deets, juxtaposed next to newer ones after she started going by Coconut Kitty.
Day tells Rolling Stone that she was shocked by how young Deets looked in the edited photos, particularly since she made a living making NSFW, sexually explicit content. Though her body looked like that of a fully mature woman, her face, Day thought, made her look like she was 14 or 15. “For me it posed the question: Does this [content] bait a certain demographic of people?” Day says. “She provides a look that is a woman’s body and a very young face. She is baiting slightly, I think, people who want to exploit children, and I think it can be very dangerous.”
Anyone familiar with the internet ecosystem knows that it’s common for creators to use apps to edit their photos, sometimes very heavily. Although there are many Instagram accounts calling out influencers for excessively depending on such tools, it’s essentially an open secret that influencers with a substantial number of followers do so. Virtual influencers like Lil Miquela, a computer-generated image with more than 3 million followers (who actually resembles Deets facially, though the team behind Lil Miquela does not post NSFW content), more explicitly toe the line between fantasy and reality.
Further, it’s common for young-looking (or even actual minor) creators to cater to followers’ barely-legal fantasies by posting highly sexualized images on the internet, “a very weird but also super popular current niche of a youthful face and a grown woman’s body,” says adult creator Jane Wilde. “It’s something that I see a lot of influencers doing with editing, and even the ones that are still underage like Malu [Trevejo],” a now-18-year-old Cuban singer with more than 10 million Instagram followers who has received extensive criticism for posting images of herself scantily clad. Another prominent example of this trend is Belle Delphine, the sex worker who famously sold “gamer-girl bathwater” and regularly wears fake braces and puts her hair in pigtails in her posts.
Yet Day thought that Deets’ content crossed a line. On June 24th, she posted a TikTok calling out Deets for “creating fuel for p-words [pedophiles] and profiting off of it,” alleging that she used FaceApp and Snapchat filters to “completely change her facial structure to look like a young teenager.” Day’s TikTok amassed more than three million views and prompted a wide range of responses, most of them condemning Deets by accusing her of catfishing pedophiles — a.k.a. “pedofishing” or “pedobaiting” — with her NSFW images. TikToker Neil Diemond made a video accusing Deets of using the “child” filter on FaceApp to edit her features, something Deets staunchly denies, saying she interpreted the allegation as a criticism of her editing skills: “I’m not gonna give away my full secrets of editing. However, I will say I do not use the child filter — I don’t use FaceApp,” she says. “My editing is done by hand. It didn’t look anything like it.”
Even antitrafficking crusaders on Instagram got in on the discussion, using the controversy surrounding Deets as an opportunity to further promote an anti-porn, anti-sex work agenda. Kate J. Oseen, an Instagram creator and anti-porn advocate with more than 64,000 followers who markets herself as an “anti-trafficking ally,” accused Deets of “grooming” underage young women on social media to join OnlyFans, citing a tweet she had posted asking models with more than 700,000 followers on Instagram to reach out to her for a “business opportunity.” “She catfishes young girls to think they can be on OnlyFans like her — grooming,” she said in her post. (Deets rejected the claim that she was “grooming” young women, saying she was looking for another model to co-host a car event with her, an event that she is publicly promoting on Instagram. “I wouldn’t do anything in an unsafe environment, and I wouldn’t attend myself if I was unsafe,” she says. “And I wouldn’t do that to someone else if it was unsafe for them.”)
Day’s TikTok is not the first time someone has called Deets out for augmenting her appearance to such a degree. Deets’ changing appearance has been a heated topic of discussion on Reddit for some time, and in November of last year, drama channel Ready to Glare uploaded a video calling her out for sexualizing minors in her content, going back in her Instagram posts to point out how, from 2018 onwards, Deets looks progressively younger and younger. “If you decide to edit your pictures to the point where you go from 25 [or] 30 to 15, I already find that a little bit uncomfortable,” she says in her video.
But Deets says Day’s video, given the seriousness of the allegations made therein, prompted a barrage of harassment to her main account unlike what she had ever received before. She says she is overwhelmed by comments from people accusing her of “pedofishing” and has received many death threats over the past few weeks, as well as messages from many people reporting her account and trying to get it taken down (it has not been removed by Instagram because, she says, she has not violated any guidelines). Deets says it had never occurred to her in a million years that the Coconut Kitty “character,” as she calls it, could be called out for appealing to pedophilic fantasies. “It’s not until people see I could be an older woman that they want to actually say I look like a minor,” she says, citing her “tattoos, huge fake boobs, huge butt.” “No one thought this was minor material until someone put this storyline out there. This is how fast false information spreads.”
Of course, even if Deets isn’t editing her own image to look like a minor, she is editing her own image to make herself look younger — a fairly common, if not somewhat controversial, trope in the adult industry, in which age play is a popular subgenre. “It gets into such a yucky morally gray area,” says OnlyFans creator Savannah Solo, pointing to the preponderance of “teen” or “barely legal” videos on Pornhub featuring performers in their 20s pretending to be teenagers. “Age play has existed forever and it’s not for everyone, but what happens between consenting adults is their business,” she says.
Deets denies that she’s trying to cultivate an audience that is attracted to very young women, claiming she intended Coconut Kitty merely as a generic bombshell figure and that she has never marketed herself as a teenager. “How old is Jessica Rabbit, do you know? Is Jessica Rabbit her real name?” she asks me rhetorically. “The character I have created is no different.” Given that her general aesthetic is less Lolita and more Rock of Love contestant, that argument does hold some water; furthermore, though Day and other TikTokers have cited lewd and pedophilic comments in Coconut Kitty’s page, I could find very few that deviated from the template for generic expressions of internet horniness. When I put her unedited photos into FaceApp and applied the child filter, they did not look at all like her Coconut Kitty persona. While that’s not to say there are no minor-attracted people following her page, it suggests the criticism that she was intentionally trying to cultivate such a following may have been exaggerated.
Indeed, Deets and other NSFW creators believe that the fact she was singled out for such criticism of her content speaks to a larger issue: the growing demonization of sex workers on social media, particularly on TikTok, which is often referred to as a “kids’ app” despite the fact that roughly 30 percent of its user base in the United States is between the ages of 20 and 29. “Sex work is a heightened job, and there is extra scrutiny toward any issue in sex work,” she says. “It’s hypersensitized, and everything is looked at with more scrutiny because of that.”
Fellow OnlyFans creator and adult-content creator Allie Eve Knox does not agree with Deets’ use of heavy editing in her content, calling it “fucking bizarre and incredibly unhealthy that [Deets] is literally transforming herself into another super young-looking different person.” But she also believes much of the outrage stems from her being a sex worker. “We are under a microscope constantly, especially on social media,” Knox says. At the end of the day, the extremely heavy level of editing “isn’t any different than a celebrity photoshopping their photos or claiming that exercise is what got them their frame instead of a BBL [Brazilian butt lift]. She just happens to be a sex worker so the microscope is even brighter.”
Because TikTok is so often associated with minors, there’s been growing discussion on the app whether it’s appropriate for sex workers to even be active on the platform. There’s been particular scrutiny on OnlyFans creators who use the app to boast about their earnings, which some people have classified as a method of “grooming” underage girls to join the platform. Wilde says this is a legitimate issue on TikTok in particular, where there is a small contingent of OnlyFans creators and “sugar babies” posting tips and tricks for how to make money under the guise of providing “education.” “The whole presence of OnlyFans and sugar-baby education on TikTok is inherently problematic,” she says.
Ultimately, this appears to be the real issue that people have with Deets’ content: not that it “baits” people who are attracted to minors, but that it speaks to a general cultural valorization of youth and beauty above all else, as well as the extreme pressures content creators face to adhere to increasingly youthful ideals of beauty. If you look at photos of Deets at the bottom of her Instagram feed, before she began posting as Coconut Kitty, what’s most striking is how incredibly beautiful she is without using any filters, even if she lacks the dewy, rosy-cheeked, hyperedited, Pixaresque features of her current persona. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would go to such great lengths to create these features, until you consider that many influencers of all ages spend either hours and hours editing or hundreds of thousands of dollars in surgery to attain them.
Many of the social media creators I spoke with expressed befuddlement that Deets went to such great lengths to metamorphose into Coconut Kitty without editing her earlier images of what she “naturally” looks like, thus lifting the curtain on the illusion (though to be fair, Deets says those earlier images are edited, too, just not to such an extreme degree). Deets says she left the earlier images up on social media on purpose, as a way to leave breadcrumbs to her fans as to the intent behind the character. She denies that Coconut Kitty stemmed from any deeply rooted self-esteem issues (though she admits she struggled with depression when she was younger, and the fact that she says she created the persona as a way to distance herself from the body criticism she received suggests it cut her much more deeply than she may be willing to admit).
Deets also believes that she is being unfairly singled out, particularly when she is far from the only influencer to edit her own image to such a degree. “Is there an actual ‘You can’t cross this limit on editing now? You can only do so much editing, and once you cross this line you’re in trouble?'” she says. “No, there are no rules in art. You don’t go, ‘Oh, you painted that wrong.’ I made a character that I thought was in my likeness anime-style, that I thought was pretty. It’s as simple as that.”
But of course, it’s never as simple as that, because even if Deets is not explicitly catering to people who are attracted to very young women — an audience that existed long before Coconut Kitty did — she is directly profiting off of this demand, and changing her image in fairly radical ways to do so. Whether or not it is intended as a performance-art piece of sorts or a clever obfuscation to protect her privacy is almost beside the point. When she was making her video, Day says, she often asked herself, “‘Why does she need to do this?’ [And] a lot of the answers come back to the market, the consumer, and [creators] doing things to appease that consumer.” As if to underscore that point, Deets says some people in her comments aren’t angry at her for “pedobaiting” or “pedofishing.” To them, the real ethical violation is her being an older woman, using widely available technology to masquerade as a younger woman. “I think why people are so mad is because it looks so real, but what is good art? What is a good realism art piece? It tricks the person looking at it, that it looks real,” she says.
By raising the curtain on the illusion once and for all, Deets says she’s not concerned about her business being affected; she hasn’t lost any followers, she says, and she’s still regularly posting photos as Coconut Kitty. She’s not worried about ruining the fantasy, because, she says, she was clear from the very beginning that’s exactly what it was. And besides, she says, “the fantasy is not made by me. It was made by the fans.”