Camgirl by Isa Mazzei 🎧

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

I hadn’t heard of Camgirl by Isa Mazzei, or even what a camgirl is, until I saw the movie Cam on Netflix. Billed as horror, Cam lacks most of the hallmarks of horror other than being worried about something bad happening to the main character. It’s a great movie; you should watch it; it’s not horror, but it was written by Mazzie and is a fictionalized version of her real experiences in sex work.

Back to the book, Camgirl. Mazzei was raised in Colorado by two famous parents. Her father did camera work on music videos and her mother was a make-up artist. Both parents knew A-List celebrities, so the family was privileged by connections, fame, and money. However, both of Mazzei’s parents were suicidal — the mother was an alcoholic and the father had untreated bi-polar disorder — and both made multiple attempts, creating instability and unpredictability in the household.

Meanwhile, teen Mazzei learned to get attention through seduction and manipulation. She was that girl who took off her shirt and bra at parties, she was that girl all the boys loved and all the girls hated. She was a “tease,” romancing boys through specific techniques that would make them feel totally reliant on her then would unexpectedly dump them. Surprisingly (or maybe not), Mazzei was a virgin and hated being touched. Her seductions were about the attention. Everyone should love her. Everyone should want to be with her. Then, her boyfriend Jonah, who sees through her “act,” convinces Mazzei to have sex despite her saying no repeatedly, telling Mazzei that she needed to show her love, to prove it.

All this eventually leads to Mazzei struggling to fit into a regular job despite her intelligence and college degree. Looking for validation, she decides to enter sex work, starting as a sugar baby. Although Mazzie is lavished with money, gifts, a vehicle and apartment, she’s unsatisfied with herself. This is when her sugar daddy suggests she become a camgirl, something Mazzei had not heard of. Camming sites take half of whatever the camgirl makes, but she controls how much she earns from her viewers. Some sites charge by the minute, but the site Mazzei settles on is free. The camgirls earn tips through a token system, and can even set a timer: viewers must tip X amount of money before Y amount of time passes in order to get the camgirl to do whatever challenge she has set. Camgirls create a community in their online cam room in an attempt to bring back regular, encouraging viewers (who may tip only a little) and “whales” (big tippers).

An interesting aspect of Camgirl is the way Mazzei captures the room: public chat, private messages, texts to those who have her (spoofed) phone number, plus whatever she is doing for entertainment. You get to know the people in the room by their usernames, learning about their jobs, family life, kinks, and feelings about Mazzei. Another fascinating aspect is how much research and time Mazzei puts into crafting shows, buying lingerie and toys, paying attention to viewers when she’s off camera, research into the best camgirls, and developing her camgirl persona, Oona from Wyoming. Mazzei is going to be the best camgirl on the site, and she’s going to have the best show ever. Other readers have mentioned how selfish the author is; they’re not wrong, but this is a book that requires you to flex your empathy. There were times when I was driving and listening to Camgirl and realized I wasn’t pay as much attention to the road as I should; that’s how involved I was.

The entire time I was listening, I was entirely sympathetic for Mazzei and this journey she was on. What was she trying to figure out? Why do sex work when she had good jobs in computer work? Even her viewers would try to “save” her, saying she was too good for sex work, that they would send her to school or take care of her (they have no clue she has a degree and is financially well-off). I felt called out; we’re all thinking this young woman needs saved when she hasn’t asked. Even weirder is that the people in the room want to save “Oona” from a service they patronize. The memoir reads like engrossing fiction, and you wonder where it’s going to spiral next for this young woman looking for validation, attention, and something to calm whatever it is that churns inside her and leaves her dissatisfied.

The author reads her own memoir, speaking clearly and reading with emotional inflection that she must feel matches her thoughts on the pages. An excellent choice, though there were a couple of editing flubs (a phrase repeated from different takes) and a subtle clicking at the end of some words, possibly due to Mazzei’s mouth moving a certain way that the microphone captured. I’d hate for listeners to miss out on the author’s verbal rendition, but the small errors in recording may turn some off.

17 comments

  1. So many GIFS are running through my head right now; like if you had texted me this and I would respond with a GIF… like the one closeup of the guy just blinking in bewilderment… or the one where the guy with the red cup is raising his eyebrows, shaking his head, and pursing his lips… I don’t even know what to make of this book.

    Like

    • LOL! I can see how it frustrated some people — Mazzei is self-absorbed — but the unexpected ending gives you a sense of what she’s up to, why she behaves as she does, and really challenges how we think about other people. Do we write them off, cancel them, assume they’re “bad”?

      There’s also this addictive quality to the book, where I wanted to know who the guys in her room were and what was going to happen with them, and at what point (if) she crosses a line and goes too far.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gosh, kind of reminds me of that Belle De Jour callgirl book. How odd to make it into a horror film too! I think I’d rather read this than listen to it, as the clicking mouth would drive me to distraction (I can’t stand squeaky guitar strings in music, for example!).

    Like

    • Ugh, hearing a guitarist slide their finger on the string, especially when the did not need to move their hand a good distance, drives me nuts. I wonder if that’s the squeaky noise you mean? The movie was a made up plot that centered on a camgirl, so it was based in experience, but not a true movie.

      Like

  3. As a schoolboy I couldn’t understand how the girls that I knew weren’t those “attention seeking” ones that put out or ‘everyone’ said they put out. I feel sorry for them now, I feel sorry for ‘cam girl’, that they have such low self worth that they feel the need to debase themselves. Yes, I know that the ideal prostitute and no doubt the ideal cam girl has perfect understanding of what she’s doing and the trade offs she’s making. But how often is that really the case. For poor women it’s economic desperation; for (the few) middle class women it’s self loathing; and maybe for one in a thousand it’s the money or the excitement.

    Like

    • Interestingly, Mazzei knows that she was that attention-seeking girl and wanted the adoration and had developed and studied on methods of manipulation. And while I was sort of loathing her as she did all of this, she writes so clearly that you absolutely understand why she’s doing this. Her tendency to manipulate high school boys absolutely rolled into her work in the sex industry. She really studied and read up on how to be effectively desirable and needed by others. So, while I wouldn’t do the things she chose to do, I admire how honest she was about her own experiences. Typically, sex work stories that I’ve read or heard about have more to do with being forced into sex work, what that life was like, and how they escaped. i wanted something different: choosing to enter the industry.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds like an interesting perspective, of someone who chose to do this sort of work and could leave at any time. It sounds like she’s pretty self aware of her own behaviour at least.

    Like

  5. Great review, this sounds like such an interesting read! I’ve been curious to read a bit about sex work and I have another memoir on my TBR already, but I think I’ll add this one to my list too. I’m very intrigued by what you’ve said about the author’s motivation here- that she’s in it for control rather than any financial desperation. Sex work should be a choice as valid as any other form of work imo and no one should be telling other people what they should or shouldn’t do with their time and their bodies; it sounds like Mazzei’s perspective adds some great nuance to the conversation.

    Like

    • Yes! This one is nuanced and does not start with a story about someone forced into sex work and then having to escape a pimp. This is the basic gist of events in From PHD to PhD, which I enjoyed, but I wanted to see a different side. What other book do you have on your TBR?

      Liked by 1 person

      • The other book on my list is Neon Girls by Jennifer Worley; I believe it’s a memoir about how the author needed money for school and got into stripping. I think she helped unionize the club she worked at when conditions weren’t very good for the girls, if I remember right. Definitely different than Camgirl but I think both sound appealing!

        Like

  6. Gosh, what a world we live in! I’m so torn about this kind of work. On one hand, there is this growing movement of empowering sex workers who want to do this, have the agency, and are willingly doing this kind of work and are proud of it. But on the other hand, human trafficking is such a problem, and it’s growing even worse, and the line between willing and unwilling is so blurred these days. The idea of writing about it, and taking ownership over it sounds empowering, but you can help but feel that this girl could also benefit from therapy to really determine if this is what she wants to do with her life.

    Like

    • I do believe she went to lots of therapy later, but yeah, the main comment folks write on Goodreads is that she needs therapy. I wonder if they would have felt differently if she openly talked about therapy early in the text? I mean, it wouldn’t have fit there, but sometimes readers encounter a book in which the person lives in a way polite society considers dangerously, and the response seems to about the person rather than the work. That’s not what I think you’re saying — it’s more like the folks who hate on an author for not “getting it together” rather than reviewing the author’s book. Maybe some folks on Goodreads don’t get the difference between reviewing a book and reviewing an author.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. If I remember rightly, this is something that was treated in a season of American Crime (one of the anthology shows). It raises so many questions, doesn’t it. Even though I’ve fallen out of the habit, I used to be a regular horror viewer too. Cam, on film, sounds like one I’d enjoy

    Like

Insert 2 Cents Here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s