Feb 10, 2021

As A Kid I Was Told Armageddon Was Near, So I Wouldn’t Need A Job. Now I’m A BDSM Model.

The author with her husband, Hywel Phillips, in Wales, where they now live.
Ariel Anderssen
February 5, 2021

"I was told I'd stop aging and I'd be a teenager forever. I didn't think I'd ever earn money for myself, have a bank account, own a home, fall in love, get married."

Guest Writer

My teacher, having asked everyone who got 10 out of 10 right on the spelling test to put their hand up, went on to ask who got 9 out of 10. She proceeded from there, down to 4 out of 10. I put my hand up. I actually got 1 out of 10, but didn't want to admit I didn't study for the test. She wouldn't have understood why.

I was 9 years old and I wasn't going to grow up. I didn't need to learn to spell because I'd never need a job. It was 1986, my family were Jehovah's Witnesses, and the JW governing body was confidently predicting that Armageddon would arrive by the mid-1990s. Everyone who survived that would live forever in Paradise on earth. We were promised this at each of the thrice-weekly meetings we attended. In Paradise, we'd build log cabins, make friends with wild animals and spend our time picking fruit with other Jehovah's Witnesses. This was all lovingly illustrated for us in the Jehovah's Witness literature.

I tried to suppress the panic I felt whenever I perused the pictures. To me, it looked boring — because it was going to last forever. I had many opportunities to consider forever, sitting on a plastic chair under fluorescent lights, during the interminable Jehovah's Witness meetings. Forever meant that eventually, the whole world would be so familiar to me that there would be no wonders left. One day I would have had every possible conversation with every single person still alive on the planet. It gave me a feeling like vertigo. So I told myself to trust what I was learning because if everyone else wanted to live forever, it would surely somehow be marvelous, and a more-than-ample reward for all the activities we missed out on in the present-day world.

There were plenty of those. No Christmas, no birthdays, no Easter. Technically, Jehovah's Witnesses were allowed televisions, but we were warned frequently about "worldly influences" and my parents had elected not to have one. Higher education was frowned upon — it was considered selfish not to use all your available time and energy trying to convert nonbelievers, so as to save their lives during Armageddon. Many young JWs left school as soon as legally allowed, took low-paying jobs, and spent all of their spare time and energy evangelizing, or "storing up treasures in heaven." I banked on Armageddon coming quickly enough to save me from having to become a window cleaner. I was keen for it to arrive before I turned 16. This, the JW literature assured me, was almost certain.

We collectively closed our minds to the fact that this was not the first time the Jehovah's Witness organization had predicted the end of the world. They first believed it would happen in 1914. Their subsequent predictions (1918, 1925 and 1975) were similarly anticlimactic, but many JWs still delayed further education, put off getting married and decided not to have children. All these things, we were promised, would be better done later, in Paradise. I was aware of the large number of unmarried elderly ladies in our congregation — they'd been waiting, lonely and patient, for their entire adult lives. I was also aware, at least vaguely, that perhaps someday I'd be one of those old ladies. That is if the Jehovah's Witnesses were wrong about Armageddon. Again.

I wasn't terribly worried about not having a career. My dad, who'd grown up in a non-Jehovah's Witness family, was a nuclear physicist, having safely qualified before anyone told him that the end of the world was on the horizon. I certainly didn't want to do that — his job seemed terribly difficult and jobs in general seemed scary, tiring and not sufficiently rewarding. Rather like studying for spelling tests, I thought. The ones that appealed to me (being a ballerina, a model or Sherlock Holmes) weren't allowed by the JWs. I might as well make friends with lions in Paradise, I reasoned. And though living forever sounded overwhelming, not having to die certainly had some appeal. We learned a lot about death — it sounded awful. The Bible was full of violent, painful deaths, and all were presented to us with lurid pictures. If the price for my family staying alive was eternal boredom, that at least sounded better than torture and murder.

I might have gone on like this for the rest of my youth, if not for a spectacular fight that ended my family's association with the JW organization. An elder from our congregation told my 16-year-old sister's boyfriend that he should break up with her since Armageddon was just around the corner. He did so without hesitation, over the phone. My sister was devastated. My parents were concerned that she was suicidal. It was exactly the opportunity they needed to decide that raising their children in an authoritarian sect was perhaps not the best choice. I was 13 and suddenly we were free.

I was going to grow up after all. I'd reach adulthood, earn a living, eventually die — it was a lot to come to terms with. I wasn't condemned to eternal life in Paradise after all.

My parents joined a run-of-the-mill evangelical church, and while I found it preferable to the JWs because the services were blessedly less frequent, I remained unconvinced of its beliefs. If the JWs could be wrong, so could everyone else. Perhaps, if other people's rules were not to be trusted, I should make up my own rules for my own life.

It took me three more years to wake up to the idea of applying myself properly to my schoolwork. I realized I wasn't likely to become a ballerina (I'm 6′2″) or a model or a fictional Victorian detective, so at 16, I started doing homework and studying for exams for the first time in my life. I turned out to be good at it. Almost overnight I became a straight-A student. I was offered a spot at a London drama school and I took it.

Four years after graduating, I stumbled into an underground art gallery in London and found myself standing amongst life-sized bondage sculptures. An artist approached me and it turned out that 9-year-old me had been right — I could be a model after all. Specifically, a BDSM model. I'd always been fascinated with stories about captivity, authority and punishment, but I hadn't dreamed that it might be a bona fide sexual identity that others shared.

The JWs had taught me that almost everything a person could want was wrong. Especially anything sexual. Gay sex? Wrong. Oral sex? Wrong. Masturbation? Wrong. Sex outside marriage? Wrong. They hadn't seen fit to counsel us on whether modeling bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism was wrong too, but I could figure it out. It'd be wrong. But if it was what I wanted to do (and it was), I realized I could decide for myself how to approach it in a way that I could be proud of.

Be honest, I thought. I wanted to represent my sexuality truthfully. I was tall and statuesque, so people wanted to cast me as a domme, but I was submissive. I only accepted work if it represented who I was, not what people wished I were. It paid off. After being turned down for submissive roles early on, I discovered that by publishing reviews of shoots I'd enjoyed, producers who subsequently booked me would know more about the things I liked and could do well.

Consequently, my work reflected me. The more I shared of myself with others, the more it encouraged the people I encountered to share their stories with me. I made the best friends I'd had in my life, especially compared with my JW friendships, where we'd all been intent on not showing weakness or vulnerability, lest we be judged.

Do no harm, I thought. I wanted to put work into the world that portrayed male dominance and female submission. I was worried about the impact it would have on people who found the images disturbing. I realized I needed everyone to know that it only represented my sexual tastes, not my worldview. If I wanted to produce BDSM images, I needed to also be a good friend to other women and to be the best feminist I could.

Leave things better than you found them, I thought. As I got older and started hiring performers for my own productions, I tried to be the fairest and kindest employer that I could be. I paid everyone equally and factored performers' interests into my shoot plans. I decided to help every new model I encountered to navigate the industry safely. I eventually set up a YouTube channel dedicated to this.

I couldn't be perfect and I couldn't earn a place in Paradise. My own expectations were less grand but still meaningful to me. I tried to be honest, to do no harm, to leave people in a better state for having known me. With this in my mind, I was relatively unmoved by occasional poor reactions from family members to my career. I was a pornographer of sorts, but being an ethical pornographer is something I will never feel ashamed of. And 9-year-old me would be flabbergasted to discover that we can work hard when we know we're shaping our own future. I can't imagine she'd be ashamed of me. I want to call back through the years and tell her she will be a model after all — and that it would probably be useful if she paid some attention to her multiplication tables.

Seventeen years later, I'm still a BDSM model and filmmaker, married to a bondage photographer, and happily atheist — no eternity for me. I acknowledge that growing up in an apocalyptic sect was perhaps not the most healthy start to life. Yet I cannot regret the things that I learned and unlearned as a Jehovah's Witness and then ex-Jehovah's Witness.

Firstly, my life truly exceeds my expectations every day. I didn't think I'd ever earn money for myself, have a bank account, own a home, fall in love, get married. I was told I'd stop aging when Armageddon came and I'd be a teenager forever. Growing up — and growing older — comes with inconveniences, illnesses and fears. But they're also privileges of a sort, as is the whole human experience, complete with joy, grief and challenges to overcome.

Having spent my childhood feeling there was no point in excelling at anything, I learned that there is every point. You are the captain of the ship that is your life and working hard will make you a better captain — your voyage will be more rewarding for it. God will not fix it for me so that I can live in a log cabin with a tame lion in the backyard. If I want a cabin, and indeed a backyard, I will have to earn it with my own skills. Believing in Armageddon's imminence, childhood me felt nothing I wanted was possible. In contrast, now I feel as though everything is possible. But I'll have to get it for myself. The independence remains intoxicating.

Death is tricky. I was brought up to believe that I'd never die. Coming to terms with the idea of my own eventual death, and that of everyone I love, was difficult at age 13. As Jehovah's Witnesses, we saw our current existence as a sort of warmup — a qualifying stage, perhaps. The main event would be Paradise. But now, I recognize that I probably have just one shot at life. Everything I want to achieve, I must do now, because there likely isn't another chance. The people whom I want to feel loved by me, I must love them now, as completely as I can. I remember those elderly Jehovah's Witness ladies, waiting forever for Paradise, not marrying, not having careers or children. I will not wait for Paradise. I am making my own right now.

Ariel Anderssen is a classically trained actress and submissive BDSM model, filmmaker and writer based in the U.K. You can find her on Twitter at @ArielAnderssen. She publishes advice for models on her YouTube channel, Ariel's Twilight Years. Her website is www.arielanderssenauthor.com and she replies to all (sensible) emails. Her email address is kinkyarielanderssen@gmail.com.


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