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SARAH JAYNE DUNN, JON SMITH AND THEIR SON STANLEY. IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY
Sarah Jayne Dunn & husband Jon Smith DISCUSS finding empowerment in MAKING your OWN choices & breaking out of society’s parental moulds.
“…You shouldn’t be doing that, you’re a mum.”
Earlier this year well-loved Actor, Sarah Jayne Dunn, was thrown into a media whirlwind when she joined the platform – OnlyFans. After walking away from a seemingly dream job at Hollyoaks (when she was given an ultimatum to choose between the two), Sarah has been continually forced to defend her decision. Throughout it all Sarah’s husband, Jon (a well-respected PT in his first year of running his own gym), has stood firmly by her side and their family is happier than ever. Overall, Sarah has received more support than negativity from the public, but not surprisingly, one of the leading criticisms was – ‘You shouldn’t be doing this, you’re a Mum!’. A glaring example of the unfair expectations society continues to place on women once they become parents; that we should somehow forget who we were before and no longer think of ourselves.
As they arrive at the studio and begin to get ready for our shoot you immediately notice their close bond as a family. After the fun of the shoot is over and Stanley beams from being awarded the star of the shoot, he proceeds to happily catch Pokemon around the studio. As we start chatting, a number of things become apparent = Sarah’s beauty is striking, and Jon has equally modelesque looks, but what’s special about Sarah and Jon runs deeper than that; they have navigated some rocky roads together, done a lot of soul searching, been bold enough to take risks and change course within their careers – all whilst raising their lovely little boy, 5 year old, Stanley.
We listened intently as they chatted openly about the turbulent, life changing journey they’ve been on this last year, and how lockdown contributed to them taking stock and looking at different options within their careers to improve their life as a family.
We were inspired by their strength and determination to put their wellbeing and happiness first, so that they can be the best parents possible to the adorable, Stanley.
So, Jon, we’ll start with you and how did find yourself in the fitness industry and what made you take the leap into running your own business?
Jon – “Well, I’ve always been self-employed as I started out as an Actor – that’s how we met. I also worked in coffee shops and shoe shops etc. Then, when we found out that we were expecting Stanley, I decided that I needed to do something else to properly provide for a family. I decided to look at becoming a Personal Trainer, as it had always been something that interested me, and I wanted to have more stability within my career. I found that I loved learning, I enjoyed the classroom environment – which was completely different from when I was at school, as I had always mucked about! I went on to get a job at a PT studio and I became a Sport’s Therapist too.
SARAH JAYNE DUNN, JON SMITH AND THEIR SON STANLEY. IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY
However, as much as enjoyed being a PT, my earnings were capped and when Sarah wasn’t filming, I found that difficult. As the man I felt like I was failing by not being able to provide enough and I took that hard. I was never busy enough to feel comfortable or safe, and I blamed myself. I would beat myself up. At that point I took a job, which was a completely cerebral decision – which kills you!”
Sarah – “Being in the acting industry, there is always that fear financially – that was one of the reason’s you stepped away, wasn’t it? (Turns to Jon) There’s just never that security. Even with a long-term job – like me being in the show for years and years, on and off – you still just never know what’s coming in week to week. You can be busy one month, doing well, and the next month, you might not be in any storylines and not filming and have nothing coming in. During those months you’re struggling to pay the bills and it’s hard. People don’t see that though, they think ‘Oh you’re on the tele, you’re obviously making an absolute fortune!’ Jon taking that job had meant we knew where the money was coming from every month, but it made him miserable.”
Jon – “Yes, and it was in lockdown that I realised I couldn’t carry on like that. I was completely miserable. One evening our neighbour, who is a friend and someone I had worked with in the past, said to me would you not go back into the fitness industry, and I said yes, but only if I could own my own gym. He said he felt the same and it started from there.”
Sarah – “It was actually over a few bottles of Prosecco in the garden during in lockdown! Myself and our neighbour’s wife were both cheering them on saying ‘Yes! You should do it! Do it!’” (Both laugh)
Jon – “We decided to give it a go. The idea is to create more stability, it’s a future investment and I can control more in terms of where I want the business to go, where we want to push it. It all came down to – a) me being happier and doing something that I’m interested in and b) having something to show for it at the end of the day.”
And how did lockdown affect you and your career Sarah?
Sarah – “Well the industry just shut down completely! I was unable to work at all and it was driving me crazy! I like to be busy and working towards something and obviously lockdown took that away from us and also with that, being self-employed, the financial side of things went too. I felt miserable – as we all did! We had said for a while that we needed to find something that I could do on the side, to help with my wellbeing during the quiet periods and also to help us financially, because of the lack of security in the acting industry. We had toyed with a few ideas such as opening a coffee shop etc, but we realised that wouldn’t work for us for various reasons and we didn’t have enough knowledge about running a coffee shop etc. We really wanted to find something that I could do alongside my acting career, with financial stability that was still creative and something that I would enjoy doing. That’s where the decision for me to join OnlyFans came about. We’d had a lot of conversations about it, it wasn’t done on a whim. We’d probably been discussing it for about 6 months.”
Jon – “Yes, we had a lot’s of conversations about it. It was never going to be OnlyFans at the start.”
Sarah – “Well we were just thinking about different options at the start and we kept circling back to the OnlyFans platform because of it’s business model. It’s already got the infrastructure in place, it’s global and it’s populated.”
Since making the decision to leave behind your role at Hollyoaks, how has life been for you as a family?
Sarah – “Despite what happened with my job, it’s been the best thing that we could have done, because it’s offered us both time and financial stability. I get to be my own boss. I get to take Stanley to school and pick him up. I get to be creative and decide on what I want to shoot and when. Essentially I’m just doing what I was before, but now I’m getting paid for it and I get copyright of all my images. It’s really empowering. I understand that there’s a stigma attached to the platform and it’s a bit taboo, but I think that’s just a generalisation, when people hear it – a bit like what I did when someone first mentioned it to me, I was like ‘Woah! No, no, no, that’s not the kind of thing that I’m doing.”
Did you receive a lot a judgement or criticism because of that stigma?
Jon – “I think people judge you more when you’re known.”
Sarah – “The response has been amazing and actually super overwhelming, in how positive it’s been. I didn’t announce it to the press so the big media thing that happened wasn’t my choice. I was suddenly whipped up into a media whirlwind. It was a horrible four weeks. It was overwhelming and intense, and I was like I’ve just got to ride this and defend myself. I felt like I was in fight or flight mode. I was pretty much running on adrenaline.
The judgement came more from people making assumptions about my role as an actor – ‘Why have you given up this well-paid job’ All these figures were flying around – none of which were accurate, but people read it and think it’s true and ‘Well isn’t she stupid to give up all that money and such an amazing job! Because they know nothing about it. No-one judged me on facts or asked me how I felt.”
How did the judgements affect you as parents?
Jon – “The biggest concern for me and still is, is Stanley – beyond anything else. And we still don’t know what the consequences will be for him, personally, as he gets older.”
Sarah – “But for me, the images are the same type of images that I’ve been doing since 1999, there’s no problem with that, because you could just google my name and those images will pop up. The issue for me is once he goes to high school because I would then be conscious of other children doing what grownups have been doing to me and saying ‘Ugh, you’re on the platform’ and making assumptions and making judgements. But we’ve spoken about this, I don’t know how long I’m going to be doing this for or where it will take me. But who knows in 3- or 4-years’ time this might be a distant memory and by then he’s not even 10 years old, he’s not in high school and hopefully the taboo of the platform and the stigma will have changed? And I think it will, because all the platforms are going in that direction in that they are being monetised. Instagram has just trailed it in the US that you can have a subscription alongside your free platform. Tik Tok are doing it. They will all go that way and I think OnlyFans is the original yes, but it will probably just blend in with the others. “
“…You’ve got to be the best version of you, in order to be the best parent.”
We have found when talking to other mum’s that there is a definite loss of identity when you become a parent. Do you think you will inspire other mums to think – ‘Yes, I’m a mum but it’s ok to still want to feel sexy and feel empowered by their sexuality?
Sarah – “Yes. One of the reason’s that I wanted to do this in the first place was that I really wanted to empower other women, to go, actually, when you become a mum, you don’t suddenly stop wanting to look nice, wanting to feel sexy, wanting to feel empowered. And in fact, with the sexier images that I was putting up on my Instagram prior to going on OnlyFans, I was getting so much support from other women. Saying you’ve inspired me; I think that it’s amazing that you’re doing this. That you’re looking after yourself. You’re finding the time for you, your health, your wellbeing etc and with that comes confidence. You know it’s hard work being a mum, having a job, trying to look after yourself and take time out. It really is hard work trying to juggle all those things. So, I try and be relatable on my Instagram and show the reality of that, by saying ‘Urgh, it’s been a dreadful day. I feel like crap today. Stanley’s been poorly. I’ve not managed to get to the gym – and all those things that happen.”
Jon – “Yes, just the usual, everyday stuff that is life!” (both laugh)
Sarah – “Yes, so I had so many positive messages from women, but the minute I switched my images over to OnlyFans, the main negative comments that I did get were from people were ‘You shouldn’t be doing this you’re a mum!’ Which, why it’s any different because I’ve moved my images from one platform to another – I don’t know. But also again, why? Who says that when you become a mum you can’t do that anymore? You can’t wear a short skirt. You can’t wear a figure-hugging dress. You can’t feel like your best self. You can’t look after yourself as ‘you shouldn’t have time for that’. I think it’s society saying when you’ve got all those things, in terms of being a parent, that you just can’t have those other things. But you can. It’s not easy, but if somethings important to you, you should be able to do it.”
Do you think we do lose ourselves a little bit, both when we become parents, and through the expectations of society?
Jon – “I think when you first become a parent you do lose yourself. I think it’s inevitable. You lose your identity, you lose…”
Sarah – “You’re mind!” (laughs)
Jon – “You do lose your mind!” (We all laugh, as we can all relate to this!)
With your first especially!
Jon – “Yes, I mean everyone say’s it, ‘Your world is turned upside down!’ but that’s the truth. That doesn’t necessarily make sense to you, until you’re in it… and then it’s too late! (Once again laughter echoes around the room) Nobody can tell you how to get back to yourself and you won’t even necessarily know that you’ve lost yourself a little bit. You have to do it yourself and that what we did. And going back to the decision I made to take that job, it took me even further away from who I am. If I would have stayed like that, stayed being ‘half me’ I wouldn’t be able to the best parent, the best version of myself for my son. And for you.” (Turns to Sarah)
Sarah – “When Jon was doing that job, he wasn’t himself and he wasn’t happy. The minute he stopped doing it, I noticed the difference. And he said the same about me. As soon as I left the show and knew I wasn’t going back. That first week Jon said to me ‘Sarah’s back’. We had both lost ourselves.”
Jon – “I think that can really be difficult to grasp, especially if you don’t have a clue what you’re doing with your life.”
Especially when as a parent you’re meant to hold it together at all times!
Jon – “Oh yeah, you’re not aloud to show any pain. But making decisions from a place of ‘oh should do this, I should do that’ is the wrong way to live your life.”
Sarah – “Yes, because (pointing to Stanley) he’s going to get miserable parents.”
Jon – “Exactly!”
And finally, do you have any tips for fellow parents wanting to pursue their dreams or change course in life?
Sarah – “Coffee! So much coffee!”
Jon – “Don’t take advice from me!” (laughs) “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, or you will live your life in a box.It’s so easy to stay safe. To not listen to yourself. I’ve spent most of my life trying not to make mistakes and I wish I would have made more”
Sarah – “Yes and follow your heart. It sounds cliche, but you’ve got to be truthful with yourself. You’ve got to be the best version of you, in order to be the best parent.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD
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