All images by Zachary Tang; screenshots from Lola’s Instagram.
Thousands of people know what Lola Woo looks like semi-naked, but there’s much more to her they haven’t seen. Here are some things I’ve learned about her, better known as beforeiko to her legions of followers (and not a few lurkers) on Instagram, TikTok, and OnlyFans.
One, her name isn’t Reiko, although people often think it is. Her handle actually stands for ‘before I K.O.’ Still, people who recognise her on the street—she finds this weird—tend to call her ‘Reiko’, or ‘Before Reiko’, though nothing beats the time someone called her ‘Before’.
Two, she chose Lola as her alias because of its association with sexually provocative femme fatales. Over a Grab ride back to her house, she rattles them off to me: Lola Bunny, Lolita of the Nabokov novel and Kubrick film, Barry Manilow’s Copacabana showgirl, and the sultry fish voiced by Angelina Jolie in Shark Tale. It doesn’t occur to me till much later that two of these are cartoons, and most of these references are decades older than she is.
Three, she doesn’t like her real name, which I promised I wouldn’t reveal. It’s extremely distinctive, and for the purposes of this article, I’m just going to use Kim. But even if you Googled her full name, nothing would turn up, which is precisely the way she likes it.
“It’s just easier to be known as Lola to people I don’t know, you know?” she said. “Lola is the safe default. If I don’t get good vibes from you, it’s Lola. Only a few people know me as Kim.”
Which makes me wonder: who is Kim, and will I get to meet her? Who does she exist to, and how much does she have in common with her online alter ego?
When Zac, my photographer, and I first reached out to Lola, we’d planned to interview her for a feature on OnlyFans, the content subscription platform infamous for its explicit content (think Patreon, but for porn). To get in touch, we had to go through her best friend/PA, Nicole, who arranged for us to meet them over coffee.
On talking to Lola, all the questions we’d come in with—about the expression vs. objectification debate and why young women seemed to be flocking to the platform—quickly seemed irrelevant.
From what we’d come across online, most local OnlyFans creators looked like doe-eyed, barely legal XMMs who had graduated from raunchy dancing on TikTok to actual R-rated content. Lola, while clearly a Gen Z-er, sported dark eyeliner and voluminous hair reminiscent of Amy Winehouse. Although her content was NSFW, it was often stylised and almost always tongue-in-cheek, as if she found making it a private joke that she reserved the right to laugh at.
Zac and I get a first-hand reminder of this when we catch up with Lola and Nicole several weeks later. They’ve invited us to spend the day with them, starting with Lola’s appointment at a hair salon, which is how we end up admiring her latest video over her shoulder while a stylist paints purple streaks into her hair.
It’s a music video set to Elenore by The Turtles (Lola likes music from the ‘60s and ‘70s). She plays a haughty dominatrix in cat-eye sunglasses and a floral dress (‘The Princess’), while a friend of Nicole’s plays her hapless admirer (‘The Simp’).
The overall effect is ridiculous and fantastic, part Tarantino Western, part Tumblr humour. There are references to the peach scene in Call Me By Your Name and 2D special effects. Even the shots of Lola’s cleavage as she runs down the beach in slow-mo, or of her aggressively licking raspberries off her fingers, are more kitsch than erotic. The editing is impressively tight.
“Actually quite well shot sia,” remarks Zac.
Both of us are too entertained to find it titillating. It’s not even weird that we’ve watched it with her right next to us, or that the stylist has been sneaking a peek too.
Lola set up her OnlyFans fairly recently, around the end of 2020. She started out by selling her underwear on Carousell as a joke, but upon realising that people were genuinely into it and there was good money to be made, decided to give OnlyFans a try. Recently, Gerrie Lim, the author of several books on the local sex industry, reached out to her to chat about the evolving landscape of sex work.
Although she still sees OnlyFans as a bit of a lark, it’s also become a business which requires effort, planning and marketing, from staging shoots to replying to DMs.
At our first meeting, Lola explained how long-term subscribers were far more valuable, as well as much harder to retain (lots of people on the platform are just lurkers looking for nudes). In order to stand out, she had to create content which shows off her personality, and provides entertainment value rather than being straight-up porn. (It’s worked; one of her more recent photo bundles, of her dressed up as a fairy, made her a few thousand dollars.) From what she can tell, most of her subscribers are in their 20s and 30s.
Similarly, her refusal to post nudes is a strategic choice—a way to keep people coming back in the hope she’ll take her clothes off one day, like Lola Bunny dangling a carrot in front of Bugs.
When I asked if she ever will, the answer was a firm no. Although she has no issues with calling her work soft porn, there are lines she won’t cross in order to stay safe.
“I get a lot of DMs from girls asking for advice about starting an OnlyFans, which makes me kind of uncomfortable,” she said.
“I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t smart or mature enough to know what they’re doing. I always tell them to set boundaries and decide early on what they’re comfortable with. My stuff is probably already floating around Telegram somewhere, so I’m really glad I’ve never posted photos of my boobs.”
Although she has no way of knowing what people do with her content, control is something Lola worries about a lot.
She refuses to let Zac take photos of her house, or ones which might capture the surrounding houses, just in case they’re recognisable. She also repeatedly reminds me not to use her real name or share any personally identifying information in the piece; she’s been stalked before, and is terrified of it happening again.
Another time, she got an Instagram DM from a stranger while at the beach with her friends.
“Hey are you at ECP wearing a black shirt?” it read. (She was.)
As someone who tries to avoid posting on social media as much as possible, I can’t imagine having to keep looking over my shoulder like that. In the car on the way to her house, we’d talked about my work, and I told her how it makes me squirm whenever I meet someone for the first time and realise they’ve read my articles before. While I’m glad they’re getting read at all, it also makes me feel exposed, like I’ve given away too much.
She nodded when I shared this. “They know so much more about you than you know about them, and they haven’t even met you. It’s like you don’t have control of the situation any more.”
“Though,” she clarifies, “I don’t really feel the need to explain myself to people I don’t know or care about.”
All the same, there are moments when I wonder if being Lola gets lonely.
She and Nicole function as a unit—the latter is her lunch buyer, water bottle holder, creepy DM filterer, ad-hoc photographer, occasional co-star, confidante, and partner in crime—but they seldom spend time with other people their age.
After we leave the salon, I chat with Nicole on the side while Zac snaps photos of Lola. She tells me that Lola sometimes goes to hang out with her at her school and play the piano on campus, where she gets recognised by a lot of students who know her as ‘the OnlyFans girl’.
They don’t like her, though. They think she’s cocky and standoffish, and that she brags about how much money she makes. And mostly, they find her intimidating.
Watching Lola ham it up for the camera, it takes me a while to see why someone would feel this way. While she’s undeniably gorgeous, it’s tempered by her mannerisms, which I can only describe as Jessica Rabbit meets samseng zhabor.
Back at the salon, she hauled her legs into her chair in a way that would’ve made my teachers yell ‘CLOSE YOUR COFFEESHOP’, and she jokes about shuffling around in her pyjamas on morning walks. Throughout the day, I do multiple spit-takes watching her banter with Nicole. It’s true that I’m nearly ten years older than her, but she is great fun to hang out with, and it’s also hard to be intimidated by someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously.
She is, however, incredibly self-possessed for someone barely into her 20s, and I can imagine this being daunting to someone less sure of themselves. Moreover, when your experiences are so vastly different from most people your age, how would you connect?
How do you talk about staging sexy cat photoshoots when most of your peers are focused on university assignments? How many 20somethings even have a PA?
Our last stop for the day is the skate park at ECP. She and Nicole are headed there to meet friends and skate, and as we walk over from the hawker centre next door, I ask Lola if she’s been seeing anyone. Is it even possible for her to use Tinder?
“Nope,” she says. “I wouldn’t want someone to know me through my OnlyFans first.”
“It’s not like Lola is some fake, super nice persona who doesn’t exist, but people see me as a sex object now. It’s harder to trust them when you know that’s what they’re starting from.” Guys reach out to her all the time, but the last date she went on was around Halloween.
It reminds me a bit of Rita Hayworth, the 1930s movie star, who grew to resent the glamorous persona which made her famous. “Men go to bed with Gilda and they wake up with me,” she famously lamented.
When I tell her about this, she considers it for a moment. “Yeah, I get that,” she says.
I’m curious to see how Lola interacts with the other skaters at the park, almost all of whom are guys. To my surprise, she’s affectionate and tactile, fist-bumping friends she runs into, draping her chin over their shoulders. In her crop top and big hair, she sticks out, but no-one seems to look twice at her or treat her any differently as she zooms up and down the slopes. All in all, she looks perfectly at home.
When she goes to use the bathroom, I take the chance to chat with one of her friends. He subscribed to her OnlyFans when she started out, both to show support as well as out of curiosity, though he claims to have stopped. According to him, none of the skaters really care about her online life. And intriguingly, most of them know her as Kim.
“Is it weird knowing that she has this other life?” I ask. “How do you feel about it?”
“I think a lot of guys probably don’t like it,” he says. “Like, if you knew that your girlfriend had [an OnlyFans] … it’s not a good thing.” He tells me that other girls he knows used to be on OnlyFans, but had to stop because their boyfriends didn’t approve.
“Still, who are you to judge when you don’t even know someone as a person?” he continues. “Honestly, once you get to know Kim, she’s just really sociable. And I don’t even think it’s that big a deal to her. I don’t think she cares all that much.”
Before meeting Lola, I’d wondered if being an OnlyFans creator was more trouble than it was worth. Between the challenge of staying safe and the pressure of monetising yourself, I couldn’t see the appeal. Moreover, having to juggle a secret identity struck me as terribly stressful.
Lola, however, seems to have the opposite problem: plenty of people know her as the OnlyFans girl, and she doesn’t mind it being an open secret, even amongst those who know her in real life.
However, most people only know her as the OnlyFans girl, the same way most people only know Annabel Chong as the ex-RGS girl who set a record for the world’s biggest gang bang. The sheer notoriety of being on OnlyFans tends to eclipse everything else about her.
It’s a shame, because her hotness is honestly the least interesting thing about her. It makes me wonder what will happen if—or when—she decides to give up OnlyFans. What would it mean to stop being Lola, and focus on just being Kim?
Then again, does it even make sense to think of them as different people? After all, everything that makes Lola successful is informed by who Kim is: her taste, her intelligence, her sense of humour, her body. Fretting about the border between our online and physical selves is an anxiety reserved for people like me, who grew up without social media; Lola’s too busy having fun with Nicole and doing life her way.
Back at her house, before we’d moved on to the skate park, she darted into her hall and began playing the piano. It lasts barely a minute, but the tune is emotive and dramatic, and she pours herself into it.
Before I can remark on her playing, however, she spins on the piano seat in one fluid motion and strikes a pose. Zac and Nicole snap away obligingly.
It’s coquettish and a little camp, and I can’t tell if it’s Lola or Kim I’ve just seen. Who was the girl just playing the piano, and who is the one now smizing for the camera? I don’t know where one ends and the other begins, but maybe I’m the only one who’s bothered about this.
After all, it’s other people—her parents, her peers, even the hypothetical future boyfriend—who seem to have issues with her double life. From where I’m standing, she’s okay being both.