Back in 2018, the horror world was introduced to an indie film titled Cam, from director Daniel Goldhaber, based on the screenplay by Isa Mazzei, a former camgirl. The film became an instant hit within the genre, with most praising it for its portrayal of online sex-work as well as the drive these women exhibit in making a living through camming. Since the film’s release, Isa Mazzei went on to write an autobiography of her experience camming in the newly released book, CAMGIRL. Recently, I had the opportunity to read the book and not only did it shine a much-needed light on an industry that so many have false pre-conceived notions of, but it ended up being a book that affected me on a very deep and personal level.

To best describe Mazzei’s memoir, I’ll first turn to the official synopsis: “At twenty-three, Isa Mazzei was just like any other college graduate: broke, lacking purpose, and searching for an identity. She was also a compulsive seductress with a reputation as a slut and heartbreaker. One day, while working a low-paying retail job, she had a revelation: why not embrace her salacious image and make some money off of it? She began stripping, dancing, masturbating, playing games, making art – and broadcasting it all online for money as a camgirl. In her first month, she racked up hundreds of nightly viewers, and within a year she ranked in the top fifty girls on a site featuring tens of thousands of performers. Over the course of her career, Isa built her own business, explored BDSM, attended a porn convention, slept with a fan, and pushed herself further than she thought possible. And yet, despite her success, she struggled to fit into the community she so desperately wanted to belong to.” 

The Isa we meet in the book early on loves attention. Even more, she loves the attention of men. Her ability to rope them in to do her bidding is something that, quite frankly, I admire. From her high school days to the height of her camming career, Isa, also known as her online alter-ego, Una, learned what it took to make men, and women, notice her. However, as with most things in life, it came with a price. Isa, who grew up in Boulder, Colorado, didn’t have the most normal upbringing – her father, a cinematographer was undiagnosed with bipolar disorder while her mother, a make-up artist, had a tendency to turn to alcohol and pills whenever possible. When it came to her parent’s relationship, Isa wrote: “My parents had little in common, but trying to kill themselves was really the glue that held our family together.” However, because the family wasn’t keen on stating the actual problem(s) at hand, code words were designated for Isa and her sister for when each parent was spiraling. As Isa put it, “I was leading two lives. On one hand, I was a rich, white girl whose parents knew celebrities and who got to visit film sets. I flew first class to Europe and gave my friends autographed Destiny’s Child posters for their birthdays. I was also a girl whose parents were crippled by their own mental illnesses to the extent that they nearly abandoned [me].”

Meanwhile, in high school, Isa was dealing with life as outlandishly and proudly as she could by proclaiming her status as the “slutty” girl. She would kiss as many people as she could only to then brag about her conquests. She also had a penchant for removing her clothes at parties for both admiration and shock value. It was also around this time when she lost her virginity. Isa was always good at talking a big game, but after losing her virginity she felt different, and not in a good way. “Sex made me uncomfortable, and the more uncomfortable I became, the louder I talked. If I had to deal with sex, so did everyone else,” Isa wrote. Initially, upon reading this, I found it odd that someone who didn’t like sex would get into camming, but through Isa’s story, and her experience, the layers began to be peeled away allowing for the true nature of her discomfort to be revealed.

What I found to be so captivating about CAMGIRL was the journey that Isa found herself on. I’ll be honest, upon diving into this book, I didn’t know much about the camming industry outside of what Hollywood films and television shows featured (which, now knowing more, is a gross exaggeration). Isa, who would use the pseudonym Una for camming purposes, showcased throughout her story the relationships she built up within the community of men who followed her online. Most were good, but as with anything, there are always a few bad apples in the bunch. It’s easy for those on the outside to make assumptions about sex workers but what Isa does in CAMGIRL is she gives an honest portrayal of what the industry is truly like as well as the amount of work, dedication, and sacrifice that goes into having a career in that industry.

I’ll admit, the thought of, “Wow, this seems easy. I wonder if I could do it?” did cross my mind. But by the time Isa’s story came to an end, I realized that the career she had chosen was one that not many people would have the fortitude to go through. Nevermind all the work that it takes to make your channel interesting and intriguing, nevermind having to be “on” 24/7 as you become an emotional anchor to some of the men willing to pay more for one-on-one time, and nevermind the fact that there are people who are going to knock you down and judge you based off of a job that isn’t widely accepted by society. Isa/Una was highly successful at her job, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t come without its challenges.

I work in the corporate world as an interior designer and for the most part, I’m not worried about my safety when I go to work. I’m not worried about my co-workers attacking or stalking me. For the most part, I feel relatively safe and I realize that’s not a privilege that everyone has. For Isa, being careful with her identity, where she lived, and how people could get a hold of her was paramount to her safety. There are moments in the book where she definitely toes the line and throws caution to the wind – whether that’s by sleeping with one of her fans or going to another camgirl’s house, a legit stranger, for a weekend of girl-on-girl camming to earn money.

It would be easy for me to sit here and judge Una for her actions at the time, but who’s to say that none of us would do the same thing? Truth be told aren’t we already? Dating apps are all about strangers meeting strangers for sex and/or companionship. Money may not be exchanged but the use of dating apps is not that far removed from what Isa was doing while camming. As long as its two consenting adults who aren’t forced into an agreement who are we to judge? I once dated a guy who told me, “Sex is an exchange of payment” – he would buy me something and in return, I would repay the favor with sex.  That relationship turned out to be incredibly unhealthy for me but in a way, his statement, depending on the situation agreed upon by both parties, was not wrong. Isa did form close relationships with some of the men she introduces us to her in the book. Some turned out great, others not so much, some used their power and money to cling to her and demand more while others genuinely cared about her.

Isa isn’t perfect and we see throughout the course of the book the mistakes and struggles she encounters with sobriety, her relationship with her family, friends, and fans, as well as her own identity and forming boundaries. Isa is an open book and doesn’t hold back any punched when she discusses the harder topics in her life as well as the missteps she has taken. I appreciate that so much about her writing because she’s self-aware in knowing that opening those wounds could result in backlash from a society that doesn’t understand what she does. Even though I’m someone who has never been in the sex worker trade, I found myself relating to a lot of what Isa was experiencing.

At the time I found it odd that I formed an attachment to someone I never met who was in an industry I was never a part of but reading about Isa’s experiences, her highs, and lows, and everything in-between made me feel safe for some reason. It didn’t occur to me until I finished the book, with tears streaming down my face, that the reason I related to her so much was that we had gone through similar trauma. What’s empowering about Isa’s journey through camming was that she was able to regain her sexuality, something she had lost after being sexually abused as a child. I related to Isa because, subconsciously, I saw some of the signs I exhibited from being sexually abused at a young age. I understood why she could so easily seduce men without giving them a second thought when she was done and why intimacy, no matter how much she tried to force it, was never fulfilling.

I know this isn’t a typical book review and as much as I want to discuss the salacious offerings that the book has (and believe me, they are there in many forms such as her experience attending her first porn convention, the after-party, the purchasing of all types of sex toys, sugar daddies, BDSM, and everything else you can imagine) this story is much more than that. Isa has given me hope. CAMGIRL is a book that I will cherish forever – I laughed, I cried, but mostly I was inspired. I’ve since met Isa and she’s as lovely as you could imagine. Our conversation was private, mainly because I’m not ready to publicly discuss my own journey through abuse, but I felt safe with Isa. Since reading CAMGIRL, my life has changed drastically. I’m now about to start an intense form of therapy to work through my trauma, my anger and distrust towards men have softened a bit, I’m a more loving partner to my boyfriend, and I’ve been able to openly communicate with him about some of the trauma I endured. It hasn’t been easy, but since this book came into my life, I’ve felt hopeful again.

All that said, should you read CAMGIRL? Yes, you absolutely should. You may not have the same experience as I did and that’s fine, but at a minimum, you’ll learn about a phenomenal woman who has lived a life filled with provocative stories and still has more to come. You’ll read about a woman who came into her own, who faced her demons and came out on top. Most importantly, you’ll learn not to judge someone based on their career choice while also having a better understanding of what sex work really entails. You’ll laugh at a lot of Isa/Una’s antics, you’ll cringe when you read how certain men treated her, and you’ll cheer when she takes back control of her life. In the end, CAMGIRL will offer you a look into a world that so many people are afraid to take a peek into and honestly, it might do some of you good.

To Isa – thank you. Thank you for educating me more, through your writing, on what the world of sex work is like, for being a confidant when I needed one, and for telling your story so bravely and unapologetically. I hope everyone gets to experience the journey that your book will take them on. CAMGIRL is now available to own on paperback and hardcover.

Follow Me

Shannon McGrew

Founder/Editor-in-Chief at Nightmarish Conjurings
Shannon is the Founder of Nightmarish Conjurings and a lover of all things horror and haunt related. When she's not obsessively collecting all things "Trick 'R Treat" related, or trying to convince everyone that "Hereditary" is one of the greatest horror films ever made, you can find her designing interiors for commercial restaurants. An avid haunt fan, Shannon spends the entire year visiting haunts and immersive experiences throughout the Southern California area and hopes to one day design her own haunted attraction.
Shannon McGrew
Follow Me

Latest posts by Shannon McGrew (see all)

Book Reviews

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: