- Category: News
- Created on Friday, 18 November 2011 11:23
- Written by Amsterdam Herald
In 2002, at the age of 16, she was chosen as sportswoman of the year after picking up five medals at the European championships and a silver at the world championships in Debrecen, Hungary.
Nine years later she has turned her back on sport and makes a living modelling and chatting to men via a webcam. Yet she insists there is more dignity and self-respect in her new career than her old one.
The picture she paints of the gymnastic world is less than flattering. “All kinds of people in that world wanted a piece of me and some wanted more than that,” she told De Pers recently.
“As a gymnast you have to be an exhibitionist. It’s unavoidable, given that you have to deal every day with sexual intimidation and the sexist way people look at you: a young girl with her legs wide open.
“The people sitting at their computers could be the same as those in the gymnastics hall. I hardly see any difference between then and now.”
Where Van de Leur does see a difference is in the amount of control she has over her life. Back then, she says, “I’d become the product of everyone who had an interest in me.”
These days she is her own brand: “I can decide how long I chat for and when to stop and have a snack. Or if I want a weekend away, I put a message up on Twitter and everyone knows I’m off the air.
“People will label me a ‘webcam girl’, but that’s just the way it is. I know for myself that there’s a lot more to me than that.”
It has brought her more independence: Van de Leur runs her own website and business and does modeling sessions.
Yet chatting to men who pay 70 cents an hour to “talk” to her through their keyboards (there is no audio and no physical contact) seems like a far cry from the aspirations that she once had as a precocious teenage sportswoman.
Van de Leur retorts that the gymnast, rather than the webcam girl, was the manufactured image: “The little gymnast girl with the Bambi eyes was put there by people acting in their own interest. I had to win medals for my country, that was the number one priority. It didn’t matter who I was as a person.”
Van de Leur’s sporting career drifted downwards after 2002. Six years later she quit altogether, still aged only 22, after failing to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.
The following year she fought a bitter court battle with her father over the rights to her own website. Then, in May this year, she was found guilty of trying to blackmail a couple who she photgraphed having an illicit affair.
She was sentenced to 72 days, but was spared jail because she had already spent the time on remand. “It’s not something I’m proud of, but it happened and I’ve learned from it,” she says.
Her early experiences have undeniably shaped the way she sees the world now, but she rejects the notion of shame. “I know everything to do with sex is sensitive in prudish Holland,” she says. “Everybody screams: ‘It could be your daughter!’
“But who then are the tens of thousands of men and women who sit at the webcam on their PCs day after day, I ask myself.
“I do this work to expose the taboo that women can play for an audience in safety, even in a time when women are trafficked and mistreated.
“We have the power and can decide how far we go. The roles are reversed. Nowadays I see men as objects I can use.”