The ugly world of the pretties

The recent death of young woman compels a male product presenter to reflect on his industry and its potential perils

With five years of experience in the pretty boy industry, Job said his career is complicated. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

Rachadech "Nam Oun" Wongtabutr, a male product presenter or "pretty boy", became one of the most loathed people in Thai society the day news channels aired security camera footage from his condominium of him dragging the unconscious body of "pretty girl" Thitima "Lunlabelle" Noraphanpiphat into the lobby of his building.

Many watching the CCTV clip were pained by the heartless and inhumane behaviour of the young man, who had earlier met Thitima at a party where she was hired to mix drinks and liven up the atmosphere by drinking with guests. Soon after, she died of alcohol poisoning.

Police arrested Rachadech on three charges relating to the death of the popular pretty, who had a massive male Instagram following prior to her death at age 25. The case is currently in court.

Since then, people have raised eyebrows towards the promotional worker industry. Is it a shady job? Is it legal? What about other aspects of the job? The term "pretty boy" seems to be another buzzword, especially in the media. To determine the impact Rachadech's actions have had on the sales promoter scene in Bangkok, and its industry, Life met up with Job*, an attractive 30-year-old male model.

Job, in the business for five years, remarked that while it is common to see pretties and pretty boys in relationships, Rachadech's "despicable" behaviour is not typical of all male promoters.

"Watching the CCTV footage that captured him dragging the lifeless body of Lunlabelle was very disturbing. First, how can a human being treat another human like a stuffed toy? I blame his actions on a combination of alcohol and I suppose hormones. He should have been more respectful because they both belong to the same occupation," said the former hotel salesman, who hails from a family of government officers.

"I believe on social media this incident has been blown out of proportion. Many are generalising that all pretty boys are like Rachadech, that they boast online about their sexual exploits, have no regard for women and prostitutes themselves. This I guarantee is not the case. Rachadech's actions have impacted my work, in how people react to me. There is a scepticism, as if to ask whether I conduct myself like him. Sometimes people jokingly call me his name. I don't find it a laughing matter, even though I try to brush it off. As pretty boys we do freelance work. For the last couple of months, work has been slow. I am not certain if it is because of the Lunlabelle case or the slowing down of the economy. I hope it is just the latter," he added.

Another misconception he said he would like to clear up is about the notion that all promotional models are open to being hired for entertainment at parties. This, again, is not the case, he said. "Entertainment", or "N" jobs, often pay more for less working hours, but are dogged by risks and dangers that not everyone is ready to take.

"Men who usually opt for this type of job have somewhat of a luxury lifestyle, and need a larger budget for their upkeep, so they opt to take up the risk of signing up for such assignments. But at their own peril, because they can be tempted into indulging in prostitution, or become victims of rape and sexual harassment."

While pretties are obviously at a higher risk of becoming victims of sexual harassment in such instances, Job admits it is equally important for a promotional model to chose his work carefully.

"I once agreed to attend a birthday event which was organised by a wealthy gentleman. The assignment, which was posted in a Line chat group for pretty boys, described the job as having to carry a birthday cake with my shirt off. I did not think much of it, as I wasn't naked, and decided to send in my name. I was picked for the job by the client. What I expected and what I actually experienced was very different.

"I was told to drink and eat with them first, after which I was invited to a club. I had become quite drunk by then. Alcohol at such events is often free flowing and we are expected to drink continuously. I had to act fast to get myself out of the situation as it was getting out of hand. Luckily, I was able to convince the client that my girlfriend expected me home, and I had to wake up early the next day for work, so he sent me home."

Job was given 8,000 baht for his work and a 3,000 baht tip on top. It was much more than what was agreed on. In a way, such an income makes it tempting to go back for more jobs.

"However, after weighing the pros and cons, I decided to stick to product presenting and modelling. It is much safer as the event organisers have your back. Their staff mingle with guests to ascertain that the product presenters are in no manner sexually harassed by guests."

Job has an impressive portfolio, which includes a bachelor's degree from Chiang Mai University. With over 90,000 followers on his Instagram and an equally large number on his Facebook account, Job explains that the need to show more skin on social media is a strategy promotional models use to attract followers in the hope of increasing their chances of becoming a net idol, which then means attracting the attention of businesses looking for product presenters.

"It is not about prostituting yourself," replied Job, when asked if the photos were a tad provocative for merely landing a potential job.

"But I have to admit that some people might get the wrong idea as I embarrassingly found out later. As I had added my phone number in the hope that potential clients could directly call me, I once received a call from a guy who requested a pair of red underwear I wore. So that was creepy. After I took my phone number out, I got a Facebook message from a guy who was willing to pay me a couple of hundred thousand baht for a night of sex. Another proposed an overseas vacation to any part of the world I desired. All of which I declined."

Job admits that prostitution is an option for promotional workers, but not everyone is interested because once in, it becomes a vicious cycle which is hard to break.

People that decide to go ahead with it do so because of economic reasons, he said, circumstances often arise with work drying up and people finding themselves in a financial bind.

"There is definitely a dark side to this industry, especially when it comes to entertainment work. However, people know of the dangers and risks involved. Many feel they have devised ways to ensure they are safe by having a friend watch their back, however, this type of work is not risk proof because you open yourself to sexual harassment, rape and even physical altercations induced by alcohol."

Job has no qualms admitting he became a pretty boy for the money. While he hasn't made his first million, he said he is working towards it.

"My parents were not sold on the idea of my becoming a pretty boy, largely because it is freelance and not something to pursue long term. Their worst fear was that the heavy drinking and parties would lead me astray.

"I convinced them that this would not be the case. For one, I am not attached to the luxury lifestyle. In fact I am pretty frugal. I am happy to cook at home and wear simple clothes. I don't really need a lot of money for the upkeep of the body because I get freebies from the skin clinics and hair salons where I work as their presenter."

Being a promotional model definitely beats being a salesman for the dashing young man, who often competes in pageants to better his chances of being called on for big events.

"Building your portfolio is a crucial element of my work," Job said. "Your body is the product you sell, so you have to look after it well. However, in this day and age you have to work on other skills, like learning additional languages like Chinese, English and French. To last in this industry, you have to be competitive, which means cultivating new skills and talents."

"Developing a drinking and partying habit, which Rachadech obviously had, will get you nowhere in this industry!"

* not his real name