One Phoenix woman has the potential to have her Cinderella moment and turn rags into riches this month. Her pumpkin carriage: a calendar spread. Her glass slipper: $10,000. Her Prince Charming: a sugar daddy.
Autumn Johnson, now 21, has been using the dating site Seeking Arrangements since she was 18. This summer, she became a finalist in the company's Sugar Baby of the Year contest.
Seeking Arrangements describes itself as a site for generous sugar daddies and sugar mommas to find younger, attractive sugar babies to pamper with luxurious dinners, trips and gifts.
Johnson said she entered the lifestyle mostly out of curiosity.
After six months of using the site as a surrogate for Tinder, she says she found an experienced sugar daddy who she ended up seeing for two years. She described him as more of a friend than a romantic partner and she continued dating outside the site as well.
Their arrangement didn't involve designer handbags or trips around the global but it did pay the bills. That's when Johnson said she realized that this lifestyle could be her reality and not an experiment.
"It worked out to be more of an arrangement and it opened my eyes to the fact that there are men out there that want it to be profitable for both of us," Johnson said.
The Seeking Arrangement website boasts that it has 10 million users with a 4 to 1 ratio of babies to daddies. It's dating economics — with surplus of sugary supply.
The profiles range from 34-year-old men in Paris, France, to 60-year-old men in Ann Arbor, Michigan, all with one common goal in mind — spoiling their babies.
Critics see the website as a thinly veiled sex operation, but the company is quick to defend itself as a site for "relationships not transactions" and a "lifestyle not profession" in a blog post aptly named "Four Differences Between Sugar and Prostitution."
Seeking Arrangement Public Relations Manager Alexis Germany said each profile is reviewed individually by the HR team to assure that the profiles are for real people looking for relationships.
What differentiates the sour from the sweet? Germany said her team has a full range of reported offenses, or "salt", that can get you kicked off Seeking Arrangements.
Is your sugar daddy constantly texting you but never wants to meet in person? Salt.
Does he obsessively ask you for pictures or uses disrespectful language? Salt.
Does he ask you for money or tries to get you to convince you to be part of his "business"? Salt.
Germany said the company is looking for go-getters, not gold diggers, to represent the brand.
"We want the people who will be putting this cash to good use and use it to better themselves," she said.
This was the vision of Seeking Arrangement founder Brandon Wade, who showed off his own flavor of the week during a segment with Vice earlier this year.
"My point is dating is very superficial," Wade said in an interview with VICE. "So use every superficial means you have to get the attention you want."
Wade said it's only human to play up your best quality whether that be beauty, brawn or, in the case of sugar daddies, a tally of Benjamins.
"Love," he says on his personal website, "is a concept invented by poor people."
On the reverse side of this arrangement, Johnson plans to bolster her "empire." Empire of what, she's not sure of just yet. Like most 21-year-olds she is just throwing around career ideas and waiting to see what sticks.
Of course she's wagering her greatest asset right now by profiting on her youth and good looks. Even so, she knows that well will run dry eventually.
"I’m not going to be young and pretty forever," she said.
Johnson's competition is a group of 12 women from across the country. The winner will be selected on September 20.
If she wins the grand prize, Johnson said she wants to take her father on a scuba diving trip.
Growing up, her dad was the only parent looking after her and her five brothers and sisters. Johnson moved out and started supporting herself as a waitress at age 17.
Now, she wants to make up for lost time with her dad — her real dad.
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Johnson said her dad supports her dating older men as long as she's not fully dependent on them.
"He only asks that I take care of myself and I use this to build my own empire and to not be reliant on these men," she said of her father.
This special father-daughter relationship stuck out to Germany as her team was reviewing 10,000 applicants for Sugar Baby of the Year.
"Her dad means everything to her, which is kind of unique because it's like 'your dad is okay with this kind of dating?'" Germany said. "Which is awesome because we want to show that there doesn’t have to be this stigma attached."