While we have likely all come across articles on how the sex industry creates an unrealistic expectation of beauty, it is far less likely that we have come across an article on this topic from someone who has actually worked in the sex industry, and it is even far less likely that the take in the article is on how it affects the sex worker, not the client. I thought I would share some of my thoughts and experiences on this subject with you, if you are so inclined to read them. Warning: you may never see us the same after reading this.
Often articles of this nature place an emphasis on porn and cam girls, and plastic surgery, or on how men can become addicted to the illusion created that women are perfectly kempt and clean, and beautified all of the time, but the issues go much deeper than that, they extend to (the overlooked) sex workers themselves; porn stars, cam models, erotic dancers and escorts, every single type of (visual) sex worker you can think of. On review boards, and other such websites, where men share their stories and encounters with sex workers, you will occasionally come across a comment along the lines of, “I offered to drop by with a coffee for my ATF (all-time favourite), and whoa! I was not expecting that!” or, “I ran into (local sex worker) at the grocery store and did not recognize her! Will not be booking…” referring to her, well, not being her, the ‘her’ they see in the advertisements anyway.
Typically, sex workers spend roughly 40+% of their time primping for work (and that is probably a very low balled underestimated number), we are not just talking plastic surgery (though that as well), we are talking the daily routine of make-up, hair extensions or clips, false eye-lashes (because mascara takes more work touching up between shows/calls), showers and baths, body oils, scrubs, shaving, oh so much shaving, waxing, plucking, Botox, using feminine PhBalance products to “stay fresh”, some even resorting to tattooed permanent make-up, and I can’t tell you how many boxes of tissues I went through just placing tissues under my various bits so I wouldn’t sweat through my outfit while preparing before a session with a client, and the list goes on and on and on, and on some more. It is virtually endless. And we don’t talk about it because, hey, we can’t risk shattering the illusion that women (and especially sex workers) are, well, just naturally done up the moment they roll out of (or into) bed.
This sort of daily routine has a deep and profound lasting effect, not just on the men who become accustomed to an incredibly unrealistic view on how women look and tend to their bodies and appearance (and that is a huge issue in itself – leading to unattainable fulfillment outside of sex worker relationships), but to the worker themselves. This is why, when off the clock, a sex worker will most likely be make-up free, hair loosely tied back, wearing baggy clothes and flip-flops (no joke). And the reasons for this go deeper than they even first appear, it isn’t that we want to be out of lingerie or whatever sexy outfits we wear for work, we’ve actually become unrealistically comfortable being naked all the time, it isn’t that we are trying to cover our bodies because we don’t want more attention off the clock, it goes so much deeper as to being that we are naked/done up so much that ‘normal’ clothing can actually feel very foreign to us after a while. Baggy clothes feel more like being naked than tight fitting clothes do. I can vividly recall post session lunches with clients, and having to wear jeans and it feeling like I had someone else’s skin on. Simply wearing sneakers in front of a client felt profoundly wrong on every level. And this seeps into the day to day life of most, if not all, sex workers. It was alien and uncomfortable, and this is one of the many reasons why women who have worked in sex work for any length of time find it hard to acclimatize to leaving sex work. It becomes easier to stay in that World, and out of the public forum, than to remove yourself from it, and settle back into general society.
Add to that the ever present concern or paranoia of being recognized when in public, this leads to a mixture of wanting to cover up to disguise yourself, to feeling a need to be excessively primped when out in public just in case a potential client, or reviewer, sees you, because Goddess forbid it get out that you don’t look like your photos because those rumours can be career damaging. Often the disguise wins over because in reality, outside of work, it is not as easy to find that same amount of time to put into your appearance and still get things done.
When I left sex work several years ago, it took me months to get used to not having the time I used to have to dedicate to my appearance. I made an earnest effort to keep it up but schedules in the non-sex trade world just don’t allow for the same level of maintenance. And that can be devastating to a person’s self-esteem. It probably took me a year to get comfortable wearing ‘normal’ clothes again and to feeling comfortable being in public without make-up on; but that is not to say it ever really goes away.
I can recall being out in public last Summer, getting ice cream with my family, and a gentleman in line gave me the, “I know who you are!” smile and nod (it is a very particular and painstakingly obvious look – intentionally so, because often ‘hobbyists’ (frequent clients in the sex industry) see it as a compliment to let you know that you are a ‘known’ worker). I immediately took check of my appearance. Was I dressed cute? Did I have make-up on? Would he comment on a discussion board somewhere? It took me about two minutes of this before I realized, I am retired. Even if he did recognize me, it is not likely he would bother posting about it anywhere. And I looked fine, no matter how I looked. And that’s the important part: that it does not matter. I was healthy and happy and enjoying life, literally nothing else mattered.
Is this a hugely negative psychological factor to working in sex work? Maybe not in an obvious way, but it can be detrimental to the basic way in which we interact with the World, and to our self-esteem. It goes beyond the more superficial feeling that we are a ‘product’, it actually shakes up the core of not only how we see ourselves, but the constant awareness of how others might see us, on a very shallow level.
There is no easy solution, sex work won’t go away, and we don’t want it to. It fills a great purpose in society and has many incredible benefits both to sex workers, and to clients. But there are some aspects that need improving. Sex workers need better support systems and the review boards need a complete change. The rating systems on sex workers need to die. The expectation for sex workers to be less than human needs to come to an end. There are very few websites that are dedicated to the overall mental health of sex workers and going forward, this needs to be a thing.