Many times, when I tell women I used to do sex work, they look me up and down and say, “Really?” I probably get this reaction because I’m 5 feet 3 inches tall and weigh 230 pounds, and I don’t fit their preconception of what a sex worker looks like.
There are a lot of preconceived notions about sex workers held by the general public, and one of the strongest among them in my experience is the belief that sex workers all look like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” and that men only desire a sex worker who is skinny.
I’m here to tell you that’s all false.
I don’t by any means have a perfect physique and am what my doctor calls “obese.” I have a big, round tummy covered in pink stretch marks, saggy boobs, areolas that my first boyfriend said looked “like pepperonis” and a mustache that requires regular waxing. I’m human and imperfect, and I worked as a successful escort for more than a decade.
I started as a full-time escort on the now-defunct Backpage.com. I did not advertise myself as a “BBW” escort ― just merely an escort, like any other girls on Backpage. I never had any problem attracting business.
Last year, I went to a strip club to audition to be a dancer. The manager clearly found it amusing that someone like me was trying to get a job as a dancer, and he told me that I was “too big.” Given what I know from experience, that a lot of men prefer women my size, why wouldn’t a club want to have as much diversity as possible to appeal to as many clients as possible? To me, that’s just good business sense.
But the heteronormativity of strip clubs is one example of the way men police other men’s desire. The club is like a fishbowl for “acceptable” desire, where most of the performers are thin women without visible imperfections and god forbid they hire more than one woman of color per club. Strip clubs in and of themselves are only a microcosm of the world at large, reflecting the values of the larger heteronormative white supremacist patriarchal American culture that exists and proliferates far beyond the club.
What I learned from my many years as an escort is that men spend a lot of time posturing for other men around desirability. In private, it’s often a very different story, as men feel like they can express their desire freely.
Anyone can be a sex worker. There are no beauty prerequisites. Are there shitty beauty standards based on white supremacist patriarchal culture? Yes, indeed. But sex workers who don’t fit into a narrow box can and do make very good livings all the time. There’s a market for every body type, although it’s true that not every market is equal.
When I was volunteering for a sex workers union in Kolkata, India, I met a woman in her 80s in the red light district there who was still working as a sex worker and had many regulars. Is it easier if you’re 25? Probably. But that absolutely does not mean that whether you’re 25 or 85 that there aren’t men who want to be with you. The difference is that men (as a unit) don’t want you to know that men (as individuals) don’t necessarily want a Playboy playmate.
That said, it has to be addressed that racist, colonialist and transphobic beauty standards are an absolute reality and all too often dictate men’s sexual preferences (especially cisgender white men) in ways that truly negatively affect the most marginalized. The woman of color with the deeper toned complexion gets passed over at the brothel, or the transgender girl who doesn’t quite “pass” doesn’t get as many website inquiries as the girl who does. While everyone can be desired, it has to be said that many women — women of color, trans women and especially trans women of color — have added barriers and hurdles that more privileged women — white and cisgender — do not have to navigate.
White workers and cisgender workers and especially white cisgender workers have an infinitely easier time marketing themselves precisely because these identities are centered, while identities that do not fit this are deemed “other” and face more barriers to earning a steady income.
But the truth ― in the quiet of my bedroom when I’m sitting with a client ― is that men really do desire all kinds of bodies.
In this way, especially as someone who is a survivor of abuse by many, many different men and has very valid reasons not to trust men, learning this has made me feel free to meet men not with hate and mistrust but with the knowledge that men do not always have to be the enemy. That maybe as much as patriarchy has hurt me, maybe it hurts men in some ways, too.
Maybe I was wasting far too much energy on hiding my belly or making the guy turn off the lights during sex or going to the bathroom 10 times during a date to make sure my makeup still looks immaculate. Society lied to me. There are men who desire more than just the Pam Andersons of the world.
And the real secret ― that I think men really want us women to know, when they don’t have other men watching them ― is that letting oneself be seen as flawed and human is completely and utterly desirable. And letting myself be unapologetically seen and desired is one of the greatest gifts sex work has given me.