Both sex workers and fat people must contend with a mainstream culture that feels entitled to our bodies in a way that is violent, objectifying, and dehumanizing. I wanted to explore this connection because it’s an important overlap that allows us to very clearly examine root causes-- so I called on my friend Erica Sosa to talk about it on my podcast with me! In this 2-part episode, we look at how media representations of both sex workers and fat folks reflects and perpetuates social stigma against us. Listen below), and keep scrolling down for my accompanying blog post.
Sure, we’ve got a few splashy features, like Pretty Woman, Hustlers, and The Player’s Club. But, by and large, we are nameless, faceless bodies on the screen. At best, whores in cinema are usually the butt of someone’s cruel joke. At worst, we are nameless murder victims, plot props that serve as a warning about what happens to fallen femininity. Faces blurred, anonymous naked bodies gyrate through undercover documentaries about the perilous, mysterious, and salacious world of the sex trade. Faces revealed, street sex workers are arrested in sting operations, their humiliation and terrorization broadcast for your entertainment through TV shows like Cops.
Yes, there are a few splashy features, like Tommy Boy, Heavyweights, and Shallow Hal (which is a shitshow on every level). In these movies, like most movies, fat folks are the butt of cruel jokes–- especially fat femmes. Faces blurred, anonymous fat bodies become warnings in documentaries that sensationalize the “dangers of obesity” and equate thinness to moral righteousness.
Just like sex workers are blamed for our own demise (on and off screen), when bad things happen to fat people, their fatness is often scapegoated.
Where sex workers are treated as simultaneously hyper-desirable (especially if they’re thin, cis, white women) and completely disposable, fat people (especially ones who are femme/queer and BIPOC) are treated as hyper-disposable and completely undesirable. In fact, in our culture, any sexual desire towards a fat person, or genuine love towards a sex worker, is to be met with extreme disdain, so as to shame people out of caring for either of these demographics.
Anti-sex worker bias and anti-fat bias (especially against femmes, and, particularly, femmes of color) are both symptoms of patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism. In patriarchy, anyone perceived to be “feminine” in any way is automatically subjected to a social hierarchy that values the masculine over the feminine. White supremacy, and its obsession with thinness as a measure of both worth and “health”, bypasses the reality that fat bodies have always existed and are a perfectly normal human body type. White supremacist patriarchy also happens to masculinize fatness (and Blackness) and feminize queer masculinity, which spells disaster for fat femmes and queer sex workers (especially if they’re BIPOC). When you add capitalism to the mix, which commodifies all bodies, and sexually commodifies bodies perceived to be feminine or queer, performances of femininity that cater to the white supremacist patriarchal palate become both a bargaining chip and a survival device for anyone who is not a heterosexual cis man.
Sex workers and fat people alike face potential danger and discrimination in nearly every area of our lives, including love, family, career, finances, and healthcare. I hope next time you hear a joke about us, you’ll call it out. If you don’t already, I hope you’ll start to become more critical of the media you consume, and how it portrays us.
First, thank you to Erica Sosa, who has educated me directly and helped me find resources on anti-fat bias, including the Maintenance Phase Podcast and the work of fat activist Aubrey Gordon in general. Thank you also to my client Lauren Higgins, who has helped educate me as well. Thank you to my fat and formerly fat loved ones for your continued patience and grace as I learn how and where to raise my voice on behalf of fatness.
Second, I am an avid consumer of all sex worker-themed film-- movies, TV, and documentaries. Most media in this category does an abysmal job of representing us, but here is my very short list of movies/shows about sex workers that I love:
#1: Cam (2019): a feminist thriller written Isa Mazzei, a former sex worker who also happens to be one of my writing mentors
#2: The Player’s Club: this 1998 film, written and directed by Ice Cube, is a gem. It stands apart for many reasons, including the fact that its a Black film about a Black industry (where most mainstream media about sex workers is made by white people). I genuinely love this movie, despite some major flaws. The main character, Diamond, is complex, nuanced, feminist icon. In fact, I think the character development in this film is phenomenal all around. Here’s where it falls short for me: a gratuitous, graphic r*pe scene serves as moral punishment for a supporting character who is supposed to be a “lost woman” (unlike Diamond, who has goals and dreams, and “escapes” the industry unpunished). Content warning also for homophobia and a stereotypically predatory queer woman.
#3: P-Valley (2020): a feminist TV drama about a fictional southern strip club, owned and operated by a Black trans woman. Written by Katori Hall, this series offers an addictive plot, interesting characters, and exploration of the link between strip club culture and the hip hop industry. I’ve got no complaints about how it represents strippers or queer folk, but, as a writer, I’m not a huge fan of the dialogue.
#4: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982): Dolly Parton plays a beloved brothel owner and absolutely KILLS IT. This film would be my #1 of all time, but for an extremely racist representation of a Black housekeeper.
Your feedback is always welcome! If you ever feel the need to check my skinny, white, very privileged ass, you are more than invited. I will receive your feedback with grace and I promise to take accountability for any harm I caused. You can contact me about that, or with sex worker in film recommendations, on Instagram at @astrippersguide, or email me at [email protected]
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