On a recent episode of my favorite unguilty, guilty pleasure, The Bachelor, a rumor swirled about a contestant who was “entertaining men for money.” The other women, conventionally attractive and in their 20s, ate it up, making assumptions and passing judgment—all while donning attire themselves that might best be described as “sex-worker chic.”
The problem of the conversation is, the debate never boiled down to the central and most important issue: The sex industry has set and defined generation after generation of trends in fashion, yet the stigma of being a sex worker allows for others to don the exact style they actively condemn.
A quick history lesson: A sex worker is a person employed by the sex industry, (i.e. prostitutes, strippers, porn stars) and sex work is considered the oldest profession in the world. The industry has always infiltrated mainstream media, and the volume of the conversation is only getting louder. Pop culture icons like Cardi B and Lady Gaga have been outspoken about their time in the industry and are massive influencers when it comes to trend setting, by continuing to wear long acrylic nails, thigh-high boots, exposed lingerie, etc. But even with the transparent conversation surrounding the industry, there is still a massive stigma that hangs over the head of any and all who participate in the profession.
In need of first hand perspective, I reached out to resident dancer and VFW (Very Funny Woman) Kellye Higginbotham who spoke to me candidly about her more than 13 years in the industry.
“In our line of work the objective is to catch the eye of potential customers before someone else does. You want to be the hottest and feel the sexiest. Likewise, women want to feel the same at home and when they go out. Things like fishnets, legwarmers and thigh-highs are articles of clothing I wear on a regular basis to work, and now, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear these items outside of the strip club, even celebrities wear them on the red carpet,” she said. “Sex industry workers are ahead of the trends [because they are able to actively survey the targeted clientele], we always want to try something new to see what keeps the customer entertained and intrigued,” Higginbotham said. In other words, industry workers run a business, so their brand of sex has to sell in order for them to stay in said business, something that has become increasingly more difficult as the trendiness of their brand bleeds into mainstream culture.
Popular online boutiques like SHEIN, boohoo and Fashion Nova take ideas for fashions they sell directly from sex workers and market their hard labor while giving zero recognition to the culture they continuously appropriate for their own financial gain.
“It feels like we no longer have something unique. We are shunned for what we do, but you go buy the same outfit I wear to work for a party,” Higginbotham said.“Being a dancer isn’t something I like to casually bring up in conversation with someone before they get to know me out of fear that they will judge or stereotype me.”
It isn’t a problem of donning the fashion that connects a person to their sexuality and makes them feel their best. It’s a problem that the very people starting the trends, sex workers, spend their life avoiding the answer to basic questions about their life, while they watch the fruits of their labor modeled on naive and judgmental bodies.
Yes, sex sells, but at what cost?
When it comes to The Bachelor, it is outrageous that the question was whether or not a contestant entertained men for money, when the real question is “Why are women demonizing a culture they are actively subscribing to?”
Our growth as a society requires a recognition of the problem, the courage to address it and the persistence to change it. When we don the things that make us feel our sexiest, we must strive to remember where they started and give due credit to the people who paved the way to their popularization.