An escort agency manager identified only as James told the London Times's Helen Croydon that the TV version of Belle's story made some young women proud to be prostitutes. He says,
The TV series did glamorise it [...] Whether that is good or bad I won't say but I noticed that after it was shown, our younger girls - the ones aged 18 to 21 - started to think that what they did was cool. I call it the ‘Belle de Jour phenomenon'. They used to want to hide it but recently I hear they have come clean to friends - boyfriends, even. Not only has it become acceptable to them but some even aspire to it.
So will the revelation that Belle de Jour is Brooke Magnanti — educated, currently with a loving partner, and apparently with no regrets — convince more young women that prostitution can be cool and even risk-free? Magnanti's (alleged) ex, who has begun an extremely long-winded blog about her, has this rather bizarre answer:
Anyone who reads it and decides to take up prostitution because of it has much deeper issues. Her blog and books were merely the litmus paper that indicated/highlighted it, not the cause.
For example, having watched Twilight you don't just then fall for the next moody, pale adolescent you see. He might be a ravishingly intriguing vampire who can unlock the door to an exciting world, allowing you to escape your rather mundane one. However he might also just be quiet because he has nothing to say and pale because the world he will show you hidden in his bedroom is the Online Gaming forum he inhabits everyday when he should be out in the sun kite surfing every now and again as well. He will be fat, spotty and myopic by 30, not eternally youthful with good cheek bones. There is nothing wrong with the former, but don't be surprised and berate him for it when it happens.
Twilight references aside, the Daily Mail offers a cautionary tale for any young woman who might want to follow in Magnanti's footsteps. The lead is classic Daily Mail — "This week the anonymous sex blogger Belle de Jour revealed her true identity as a scientist and claimed she enjoyed her work as a prostitute. But can any woman justify glamorising prostitution?" — but Christina Errington's story is disturbing. She writes about having unprotected sex with older men as a university student, first because she needed the money and later as a form of retaliation against her overprotective and uncommunicative parents. Two men hit her, and she says "it took me several years of being in a trusting and loving relationship [...] before I could make love without stirring up unpleasant recollections of my life on the streets." She concludes her piece thus:
It is easy to say, as Brooke Magnanti did this week, that selling your body for money doesn't hurt anyone. But it does, and the damage that is caused to a woman's self-respect is sometimes irreparable.
It's clear that prostitution can carry psychological as well as physical risks, whether or not a prostitute is educated and middle-class. But it's somewhat unfortunate that Errington implies she deserved to lose her self-respect because she did sex work. Croydon writes that "those entering this sort of 'work' must have specific non-emotive character traits to be able to handle the psychological strain," and it's obvious that Errington, who took up prostitution in response to poor family relationships, felt this strain keenly. But what "non-emotive traits" would someone need in order not to feel it? Was Magnanti's comfort with her profession the result of her personality — which her ex describes with the words, "she wiped her nose on her sleeve and ate peas off her knife whilst discussing advanced astronomy etc at the dinner table" — or simply of good luck? It's hard to know, perhaps because both Errington's story — the fallen woman scarred by her days of selling herself — and Magnanti's — what Croydon calls the "happy hooker" — are such popular media narratives. What's missing from the public conversation about prostitution — and what continues to be missing despite Magnanti's confession — are nuanced portrayals of both the attractions and risks of sex work. These exist — Michelle Tea's Rent Girl is one. But they get less attention than stories that fit into established prostitution cliches, which, despite her new candor about her identity, Belle de Jour's still does.
Image via Daily Mail.
Happy Hookers: The Other Belles De Jour [TimesOnline]
I Was A Student Call Girl Like Belle De Jour - And The Shame Will Never Leave Me [Daily Mail]
Untitled Post [Brookes Owen]
Belle De Jour's Father: I'm Broken-Hearted After Discovering Her Past [Telegraph]