Sex work, body image and mental health —

Row of women with various body shapes

Mental Health Awareness Week 2019

Sex workers, body image and mental health — our thoughts

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and this year the Mental Health Foundation is focusing on body image and mental health — a pertinent topic for the adult industry.

Appearances aren’t everything when it comes to sex work, but it’s wrong to say they play no role at all. From personal branding through to promotion and the time you spend with clients, as a sex worker emphasis is continually placed on your body. It’s only natural that there are times when you feel the pressure of keeping up appearances.

In light of this and to coincide with Mental Health Awareness week, we’re taking the opportunity to start the conversation about mental health and body image in relation to sex work. Here we’ll share a few of our thoughts and the experiences of member Tiffany Naylor. If body image is currently causing you stress and worry, this article will also point you in the direction of sex-worker-friendly support and advice.

The role of body image on mental health

Last year, the Mental Health Foundation discovered that 30% of adults experience such feelings of stress when it comes to appearance and body image that they feel overwhelmed. This can lead to depression, anxiety, isolation or even self-harming and suicide.

For this year’s campaign the Mental Health Foundation want you to consider how you think and feel about the skin you’re in. They’ll lead discussions into why and how body image concerns arise and highlight that people of different ages, genders, ethnicities and sexualities may experience body image challenges differently.

Through their get-involved-initiatives and expert advice we can all join in. Doing so means better understanding how to help ourselves if struggling with the pressure of body image, or how to help friends, family and colleagues.

Body image and the adult industry

Let’s dive a little deeper into why this is an important topic for the adult industry to talk about…

As a sex worker, it’s likely that both you and your clients demand a lot from your body. It’s easy to let yourself fall into a trap of comparing yourself to others. Or making changes to your body at the request of someone else rather than for yourself.

This seems like a stressful path to tread and it’s not a road we want to lead members down.

When it comes to body image, the culture we try to create on is that it’s an accepting platform for all consenting adults and sex workers. This is born from the belief that sex work is one of the few industries that can appreciate and love all body types.

AdultWork Tip: Remember to complete your Interview section – it’s this section that members can search across to find the physical attributes they’re looking for.

As a long-term member and with around a decade of sex work experience under her belt, we spoke to Tiffany Naylor about body image and sex work. In particular, how this perception has changed over time.

When asked, ‘What has sex work taught you about body image — good and bad?’ she described what could be one of the biggest misconceptions.

Tiffany said, “I’ve always been very skinny with no boobs and thought you needed huge boobs to be a successful sex worker (of any description). Sure, the “stereotypical” image of a sex worker is certainly popular — for some clients that’s the look that turns them on — but it’s not the only look. Any and all other body types can be and are successful too.

“Once in the industry, I quickly realised that no matter what you look like someone is into it. Yes, some clients in my cam room or Twitter comment that I don’t have massive boobs or big lips, but there are just as many who approach me because they like that I don’t have big boobs and lip fillers.”

The beauty of fantasies, fetishes and desires is that they come in different forms. What is attractive to one client might not appeal to another. It’s why we believe the adult industry is so wonderfully inclusive.

As Tiffany explains, “Everything is a fetish: big legs, long toes, short hair, big butts, flat chests, huge nipples… While some might seek out the “norm”, unusual or different looks are just as in demand. You don’t have to look like everyone else.”

In an industry that often puts appearance in the spotlight this is an important message to remember. “The idea that we all have to look a certain way in order to attract clients and make money could be difficult or perhaps even damaging. Especially when you’re new to the industry,” explains Tiffany. “The reality is that people are all different. As a sex worker, it’s about learning what your strengths are physically and embracing them.”

Looking after your mental health is important in any profession, but the intimate nature of interactions means sex work is unlike many other industries. Film clips, posting selfies, client requests and more, all lead to constant emphasis on your appearance. It’s easy for body anxieties to creep in. If you find this aspect of your work overwhelming, it’s important to find support.

Raising awareness and finding support

Throughout Mental Health Awareness week the foundation is releasing body image and mental health guidance and education. Whether it’s your own personal experience or wanting to support a friend, family member or colleague, there are ways to raise awareness and help.

The most important part is knowing not to bottle up your feelings. You’re not alone. You can find sex-worker-friendly therapy services on Adult Industry Services and in our support services listings. There are professionals who are available and ready to help.

If you’re keen to join the conversation, share your thoughts with us on twitter.

Got more to say than you can fit in 280 characters? Share your thoughts on body image, mental health and the adult industry by posting a blog on your AdultWork profile. We’d love to hear what you think and share and update this post with thoughts and feelings from our members.

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