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Samantha Turnbull Writer, mother, anti-princess

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The stories behind the boobs

A topless bar has just opened in my famous little town.

It’s not a place I plan to frequent, but its opening has raised a lot of questions about whether something so ‘Gold Coast’ belongs in the Byron Bay CBD (not far from the beach, a kids’ playground and other ‘family friendly’ venues).

This blog isn’t about that. It’s about the women who work there.

Whenever I think of a boobie bar, strip club or brothel, my mind wanders to the women and their stories.

What drove them to a profession that is, essentially, selling their bodies?

Through my work as a journalist I’ve come across women in such industries with stories of desperation. There was one undergoing treatment for a serious illness who didn’t think she could earn such a high wage any other way. There was another addicted to drugs. Another who was a single mum with a mortgage and private school fees to pay.

My good friend Gemma-Rose Turnbull (no relation) spent a year with street sex workers in Melbourne. You can read about their, often tragically desperate, stories at Red Light Dark Room.

I’m also aware of the women who enter such industries willingly and happily. The women who don’t see a problem with baring their breasts while pouring beers. The women who enjoy sex with strangers. The women who aspire to be centrefolds and celebrities.

In a way, it’s the second group that intrigues me the most.

At what point in their lives did they decide their bodies were their best assets? Did they come to a fork in the road where they had to choose between pursuing something like a law degree and exotic dancing?

I wonder if they feel empowered by their role, or if they’ve been fooled into thinking what they’re doing is empowering.

One of my favourite quotes along those lines is from Ryan Gosling’s character in the film Crazy Stupid Love: “The war between the sexes is over. We won the second women started doing pole dancing for exercise.”

And, like everything these days,  I bring it back to my kids. I wonder what I would say to them if they ever dared pursue work in the sex industry.

The best I can come up with is five simple words: You are better than that.

I hope they have the same belief in themselves.

6 responses to “The stories behind the boobs”

  1. Vicki says:

    I’m sure for some, it can be hard to get out of this industry once you’re in, but as Fay said sometimes you just have to take whatever work you can get. I too did the topless waitress thing, but I knew it wasn’t forever just while I was studying and had to pay the rent…..and really, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, most of the customers were really nice, not sleazy at all. Maybe I was young and naive but I certainly wouldn’t have considered it to be part of the sex industry.

    • Samantha says:

      Wow, thanks for sharing.

      I’m glad you were comfortable with it.

      What saddens me are those who feel forced into a situation they are not comfortable with because they feel they have no other choice.

      What intrigues me are women who choose such paths happily and deliberately.

  2. Fay says:

    I worked in a topless bar as a student several decades ago – I needed to pay the rent and there was no work for a few weeks at a pub where I normally worked, fully clothed. You do what you have to do to survive and my biggest worry was getting burned from carrying the sizzling cast iron plates (set on wooden holders) of garlic prawns – you would always get splatters. I didn’t consider it the sex industry and I wasn’t the only student there. When the usual pub had more shifts for me, I went back there, although the money wasn’t as good. But it was the tips which made it worth it, the owners barely paid you, it was crooked all round. You just do what you need to do at the time. And keep smiling. Like most jobs.

    • Samantha says:

      That’s really interesting Fay – thanks so much for the comment. It’s stories like yours that intrigue me. I always want to know how someone ended up where they are.

      I find it sad when anyone feels forced into any situation because there is no other choice. But if you were comfortable with it, that’s the most important thing.

    • Fay says:

      I think many people work in far worse situations than as a topless waitress – the reality of life that many people will have times when there is no back up or support and they have to do unpleasant to downright awful tasks just to pay the rent. What is more important is the you know that your work does not define you, you are proud to have found a solution and you are independent. Most of the world, if they are lucky enough to have work, have little safety or protection from all types of dangers. My grandmother once told me when I was a young girl that I should be careful as to what I said I’d ‘never’ do, after I’d made some impulsive statement. She said life is sometimes hard and you don’t know what you’ll need to do. It was good advice.

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