In response to an article on Mamamia arguing that sex work is much uglier in reality than in the movie Pretty Woman, sex worker Tilly Lawless created the hashtag #FacesOfProstitution to show another face of prostitution — hers.
Tilly felt the article generalised sex workers and portrayed all prostitution as harmful. As a protest against the Pretty Woman piece, the 21-year-old posted her own picture to Instagram and Twitter, to demonstrate how she made an informed choice to be a sex worker.
Inadvertently began #FacesOfProstitution this morning when I responded to the Mamamia article via my instagram pic.twitter.com/bHIjC1K3k2
— Tilly lawless (@tilly_lawless) March 29, 2015
Tilly has been working as a sex worker for two years, but has only recently publicly identified herself as a sex worker in Sydney. After posting the picture to Twitter with the hashtag, hundreds of Australian sex workers posted their own pictures for the world to see, many for the very first time.
Choice, by definition, can’t be wrong. So from what, exactly, do you think you’re saving me? #facesofprostitution pic.twitter.com/Fl0Rra3Zjz — Ava Grace ♡ (@AvaGraceVIP) April 2, 2015
happy & proud pansexual SW with an amazing partner. not a victim #rightsnotrescue #sexworkiswork #FacesOfProstitution pic.twitter.com/JxX2pOrJEY
— Miss Flames (@FlameChanel) March 30, 2015
#FacesOfProstitution do I look unhappy? I have a lifestyle most envy. Being a SW made it possible. BACK OFF! pic.twitter.com/HNFt189ZbI — Cassandra Deville (@JezebelSt) March 30, 2015
#FacesOfProstitution isn’t about glamourising sex work. It’s mythbusting the “voiceless faceless victim” meme. We have faces. We have voices
— Luscious Lani (@LusciousLani) March 31, 2015
Tilly told BBC Trending that she was pleasantly surprised at the result of her hashtag, because sex workers “are very rarely humanised as individuals, so often our bodies are spoken about but putting our faces on social media is such a powerful thing”.
Australian sex worker and actress Madison Messina wrote her own response to the Pretty Woman post, which was published on Mamamia.
“As a sex worker, it is offensive to be told that I’m a victim and that I need to be saved from an occupation that I freely choose and that I love,” she said.
“This is why the #FacesOfProstitution hash tag is so beautiful; it shows sex workers of different parts of the industry, who have different experiences. A collective who love sex work so much they are willing to stand up and put their face to an industry that is still so stigmatized.”
While it seems the Pretty Woman piece has since been removed from Mamamia, the author, Laila Mickelwait, told BBC Trending that she stands by it as she believes that legalised prostitution results in illegal sex trafficking.
Mickelwait argued that the film had made prostitution appealing to young women and exposed them to an abusive, traumatic life.
“Just because there’s a handful of women and men who are posting pictures on Twitter saying this is an empowering job doesn’t make it true about the industry,” she said.
“They have a voice but they’re the voice of a very small minority who have the privilege of getting on Twitter and being able to post those kinds of pictures”.