“It’s such a shame. She’s so young and pretty!” I’ve often heard this expressed when people see a beautiful young Thai woman in prostitution. I cringe every time. Women in prostitution are routinely paraded on glamorized auction blocks, their bodies exposed, and their sexuality flaunted to get the highest bids. I have watched men examine women’s bodies, make an offer and then check out the other merchandise before coming back to make their final offer. I’ve often wondered what it feels like to have a man make a bid and then turn away because someone else is more appealing. I’ll never forget the cry of one woman when she was running back to the streets, “I have to make money so I can get plastic surgery so that one of these men will love me!” Women in prostitution are not valued for their compassion, their sacrifice, their gifts, or their potential. They are treated as commodities and their value is weighed by their appearance and their sexual abilities.
Last night I talked with three Thai women in a bar. They were all over 40. The beauty they carry is not evident on a bar dance floor. They dance in bikinis but their bodies are out of shape. Not only do they hate the job, but also every night they feel the rejection as men choose younger bodies over theirs. At the end of the month these women usually end up paying the bar for wages lost by not meeting their quota of clients. These women are tired. Tired from life’s wear and tear and tired from working nights. Their beauty cannot be measured in a bikini or with a price tag. The beauty these women carry is in their years of life experience, their perseverance through tragedy, and the family loyalty, which is tested to the point of self-sacrifice in prostitution.
People mean well. It’s shocking to see beautiful young girls on the arms of men who could be their grandfathers and realize they are prostituted. But if we stop to think about our words do we really believe that it is a greater shame if the person is young and beautiful? Prostitution steals the life and potential of every person who falls into it or is forced into its bondage, regardless of age or appearance. The attractiveness or age of the woman who is being prostituted should not factor into our level of sympathy, or our motivation to help. Each life is precious and valuable. Our words should say as much and our actions even more.
At the end of the night two of the women had phone numbers to call us, and carried hope in their hearts for a job with dignity. They can start to believe again that their value is not fading with age and that yes, they are still beautiful.