My Mom’s Take on Pretty Woman

I can’t comprehend how hard it was for my mom to think of her daughter selling sex, given what a misunderstood industry it is.
Publish date:
October 4, 2011
moms, sex work

The girls over at are discussing "Pretty Woman," which reminded me of my mom’s take on the film.

My mom’s really into movies and "Pretty Woman" just happened to be one of her favorites when I was growing up. She was a fan of Julia Roberts back from the days of "Mystic Pizza." In that movie, Julia plays the wise-cracking, working class beauty who, despite her street smart tough-girl exterior, falls reluctantly in love with the town’s rich-boy prince, who she ends up with in the end.

In "Pretty Woman," Roberts plays pretty much the same character, only -- in "Pretty Woman" -- Julia Robert’s character, Vivian, is a hooker.

My mom liked "Pretty Woman," only -- as she told me once -- she wished the Julia Roberts character weren’t really a hooker. She wishes she’d been just a regular girl walking down the street -- that Richard Gere had gotten it wrong. That’s my mom for you.

When my mom found out I was working as a stripper she was, in her words, “humiliated.” We spoke of it once, via email, and never again. When the NY Post thing happened, my brother sent me an email, subject “Why is CNN trying to get a hold of dad?” followed shortly by another email entitled, “Nevermind, I Googled you.”

I could safely assume that if they’d reached out to my estranged father and, later, my brother (who I am also not close with and who is, for all intents and purposes, off-the-map), they must’ve contacted my mom. They had -- of course they had! -- but she didn’t mention it.

Not the first time we spoke after the story had broken and not the second, some weeks later. When she finally did mention it, nearly a month after the first headline ran, it was to express exasperation at my former employer, the Department of Education. She said something to the effect of, “I don’t understand why you’re losing your job” and “I tell my friends to just wait until the book comes out. It’ll explain it all.” (Never mind there’s no book coming out anytime soon).

My mom professes to be my number one fan, which is difficult to hear let alone believe when at times it feels as though she barely knows me. At 30-something years old, I am working on accepting that my mother loves me in her way, this is the way she shows her love, etc etc. That said, I will never forget the email she sent, confronting me about the fact I was hiding my occupation.

“I know you're stripping,” she said. “I am not a stupid or naïve woman.”

“This is all my fault,” it went on, “If I hadn’t been broke on my ass all the time and able to give you adequate spending money, none of this would’ve happened.”

She compared my having lied about my job akin to her ex-husband/my father’s adultery. She ended that email, “I hope you know what you’re doing.” For her sake, I pretended I did.

Years later, I would be asked by Jodi Sh Doff what I would do if my daughter was thinking of becoming a sex worker.

“I wouldn’t encourage my daughter to be a sex worker,” I said. “I wouldn’t discourage her either. Ultimately, every woman is free to choose how she makes herself sexually available, to whom, and for what in exchange -- and we all do, all the time, sex workers and non-sex workers alike.”

The first part of that quote -- the “I wouldn’t discourage her” part -- would become a specification leveled against me by my former employer, a reason (according to them) I’m not fit to teach kids.

Obviously, I was answering that question as a daughter, not as a mother (and certainly not as a teacher). I can’t comprehend how hard it was for my mom to think of her daughter selling sex, given what a misunderstood industry it is. This is one reason I write: to contribute an alternative narrative to what people might typically think.

In the real world, the protagonists aren’t nearly as perfect, there isn’t always a prince to swoop in to save the day (nor is that always what one’s after). The endings aren’t always happy, though I expect mine will be. How did your mom react when she found out you were a prostitute? However many years later, have you gotten over it completely?

My brother, by the way, is pretty fucking rad. In his email -- the one entitled “nevermind, I googled you” -- he told me that he’d read my writing. He said, “You have a gift.” “I understand what you did and why you did it,” he said, “and you should know I simply cannot put into words the respect I have for you.” He ended the email with this: “Know that you have my love, support and respect- for whatever it’s worth.”

It was worth a lot.

Check out Melissa's new column "The H Word" at Bitch Magazine.