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15) A woman for everyone

When I first showed up on the streets, I mistakenly thought that jealousy would be the largest challenge among the sex workers. I thought that envy would provoke the biggest conflicts on the streets, as it seemed obvious that if one woman was getting all the clients for the day, that surely other women would start to get annoyed or frustrated. Boy, was I wrong. It turns out that the women had a deep understanding of their clients, a much more profound comprehension of the situation than I had, certainly. It turns out that there was a woman for everyone. Furthermore, men wanted different things on distinct days. When I asked the women about jealousy on the streets, they would laugh me off, and call me naive. They would say things like, "Anita, don't be silly, one man wants a big, fat ass, while another one, without meat, you can never predict the tastes of these men, they are ever changing." The sex workers came in all shapes and sizes. Literally, every shape and form--some were what might be deemed as obese, while others were tall and lanky.

In Latin America, I would generally say that there is an appreciation for "bigger" women. Well, bigger than what's considered the aesthetic ideal for the States. Men in Ecuador generally liked full breasts, curvy figures, and plump bottoms. Women from the coast had the reputation of fitting the Ecuadorian ideal standard. Most of the sex workers in Quito were from Guayaquil and other cities from the coast, so the Andean men could indulge in their fantasies of the "overly sexual, passionate" coastal women. (Yes, there are racial undertones to these stereotypes, as Afro-Ecuadorian women tended to be from the coast). The ideal skewed towards, what in my North American eyes, seemed "chubby." But, then again, coming from New York City, I had very distorted ideals of what normative beauty looked like, veering towards underweight. "Heroin chic." It's interesting to note, that my beauty ideals shifted while I was in Ecuador working with the sex workers. I appreciated their larger bodies. I was frighteningly thin during my fieldwork in Ecuador. Not due to my drug use, though that did not help. I was simply naturally skinny. I always have been. But men and sex workers would remark on my weight, saying that I was "unattractive" due to my "skin and bones" aesthetic. I began to agree with them. I didn't try to gain weight, but I could see how women with more fat on their bones were more attractive.

All of the sex workers had their loyal clients. Their "husband clients" as they called them. These men would elect the same sex worker day after day, whatever body type they preferred. These husband clients made up a large percentage of sex workers' clientele. In fact, it was unusual to solicit unknown men, though that inevitably happened as well. Soliciting clients was an art form in and of itself (to be explored later). Sex workers had meaningful relationships with their husband clients. They were often friends and had been seeing one another for years. Usually, the clients were married men. Sex work is tacitly accepted in Latin American society. Women turn a blind eye to it and know that their men might frequent brothels and strip clubs on their nights out with the boys. Sex workers in Ecuador were once the primary figures in certain rites of passage, like when young men lost their virginity. At least, in previous generations. Often a family member--a cousin, uncle, father, etc,--brought a young teenager to the brothel for his "deflowering." My Ecuadorian male friends insist that this ritual is no longer in practice, that times have changed, but there was a time when some men lost their virginity to sex workers. Just like in the States, Ecuadorian men will go to the brothel and/or strip club for bachelor parties as well. Sex workers are key figures in these rites of passage and their importance in these rituals is a public secret.

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