BTW Reads: Belle de Jour


“That rare and wonderful thing: a fearless and witty revelation of one woman’s sexuality.” –Kate Hickman, author of Courtesans, from the back cover

I read Belle de Jour: the Diary of an Unlikely Call Girl during DC’s Snowverkill and was fully prepared to write a somewhat scathing review of said book.   Having spent the better part of my President’s Day roaming the internet reading more about sex work, the real Belle de Jour, and call girls galore, I’m unable to play the arrogant reviewer card [sorry!].

The book was an enjoyable and intriguing read– even if I hadn’t been snowed in, I have a feeling I would have read it just as quickly.  Belle writes in a familiar and accessible way so that you can understand and empathize with her decisions, in both her personal and professional lives.  The problems I had with the book seem to be common: first and foremost, I thought that she seemed a little too savvy, a little too hardened, a little too something.  She wrote with an almost too cool detachment; while Kate Hickman (above) lauds her work as groundbreaking, I found it to be more pedantic.  While she described and owned her sex work in her writing (although how much you can own your behavior while you remain anonymous is a valid question), she also seemed to make it clear that this was just a job, and she knew that she was fortunate to be educated and that she would eventually have options when she decided, on her own terms, that it was time to leave the business.

A few months back Belle de Jour outed herself to the Sunday Times.  I remember the splash of publicity surrounding the revelation of her identity, but, as I hadn’t yet read the book or watched the series, I didn’t pay close attention.  Today I went back and read India Knight’s article “I’m Belle de Jour“, and follow-up “Belle lays bare the myth that every hooker is a victim“, and am extremely glad I did (and I highly recommend that you take a moment to read one or both, especially if you’ve read the book or seen the show).  Having seen a few episodes of Showtime’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl by now, it’s nice to know what Belle de Jour’s real face looks like (she’s the one on the left) and to learn more about Belle/Brooke. It was increasingly frustrating how few details were provided about her life (education? major? school? field? anything?) in the book.

Dr. Brooke Magnanti, the real Belle de Jour, sat down with Billie Piper (the woman who plays her on the Showtime series) to discuss her sex work and you can watch a clip of their somewhat surreal interlude.  Piper seemed especially ecstatic to have the chance to interview her primary source material, an opportunity that, no doubt, will influence and inform her performance in the future. I was struck by how calmly and contentedly Belle/Brooke discussed her past as a call girl.

Getting back to the book– while reading I had to wonder how close to reality Belle/Brooke’s experiences were.  Salon.com interviewed three call girls in a piece creatively titled “Ask a Call Girl” whose responses were varied and provided a bit of interesting context. When asked “What do you think of Belle?,” Stephanie replied:

“Lovely but a bit hardened. I found her to be very cold in many ways to her clients. It’s very much about the sex with her. High-class clients are more interested in the overall experience. In fact, the sexual aspect is the least important. I would not class Belle as a “high-class” escort — more middle of the range.”

Magical Lizzy explains why a lot of women, in her opinion, “can’t handle the business:”

“Put it this way: If you’re an alcoholic, being an escort will make it worse; if you are a druggie, being an escort will make it worse; if you are depressive, a shopoholic, bipolar, any kind of fucked up, being a whore will make it worse. If you are pretty grounded, and like your work like I did, it’s a great job.”

And Cindy had interesting insights both about the persona projected by Belle with clients and the way she handled herself and the loneliness inherent in a double life:

“At first I didn’t like [Secret Diary of a Call Girl]. I found Belle really annoying — too hard, too cocky, especially with the clients. When you are that level of call girl, making $500-$1,000 an hour, your job is to be super-sweet, super-feminine, the perfect dream girl, not an edgy cool chick. But she’s growing on me… [I can relate to] Her loneliness. It is very stressful to lead two lives, to have to lie all the time — how is it that you can afford those great shoes, that $2,000 bag, the apartment? Of course you put up with it because you love the money and the control, like Belle says, but you do get lonely.”

And now for a mini-rant that has nothing to do with prostitution: I thought that Belle’s writing style was very similar to many other female authors who try to project worldliness, authority, and style, namely Helen Gurley Brown in Sex and the Single Girl (which I previously reviewed here) and Belle from Capitol Hill Style. Women who project all things stylish, perfect, and thin– and yet talk about a love for fried food, but keeping that love in check. Whenever I see, or hear, or read about, a thin woman who allegedly has a penchant for junk food or fried bacon wrapped dates or whatever I inwardly cringe. Why is it that women must a) be thin and b) treat food as a battleground with “good” food, “bad” food, and “guilty pleasures.” It’s annoying, unbelievable, and further entrenches the belief that all women have emotional and unhealthy relationships with food.

Has anyone else read the book or seen the series? What did you take away from it?

[Image via Peripheries]

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2 responses to “BTW Reads: Belle de Jour

  1. I have to say, I LOVE the fact that she used the money earned as an escort to live while she worked on her PhD. Something about that juxtaposition thrills me.

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