From Lorettes to Escorts: Media Representations of Female Sexworkers

In 19th century French literature and art, the lorette was a sexworker, typically of the working class from different cities across France, whose goal was to improve her social standing in Parisian society through lavish gifts from her wealthy clients. While not always successful, lorettes aimed to achieve enough social mobility to fool members of the elite into thinking that she was one of their own. Although the lorette was made popular through caricature and satire, and later in famous novels, there are references to real-life lorettes in the work of Alexandre Parent du Châtelet, Maurice Alhoy and Paul Gavarni. In these media representations, lorettes are simultaneously fetishized for their sexual prowess and feared because of their materialism and greed, which threatened to financially and morally degrade members of Paris’ elite.  

The modern-day equivalent of the lorette is an escort. An escort is a sexworker who accepts cash and sometimes luxury gifts from elite clients in exchange for her work so that she may gain cultural and social capital. Escorts are racially and ethnically diverse and are not limited to women. Just as lorettes were portrayed in writing and art, escorts are shown in modern media, like television and film, but they have autonomy over their own stories. In these stories, they become the protagonist of their own narrative by making their own decisions about their clientele, personal lives, and finances, rather than being depicted as a reliant, subservient and malicious character like the lorette.

The increased autonomy that an escort has in media representations has evolved from the objectifying male gaze seen in 19th century literary examples of lorettes, demonstrating the transformation over time of attitudes towards sexwork and female sexual empowerment.


Zurisaday Gutierrez-Avila OC '18, Jessica Weakley OC '17, Liam Oznowich OC '17, Maria Roussos OC '18, Noelle Marty OC '17