I have been thinking a lot lately about something I call armor. Armor is what the people who work the bars in Thailand seem to wear, it's something they put on to protect themselves from the true reality of the sex workers life.
The long term workers tend to cover themselves with both physical and emotional armor. The physical stuff comes in the form of tattoos and gold. Many women and men who I know in the bar world and have known for many years get more and more tattoos as the years pass (unusual for Thai women), many of the women will also wear more and more gold, gold rings, earrings, necklaces, buddha amulets etc. Its like they cover up who they were before the bar life and protect themselves this way. The other armor is the emotional kind, this is also a form of protection. The worker tends to never trust a farang (western) male, never allow themselves to feel emotion, love etc. I remember a girl I knew well who worked a shortime bar, this was back in 2003. The girls name was Ai, she was a very sweet person with a great smile and laugh, she repeatedly said "Farang go-hok" (farang men lie), she would not allow herself to trust anything any farang male said to her. The emotional armor would also be put in place to find a customers, a false cheerfulness. One women I know, Long, a long time gogo bar worker, a girl I have photographed maybe a dozen times once told me "When I go with a farang for sex I smile on the outside but cry on the inside." The smile is Long's armor, the tears are the truth.
The armor is one of the things I was trying to get past with my portraiture of the workers. I wanted to show their true nature, their vulnerability, their inner feelings and emotions. I wanted to get past the false cheerfulness and tell the story of who that person was. The armour would come up to hide the person, I tried to get past the armor, to tell the true story of who the worker really was.