Body Image: A Shift In Perspective From Burlesque to Stripping
Now that I’m working a more full-time schedule as a trainer, I’m dancing less in the club and picking up more gigs after a bit of a break from burlesque. I work in three industries that center around the body in some way. Because of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about body image over the past couple of months. But mostly, the drastically different ways both burlesque and stripping have impacted my body image.
I discovered burlesque not long after getting out of an emotional, and, at times, physically abusive relationship. I wasn’t looking for an outlet to heal myself. In fact, I wasn’t looking for burlesque at all. I prefer to say it found me. In those first moments of witnessing the sexuality and power on the stage, it was as if all at once my life became complete.
A part of myself that had always felt restrained because my behavior or sexual provocativeness wasn’t socially acceptable, suddenly felt at ease. In one single night, the course of my life changed.
Not only did this empowering art form help me find my way back to me, it helped me find peace with my body after years of being told by my partner that I was chubby and I needed to go running and lose weight. Then, once I did, began telling me I was too skinny and looked anorexic. I was stuck in a loop of constantly being brought down for my appearance, as well as being accused of being a slut for no reason.
The more I dove into the world of burlesque and taking classes at the New York School of Burlesque, the more I felt comfortable with my body and my sexuality again. Being surrounded by talented and supportive women of a wide range of body types and watching them slay audiences introduced me to the world of body-positive sexual power.
This isn’t to say I didn’t still struggle with my body image from time to time. But my relationship with my body and sexuality was no longer determined by the belittling comments of my ex-boyfriend. I was a beautiful, powerful, sexual exhibitionist and I found a community of like-minded individuals.
My weight still yo-yo’ed and I had good days and bad days, but, for the most part, I was no longer standing in front of the mirror critiquing my body. I was finally at peace, comfortable and confident, in my own skin. I felt confident and sexy while being nearly-naked in front of audiences of people.
And then I started stripping.
The club environment is much different from burlesque, I’m not in and out in about two hours. I’m not adorned with rhinestones, glitter, and nude fishnets to blend my legs and accentuate my ass. Instead, I was spending 7-hour, sometimes 13-hour days in 7″ heels. There’s no tip bucket to split among all the performers.
At the club, I’m approaching patrons along the bar for tips during my stage set, sometimes being completely ignored, only to see them tip the girl behind me. It takes ironclad confidence to be a stripper and deal with daily rejection. You have to learn how to not give a fuck. But it doesn’t necessarily come with ironclad body image.
Let me preface this with saying there wasn’t a drastic jump back to hating my body. In fact, it took quite a while before how I felt about my body began to change. It was more a new awareness or awakening of how I thought my body looked than a hatred for it.
Between spending countless hours dancing in front of mirrors, wearing not much more than a g-string bikini, and being back in the gym working with a trainer as I recovered from a herniated cervical disc, I was starting to take note of how my body looked for the first time in ages. The softness around my midsection. The way my skin puckered over the straps of some of my outfits. I had 15 minutes every hour for seven hours to scrutinize my body in front of mirrors from every angle. And let me tell you, that’s exactly what I did.
I also began to notice the ripple of muscle and slenderness on so many of the other womxn in the club. How thin and toned they looked. I started to compare my body to the other womxn I worked with. Now, the club I work at is pro-dancer, pro-female rights, and not the type of place you need to look a certain way to work there. There’s a wide array of body types, but that didn’t calm my critiques.
Even though, I had yet again found another community of womxn with whom I felt I belonged. A space to be in charge of my own body and my own sexuality. I somehow began to lose the positive body image that I found within burlesque. Even as I type this, I know every single one of my stripper sisters would contest my ideas of my body with the truths that they are able to see and I cannot. They would build me back up, like the supportive grrl gang they are.
I also know from years of working in a club that the hottest body isn’t necessarily the one making all the money. That even in the strip club, having the “perfect body” doesn’t mean anything. It’s your hustle and your personality that make you money. Your body is just what grasps someone’s initial attention. That’s not to say being of a certain body type doesn’t hurt, but it’s not what’s going to determine your net worth at the end of the day.
So what’s my point already? Good question.
I suppose to point out that even those people who you think don’t have body issues probably do. That every environment impacts people differently. To be open and honest as someone who works not only in fitness, but also in the sex industry that I myself am still learning how to love my body unconditionally.
To love it for its resiliency after years of yo-yoing with my weight and it’s ability to bounce back…within reason.
I’m learning to listen to my body. To hear its limits, its strengths and its weaknesses and find ways to help it become stronger, healthier, and more mobile. I’m working towards focusing on my body’s ability to master new challenges and to gain muscle and strength and less on that little bit of belly fat that I can’t seem to lose.
I’m learning that loving myself as a whole, doesn’t mean I have to love everything about my body. Because that little pooch isn’t what’s holding me back, it’s the way I think about my body that is.
I urge you to do the same.
Find things that you are thankful your body is able to do, that your body can do, and focus on those. Instead of constantly critiquing yourself, learn to love your flaws.
But, most importantly, understand that loving your body doesn’t mean it’s not okay to want to change it.