When I was eight years old, I told my mother I wanted to be a stripper. She looked at me with her young and caring eyes, wise past her years, and simply said, ‘Honey, whatever you want to be do it well, and I will support you.’
She meant every word and holds them true to this day. As one of my biggest fans, she comes to as many shows as she can, loves and adores my burlesque community, and is very verbal about my achievements to anyone who will listen.
The little girl I was then clearly did not understand completely what it meant to be a stripper, but she was dazzled by the strength those woman had. The feminine energy a showgirl exuded with every seductive, controlled and powerful movement. When I was little, I never saw the body in its exposed form as bad, wrong or shameful. I saw it as beautiful, natural and sacred. The showgirl was exaggerated from the everyday, a goddess on earth.
That brings us to adolescence, that magical time in a human’s life when everything stops making sense. Childlike notions of freedom and expression are challenged at every corner. We grew up in a western patriarchal society, dominated by advertising and oppressive stereotypes. A heavy weight to have looming over you, distracting you with unrealistic ideals of aesthetic beauty and success. These ideals teach you that aesthetic beauty = success. We are taught to subscribe to a false self created by someone else, rather than to nurture and create our own selves.
Although the magic never faded from my eyes, there was some clouding of it. When bombarded with messages of how one is supposed to be, it can be a journey to get through the lies and come out on the other side. Having a ‘non traditional’ shape and size and being quite masculine in stature, I was confused as to why I did not fit this mold.
For a time, my body was a source of distrust. As I was becoming a woman, my sexuality was budding, but I did not feel sexy. I was too fat, too plain, too tall, too flat, too butch, too boyish to be considered a pretty girl. By today’s standards, at least. Please note that all of these qualities are physical. Never mind my incredible capacity to love, my compassion for my fellow man, my humour, wit or intelligence. If I was not pretty, who would even care? These were the little voices that developed in me. Luckily, I was punk as f*ck and chose to fight them every step of the way. But it does not mean they were not there.
We are sexual creatures; we are human. In a fundamental way, we are here to get it on! Why else do we have such prominent sex organs? We are also naked first. We clothe ourselves for protection from the elements, and also to attract certain people into our lives. Using clothing as a calling card as to what tribe you might belong to. But in this society of body shame, being naked is deemed wrong. If we are proud to be naked, there must be something wrong with us. Who are you to love your body when I hate mine?
I used to write for a Riot Grrrl zine. My entries were always, always about self love. Now I perform and teach burlesque. To me, it’s the same thing – reaching a group of people who are searching for answers and permission to just be themselves. To take a hold of the beauty that is yourself and not what someone has told you to be. The first burlesque show I ever saw widened my perspective and peripheral vision all at once. This is what I had been searching for. I had not yet become the stripper I had told my mother I wanted to be, but I was close.
She took the stage and was dazzling. Her costume, the dance moves, the energy. Her body was, like mine, imperfect. But what resonated most was her presence. Her absolute desire to be right where she was. She was making art and she was inviting us along for the ride. No preconceived notions about how she is ‘supposed’ to look or act. It was all her from start to finish. Magical. I wanted to be part of this world. I had a lot to give on the subject; I had been waiting since I was eight…
I did not start calling myself an artist until I had been doing Burlesque for about four years, and teaching for two. Like any art form, it takes a while for it to incorporate itself into your veins, into your soul. Burlesque being an unconventional art form, it was hard for me to put it into context.
‘I’m an artist.’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘Paint.’ – Easy.
‘I’m an artist.’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘Strip.’ – Complex.
I was also in the space of – how am I allowed to call myself an artist? This is just what I do, what I love. But something changed the day I allowed myself to call what I do art. To give it value. To value myself all over again. A different kind of vibration travels through me now. After letting that in, I got to speak with the same kind of power I gave to other people when discussing their achievements, their art, their passion, their triumphs.
Six years later, the value of what I have gotten from my never-ending journey into burlesque is quite phenomenal. For myself and for others. The lessons I have learned and struggles (so many struggles) I have faced to be able to unleash what I do are so very valid. Now, I get to teach and work with women on the same path as me. Stripping away layers of our hearts, souls, and clothing all at once, to lay it all on the floor.
We stand naked and exposed on that stage with such immense personal power for all to see. To invite and invoke others to do the same. You do not have to strip physically to peel back layers of yourself, but what we offer is an insight to how it might be connected.
This is my art, this is my power, this is my passion.
This piece was written on my reflections from two recent articles – Burlesque and Feminism: It’s complicated and Burlesque Laid Bare. The argument and commentary can go in circles forever; both the words Burlesque and Feminism have many meanings for everyone. But like any art form, what your intentions are behind your creation is what gives it life and power. Simple.
Find out more about Lola at www.thelolafrost.wordpress.com