We noticed a lot of discussion on various forums about disabilities and health problems that various performers and models have, and often completely undetected or known of by those around them.
We let it be known that we were interested in speaking to anyone that would like to talk about their disabilities (or disaburlyties as we like to call them) and the response was amazing. The stories we read were so honest and uplifting – we have dedicated a large portion of this issue to these brave women and we hope you enjoy and take comfort from their stories…
This is December Charm’s story…
‘I want to kill myself but I’m too scared to do it. What would Mummy do?’
I was ten years old when I wrote those words in my diary. It scares me to think how long I had been having those thoughts for – they go back so far that I can’t remember when they started. I don’t even remember why they started.
I’m not one for sob stories. In fact, I hate them. The story I am about to tell you is something that very few people know. I have chosen to open up in the hope that people reading this will see how they can take control of their own lives, and live them in the way they want, no matter what their past…
This depression escalated out of control through my teenage years. I hated myself, the way I looked, my very existence. Looking back, I can’t remember a clear reason. My parents had divorced when I was eight, and my mum’s boyfriend moved in with us; a man I soon learnt to despise – although I never felt as if this affected me too badly. I was also picked on a bit at school, although nothing especially traumatic. I had it set in my mind that I lived a miserable, heart breaking life, yet nothing had really happened to me.
That all changed in September 2004. My very first boyfriend had broken up with me at the end of August after a monumental six weeks together. A friend of mine was invited to a house party and we knew he would be there. Together, we planned a highly sophisticated plan in which I would surprise him by turning up at the party. He almost seemed prepared for this, as he hugged me in greeting and instantly began to feed me alcohol. (I had already developed a rather dangerous fondness of alcohol as a result of the confidence it gave me).
After a while, when I was suitably drunk, he told me he was thinking of us getting back together and asked me to go for a walk with him. As soon as we were alone and out of earshot, he pulled me into an alley and raped me.
I blamed myself for a long time for many reasons, and because of that I never reported it. I still stand by my decision not go to the police; it’s a sad indication of the justice system we have. The blame and guilt led me to find ways of punishing myself. I believed that I deserved it because I ‘let’ this happen to me, so I began self-harming and drinking myself into oblivion.
A year later, still punishing myself, I found someone who helped pick me up and guide me. He was my first love. Admittedly, I was still self-harming and drinking occasionally, but I was so much better than I had been before I met him. I started university hopeful and excited. Then in my second week, out of nowhere, he broke up with me.
I’m aware that a break up can seem quite trivial to an outsider, but he was my first love and the only thing blocking me from my old self. Without his protection, I fell back into the shell that I had been, only much worse. I was again cutting and drinking, only I found a new way to punish myself – I stopped eating. I would sleep all day and didn’t attend any lectures. After three months, my course director informed me that my attendance was so bad that I would not be allowed to progress onto the second year of the course. If I left of my own accord, I would be allowed to return and start over the following year, so that is what I did.
I took a year out to work as a nursery nurse, and during this time I stumbled across burlesque. I had always been interested in musicals, vintage lifestyle, dancing and all other elements that form burlesque. It seemed like a place where I belonged. I researched it as much as I could, and found the Ministry of Burlesque. I was astounded at the sense of community – everyone looked out for each other and there was no fighting of any kind. I joined after only a few minutes browsing the site and I am so glad that I did. It sounds so cheesy, but it really has turned my life around.
I looked up videos of burlesque performances and found myself thinking ‘I wonder if I could do that?’ I started by modelling, in the sense that a friend took photos of me in Ann Summers underwear with a camera phone. The pictures were admittedly awful, but it was such a huge step for me. I could look at them and instead of being disgusted with the person looking back at me, I felt confident. Soon after, I began booking shoots with photographers, both amateur and professional, and my confidence grew and grew. Performing was just on the horizon. After a little shakey period with an unsupportive, unloving and malicious boyfriend, during which my confidence shrank slightly – though not to the levels it had been – I began to plan my first performance. I had met an amazing man, who was so completely supportive of me. I found myself confiding in him more than anybody else and he encouraged me get on stage and be proud of myself.
On Halloween of this year, I stepped out on stage to a crowd of strangers miles away from home and performed my very first burlesque act. It was such an amazing feeling; I can hardly believe the difference from my seventeen year-old self. I feel confident, I feel powerful; I’m proud of myself. This is who I am. These are my experiences and this is who I have become because of them.
To all the people who have been in any situation that has led them to feel down, alone in the world and disliking themselves: Hold your head up high, don your sparkles and get out there! This is your time to shine…
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.