Sydni Deveraux tackles ‘Bullies in Burlesque’…
** Note from the editor: The decision to publish full or extracts from email correspondence is made on a case by case basis. All names and identifiable details have been removed from the following extracts. Comments will be screened to make sure that no one is attempting to name names. If the producer involved wants to send in a statement to be posted, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sydni Deveraux and I would like to encourage discussion of this issue in the comments section below. H-M.**
Hello world! It’s Stripper Talk time again! This is a place where I field questions and answer them to the best of my ability, hopefully giving anyone who’s interested in burlesque some insight.
This week’s question comes from a performer whose identity I’ve chosen to protect, with location undisclosed. Let’s call her ‘XX’. All of the identities have been removed from this post, including the location of the people involved. Statements (taken from correspondence) from the producer have been highlighted to give as much of the full story as is allowed at this time, and to encourage a conversation that needs to happen in our community about discrimination and misogyny in burlesque – this episode being ‘size-ism’. As burlesque becomes more and more popular, we need to take notice of the surroundings that we’ve become accustomed to, and make sure that all of its participants are treated with respect. It’s a slippery slope – allow an inch and some will run a mile on you.
I am writing to you after being inspired by this video.
This year I stepped down after six years of performing burlesque, after having a discussion with a producer. I was pulled aside after a rehearsal and told to lose weight by him and that now there was a new ‘code of conduct’ which addressed this issue. Okay… I calmly said that I understood and walked away from the exchange completely shocked. We live in a free country; people can do what they want and produce whatever show they want, but I got into burlesque not to be a skinny girl on stage, but the sexy woman that I am. Later that week I informed him that I could not follow his new rule and did not agree to the terms we discussed, which were:
1. Lose more weight.
2. If I don’t lose weight I will be booked less.
3. I was not allowed to discuss this topic with any of girls.
His response was this correspondence: [Edited down for length.]
“…I wanted it to be a process that we embrace together, with the end result being a healthier, slimmer performer. I want to see the return of the XX on the stage that I originally cast in the show. That’s it…
I represent the audience and what they desire to see onstage. In every aspect of the show … Ignoring social norms of what is attractive is pure selfishness on the part of the performer. That’s a quick way to end up with a show that no one wants to see… If you ignore the audience’s expectations, then they will ignore you and your show.
At the end of the day, you are fighting me about this because a.) your feelings are hurt by my honesty about a situation that we both know to be true, and b.) it dredges up all sorts of hurtful self image issues that you are applying to yourself. If you were to step back and look at the situation rationally, you would agree that this isn’t the body image that you want to represent yourself with or that you want to put onstage. You want to be healtier, more attractive, stronger, faster, leaner. You want the same things that I want for you. You just don’t like hearing it from me.
So, I’ll ask you again. Will you work with me on this? Will you continue to do what you are already doing, slim down, get healthier and be accountable for this with me? Or would you rather tell me to fuck off just because it feels good to do that, in this particular moment?
Which was then followed immediately with this correspondence: [Edited.]
“Let’s be clear about this. You are currently the biggest girl in the show. That’s why I had the first discussion with you…
I do not have height restrictions for the show, because no performer can control that. And the pool of available talent in the city is not large enough for me to put that restriction in place. A performer CAN control their weight. That’s why I am addressing this issue…
…Vegas standards are much stricter than anything that we put forward in this show. Nobody in Vegas would have the prolonged discussion that I am having with you. They would have just fired you a long time ago and hired someone else.”
And my response was:
Since we’re being clear, I understand that it is your responsibility, if anyone’s, to approach me when a change like this is needed. However, I completely disagree with the direction you’re leading this troupe in. When you pitched the show to me, it was a collaboration of gypsy artists, not a weight restricting showgirl strip club. You never pitched a show that would have restrictions on the burlesque performers.
On that note, I am not the largest girl. I wear a size 4. *S is a 6. Fact. I have absolutely no issues with *S size. Perhaps the reason she doesn’t count in your line-up of who’s the largest is dependent on a longer working relationship, again, since we’re being clear.
If you were to step back and look at the situation rationally, you’d recognise that your motives for this are skewed, at best.
I’m not telling you to fuck off. It doesn’t feel good to have to have this exchange with you. I told you when we spoke that I’m now 3 lbs. away from my weight on my license, which was 135 lbs. When I started this show, I was 141. It hurts me that you’re approaching me based on your personal opinion, not fact.
I’ll see you at the show tonight.
None of the girls I spoke with heard of this new rule, nor did they agree with it. Of course, that night was the last night I performed with the troupe.
I was going to walk away from this and never look back, but some part of me feels like I need to tear this open for everyone to see. He had bullied girls about this and that, but about my weight – that was the last straw. Is this where burlesque is headed? This homogenised version for the masses to digest? Is this the future of this art form? What the hell should I do? Do I bring this to the community? My options for performing are slim now that I don’t have a ‘home’ show, so I’m taking this time to figure out what does this is all mean for me. But please, I would love to hear your opinion.
Hello and thank you for writing in, XX.
Woah. I’ve been sitting on this email for a week now, trying to digest my reaction. Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway – I’ve stripped identities from this correspondence because the other party isn’t here to defend themselves.
I can’t say I’m surprised, XX, about the feelings that the producer expressed in his note to you, since I’ve certainly experienced those sentiments from producers from time to time, and it certainly feels disgusting to have someone else tell you what you should be doing with your body. Our community is a microcosm of what’s happening all over the world, with those in charge trying to control women by tearing us down based on our appearances.
Here’s my major thoughts about this:
1. No one should be permitted to treat you that way. No one should ever tell you what you should do with your body – EVER.
2. I’ve certainly had gorgeous experiences with most male producers in burlesque, but it’s hard not to be a little wary as many male producers are not strippers as well, and aren’t dealing with the cultural expectations placed on our female bodies on a day to day basis. I recognise that everyone is dealing with pressures placed on us to be ‘attractive’, but none so much as women, in my opinion. I’ve had my wary moments with men working in burlesque. Some tout thinly veiled misogyny as rakishness or wit, or in their casting choices.
3. I hope that burlesque doesn’t become homogenised, but I really want to point out that it did come from more homogenised roots. It wasn’t until the resurgence of this art form that we saw the DIY/anyone can do it culture. This means that for a while yet, especially as this art form becomes more widely known, we are also dealing with the paradigm that striptease style burlesque was created in. During those days, they were constantly examined and written up about their bodies, with producers doing exactly what he tried to do to you, XX. Conventionally attractive or wildly exotic were the ways to get into burlesque. Now that its resurgence is mostly powered by smaller funding, self-producing women and the underground (for now), we have the ability to change this paradigm for good. We must make sure these things are talked about before burlesque gets bigger; we must make sure that we keep our dignity in a culture that loves to rob it from anyone that deals in sex and flesh, let alone just being a woman.
4. It is all of our responsibility as performers and strippers to speak up the moment a red flag happens, to note when you see a producer discriminating or bullying ANYONE, and to take great self care. When a producer bullies one of us, they bully all of us; if we stand by and watch poor treatment, we’ve taught the producer that they can also do the same to us.
5. The notion that the producer thinks that he represents the audience in what they want is possibly the most arrogant and disgusting part of his explanation. It takes all kinds liking all kinds, or else we would all look very similar at this junction in history. His statement made me say, ‘f*** this guy’ out loud, actually. I really don’t like it when people claim to know what everyone wants. It makes me punchy.
6. I would recommend that you do bring it to your community – at least to your troupe – but you should certainly give the offending producer the chance to stand up for themselves. It’s only fair. I guess my hope in having him be there in a discussion would give him the chance to either:
a) Reassess his thinking and apologise. b) Get run out of town.
7. You needn’t have stated your weight in the reply, XX. His request of you, regardless of your size (ANY SIZE), is absolutely asinine and horrible. Unless you enter an agreement with an establishment about being any sort of size, keeping your hair a certain colour, or whatever it may be, it’s not okay to get an email or comment like that. It’s bad enough that strip clubs already dole out this type of treatment to their employees; it’s sad that it’s happening to our contemporary sisters. We need to make sure it doesn’t go any further. Our making sure that all talented types of bodies and humans are represented on stage is our way of standing up to the paradigm that rages on so horribly in this world right now. It’s our way of maybe being able to make a difference for our contemporary strip club sisters, and for all women, really.
8. Until all women recognise that this art form is COMPLETELY dependent on us staying strong, never allowing any iota of room for situations like this to take place, taking care of business, taking loving care of our bodies and ourselves, supporting each other and keeping the power in our hands, more men looking to capitalise and bully us in this community will exist. I believe that women ultimately have all the power – it’s just up to us to fully embrace it.
9. I should note that there are certainly women willing to do the same type of bullying, and to me that feels more dangerous than any man telling a woman to lose weight. You would think that all of this is common sense, that bullying or discriminating against anyone based on what’s on the outside (race, weight, height, disability, gender, etc.) is horrendous, but we’re not quite all there yet.
10. It is certain that everyone has their own preference of what they’d like to see on stage, but it is another thing when anyone will bully or shame someone by stating that their preference is how all people should be. Never mind that variety in all things, body types and people is the spice to life.
I wish that this all is resolved for you soon, XX. Stay vigilant and rehearsed; different gigs will pop up and your performance life will work itself out. When I left my troupe years ago, I was scared that my performance options had dried up. You might have to look in other places, but they are there. I hope that you find support in your local community, XX, you’re not alone.
Be loving to each other and support your sisters in stripping!
PS: “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”
― Harvey Fierstein
“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”
― Coco Chanel, The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman
To ask Sydni Deveraux a question about anything pertaining to being a fancy lady (or mancake) in our shining world of burlesque, please email GlitterWonderland@gmail.com.
Body shaming and asshole factor aside, he breached his own contract by levying a weight requirement when none was present at signing. And if there was no “disclosure” clause, he’s double-damned for forbidding you to speak of it to the rest of the troupe. Clearly, he is not the brightest producer you could work for, and doubtless you’re better off without him.
Screw this guy and his narrow mind. If you want to grow your fan base, you need to cater to additional sorts of fans. That doesn’t mean you need to completely overhaul something that works, but adding varied content as well as performers who have varying shapes and sizes, even by degree, ensures new patrons in your seats. Putting on the same show for the same people gets you a whole lot of nowhere over the long term. If you don’t grow, you tank. Business success ultimately boils down to being flexible and REALLY understanding your audience today, as well as what they could be tomorrow. I understand what drives the strict Vegas standards, but you’re a chump if you assume patrons, and potential patrons, want only that. You’re alienating a huge and growing segment that wants variety and a fresh take.
Sweetie, take your fabulous self and a few like minded performers with good chops, and start your own show. There is a hungry fan base out there waiting for you to dazzle them with a tempting assortment that promises something for everyone. Go show them how its done!
I’ve seen an eighty year-old woman perform a burlesque show. She stripped down to her pasties swung her hips all over here and there. And you know what? Everyone in the audience loved it. There’s a plus-sized girl (est. size 18) in my local troupe. She sings and tells jokes in addition to enchanting everyone in the room with her confidence and dat booty. Nobody can tell anybody that they’re “too this” or “too that”. Skinny girls, curvy girls, big girls, old folks, young adults, and men as well can all be sexy performers!
I’m a new comer size 20, over 40, tattooed and short! We in the UK have a type of show called Variety. This is a show with a bit of everything, comedy burlesque, magic burlesque, singing, bump and grind, dance troupes and that’s what attracts me Variety. If you go to a show and everyone is the same look, size, that uniformity doesn’t interest me. Some historical acts like the Tiller Girls made their career on being same height, look and size and perfect timing for their leg kicks and I love that, but for five minutes, a whole evening of it would drive me crackers!
I hate the fact he made you feel upset but don’t ever let anyone in your head like that. My male friends came and saw a show I was in and I commented afterwards about how I expected they a performer who in my eyes was a perfect shape, age, beauty based on media portrayal and to my suprise they said no, they told me they wanted to see women not models.
I’ve performed in a burlesque troupe. Wouldn’t call myself an artist at it by any means. But I do have a strong background in the entertainment industry. I agree with the contention that artistry trumps a strict conformity to narrow beauty standards. I agree that there is a wide variety of tastes and forms in “beauty.” But attempting to characterize any performance art as divorced from “beauty” is pretentious and reductionist.
Burlesque is a visual art form which uses the body and beauty of the performer to communicate. Pretending that we can ignore that hinders our ability to do our art.
I know for a damn fact that I have physical features which detract from my compelling performance. I don’t think I’m less worthy as a person because of them, but I know if I’m trying to floor an audience, the fact that I am homely puts a damper on my ability to move them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with being homely. I’m also kick-ass and clever and flirty and freakishly strong and kinda scary in person. And I LOVE telling people about what I am onstage.
But I know when I go on stage to perform with my body and my face, people respond to my body and my face, just as they do my music, my costumes and my lighting. As humbling as it is to remember, people pay attention to the beautiful. They admire it, they are moved by it. And I don’t have that tool to use. I have to come up with something else. That can be a great creative challenge, but it also means I’m not easy to cast.
In conclusion, there was some definite injustice and silliness going on with that stupid producer. But please don’t pretend that looks don’t matter in burlesque. They don’t have to be ridiculously narrow and exclusive standards, but they MATTER.
You inspire me every. Single. Day. I’m a new performer at a size 16 and face judgement or the fear of judgement every time I get on a stage. But it is body positive leaders like you that get me through it and allow me to embrace who I am and rock my bad ass self, no matter what my size is. XOXO
In my opinion, dieting and exercising for reasons other than improved health (for example, for appearance) is a bad idea. I developed this opinion based on Margaret Cho’s experiences on the set of her sitcom, All American Girl, when she did permanent damage to herself trying to achieve a look that some producer wanted. As I’ve gone through some weight issues myself, I have been most successful when I wished to improve my health and least successful when I was trying for an appearance that others found sexy. In other words I had to be doing it for myself, because in the end you’ll never please the kind of people judging you on your weight.
I’ve watched friends of mine torture themselves on extreme diets in order to go down a size and it made them miserable and hard to be around. On the other hand when I diet for health it takes ages for even a slight change in appearance to be visible, but I feel physically better and in a good mood.
Wow. While I agree that XX shouldn’t be treated like this regardless of size, I am horrified at a size 14-16 that a size 4 performer has been told to lose weight. Personally, I love and am attracted to performers of all shapes and sizes from Jeezy to Jo to *BOB* and more, and I personally want to lose a little weight to be where I really want to be as far as my health is concerned. However, even my goal size is a 10-12, and I was a triathlons at 190 lbs, so I know bigger girls can be healthy. This is all a little overwhelming for me. I know it happens, but the mentioned producer kept saying to be rational while being irrational himself. As a producer, I look for only a certain quality–entertain me–but I do consider my audience when choosing not to put any religious acts in my shows. However, I never consider the performer’s size when determining if the audience will like her or him. I’ve performed in several cities and been well received in all. I was recently part of a tour of four performers and was the largest and least experienced performer on the tour but had a great audience AND producer reaction at wvery show. I feel (from my experience) that the arguments about experience AND size leading to an unentertaining performance or performer are invalid. AND, I also share the sentiments expressed below by *BOB*, Jo, Lady Monster, Jeezy, and Dustin…maybe others, too, but I really remember these. And, while I may not be at my ideal size for me, which is a personal decision, I still know I own the stage when I’m on it and am sexy as hell.
This treatment is completely unacceptable. No one should be treated like XX, burlesquer or not. As a producer, I’ve always booked performers who brought their fierce personality, style and stage presence. It was never about height, weight, hair length, eye color, etc. However, not all shows are of that thinking and as *BOB* beautifully put it, we are freelancers and possess the choice of where we work. Hopefully there are other opportunities in XX’s town where she can nourish and embrace her art. I’m sorry, XX, you were treated this way. This producer clearly lost sight of something amazing (you) and has slowly-subconsciously or not-spilled the beans of his character. Focus on you, what your talents and treasures are and share them with the rest of us! Thank you for having the courage and strength to come forward with your story.
I am so saddened by this posting and equally saddened by Anonymous Burlesquer’s comments, and yes I do strongly suggest that you remain anonymous. I have a 16 year stellar career in Burlesque that I am completely grateful for. I have challenged myself personally, tried to be generous to others and sharpened my craft like a pencil.
As a teacher at The School of Burlesque in NYC since 2004 I have met hundreds of women that have blown me away with their courage and ambition. I feel that the producer is out of line. I also feel as performers WE DECIDE WHERE TO WORK. If you work for a pig because you want the work you are telling EVERYONE that it is okay to treat all dancers poorly. Most Burlesque performers are independent contractors. The downside of that is no benefits or guarantee of pay. The upside to that is you are literally YOUR OWN BOSS.
I have news for those who fit into the narrow corners of a discriminatory producer’s mind; if you work for producers who discriminate because you DO fit into their “ideal” you are just as bad. We are in this together people. It is fine for everyone to have their opinions on what looks good/works in a Burlesque show. It is also important to have some concern on the quality level of Burlesque as a whole. With it’s popularity has come a tidal wave of new performers, shows, and producers. When I started at The Va Va Voom Room in NYC you had to audition to get in.
I have seen a ton of changes including the over saturation of the market and with it the pay lowering for the people who probably inspired you to do it to begin with. You still can not say things like; “I do not want to see obese women or men doing a strip tease, period. It is harming our art.” It is OUR art- ALL OF US- YOURS but also MINE. And honey opinions are just like assholes- everyone has one. In America and Burlesque there is room for everyone. Gay, Queer, Dyke, Les, Bi, Trans, Fat , OBESE, skinny, tiny boobies, huge boobies, med boobies, one boogie, no boobie, all ability levels, all colours, all shapes, men, ALL. I do ask that if you do Burlesque to sharpen your craft like a pencil but above all please remember that the only time you should EVER look down on anyone else is to help them up.
Love and Courage,
World Famous *BOB*
a spiritual transexual, gender fluid, size 18, 224.6lb. BMI index considered OBESE , Granny Chasing, Baby animal loving, screaming the loudest for all of you to make it, old school, Drag Queen, faggot, REVOLUTIONARY!
Im glad that so many people I respect responded to this in a way where I can still respect them. It’s always interesting to me when people don’t use their names to respond, it shows they are actually ashamed of what they are saying.
I was too angry to respond to this at first. I wanted to ignore it because CLEARLY when someone is basing their casting on superficial things ( race, size, look, etc.) they are taking the art out of the art form. I’m uninterested in Neo-burlesque where the art is removed. I’m uninterested in the pure commercializatoon and societal conformity that goes on in shows like that. I’m not even interested in paying to see a show like that, much less try to perform in one. When I hear people base their casting choices on anything but performer ability it makes my eyes twitch. That’s not art. It’s especially upsetting for me as a female since it also just points out where females still are in society. In a word, rage. Time to suit up for battle. I’ll don my sparkly warrior outfit for anyone who comes up against anti-art bullshit such as this.
Sooooo @anonymous burlesquer….you dont want to see obese people onstage because it grosses you out…but skinny people onstage look like crackheads?? So im guessing that we should all just strive to have YOUR perfect body that falls nicely into place between the two? Maybe the community wouldnt shun you because of your strong opinion but moreso because you sound like a dumbass hiding behind a screen. Sorry if that was harsh but I just lit up my crack pipe again and we all know how I get!!!
This is so disheartening to read. I’m sure, unfortunately this is happening more than we think. I guess I’m a bit ignorant to it, being as I’ve seen so, so many shows over the years that have all different types of people, different in size, shape, skin tone, race, gender, age…I just felt burlesque was that place for everyone…everyone with passion, creativity, heart. It makes me sad that this is happening. I think it’s pretty despicable! Also…how is a size 4 big at all??? That is kind of boggling my mind right now…
PS. My bod may never be conventional, but it is FABULOUS as it is and I love the show it gives. It’s been trained well 🙂
The responses to this topic has been interesting and eye opening.
@Anonymous Burlesquee – I am living contradiction to your argument regarding obese women being harmful to the art. I’ve been in burlesque for 8 years, and on stage all my life. I work out hard and have had my battles with diet and injury. Once puberty hit my body made it well known that, no matter how hard I work out (And trust me, I’m no slouch when it comes to physical activity) and what I eat it will never be conventional. Nevertheless, I put on a damn good show. I perform for a living.
As an obese performer, I’ve heard the gamut of things along the lines of what you’ve just said, about not wanting to see obese people on stage, audience members being grossed out and so forth. Nearly every person I’ve ever heard utter those words then watch my show, come to me with a different tune once they’ve seen me on stage. Part of my life’s mission: To destroy any perception has one has of me based on my appearance, turn it’s on it’s head, and see new possibilities. I am a fat, black performer, and queer to boot. A lot of presumptions run through an audience’s mind when I take the stage. But I have studied and practiced my craft for many, many years. I can read many an audience before a note ever plays. I have long studied my art and am damn good at what I do. My name is a draw and I have been sought out to perform all over the country and internationally, in burlesque and other avenues of performance.
To say what you don’t want to see on stage is completely your prerogative. Your taste is yours and I’m not hurt by not being your cup o’ tea. If I knew who you were, I would never expect you to book me or pass along my name for shows. I would hope that you would just avoid any show with obese girls in them. I would expect that knowing your feelings on the matter and it wouldn’t phase me.
However, to say that obese women and men are harmful to this art is insulting, not just to me, but to the many incredibly talented people who have brought this art to the forefront, as well as the legends who came before us.
@Burlesque Fan: If a performer needs work on their acts, that should be the topic of conversation, not their body. I’m not going to get into all that was wrong with this producer’s approach since it’s been repeated many times over. Addressing the issues you mention would have (should have) been an ENTIRELY different conversation. It would have been a conversation about the state of the acts and performance, not about her body. And if he truly cared about her improving when she puts on stage, there are much more helpful and constructive ways to have that conversation about her performance/costumes/stage awareness/etc. Being smaller never makes one automatically a better performer.
I work in burlesque, but I also work for a professional show where my size and appearance is contracted and any changes must be approved, including weight loss/gain. Even so, I would NEVER let my professional gig speak to me that this producer spoke to her, and I doubt he’s giving her medical benefits and a living wage. They also own up and were up front from jump about the aesthetic they want – not what the audience wants, but how they want it all to look – before I signed a contract. They also would let me know if my show was slipping. It’s wouldn’t be about my size, it would be about my show. There would be rehearsals, changing music and choreo and whatever else we could think of collaboratively to improve my show.
And if the producer was someone I knew I would tell him that he was an ass. Honestly and plainly and why. That’s just how my friends and I are, we are very honest with each other. I have friends who produce. I tell them when I think they’ve put on/curated a poor show and they tell me if an act is wanting. This is how we improve and grow in what we do. If they can’t be receptive to such information, then it’s up to me whether or not to work with them or recommend them to anyone else. If people ask me about them, I will be honest about their policies and modes of operation and they can decide for themselves as well.
I know I got long winded. This is far from new news, but people are coming forward, either being on the receiving end of such ridiculous, having witnessed it or having perpetuated it. This is a topic that has long affected me and I’m glad it’s being talked about more openly. Let the dialogue continue and may progress be achieved!
@Burlesque Fan: Of course we don’t know XX’s performance ability, but that doesn’t matter. There’s a pretty simple way to remove someone from your show if they’re not a good enough performer — you say “I’m sorry, but you don’t quite fit the show I have in mind. I’d be happy to offer you some constructive criticism in person, if you want, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to book you for now.” What you DON’T do is say to the underwhelming performer, “You’re too fat.” Why open that whole can of worms unless that’s the only issue?
I think the key thing here isn’t so much that the performer was removed from the show because of how she looked, but that the producer took not only a rude tack in doing it but a hardcore patriarchal one. As someone else noted, he portrays himself as the rational one and XX as the emotional (and emotionally damaged) one; not only that, but it’s paternal as all hell, too, totally minimizing XX as a person. “I know better than you what’s good for you,” is hardly empowering!
For what it’s worth, I think XX did exactly the right thing to call this producer on his BS. Her response is pretty much spot on — she refuses to engage his attempt to define her, and focuses instead on insisting that he face the effect of his actions on her as a person (which he had tried to forestall 1) by firing her over email, and 2) by demanding she not share his reasons with anyone, both strategies of someone who realizes he’s taken the moral low ground). I just hope that by “stepping down” she means from her troupe and not from burlesque as a whole — the bq world needs strong personalities like that!
Finally, while 6 years might or might not be a long time in any art, it should be noted that there are quite a few big names in the bq world whose burlesque careers are under a decade old. Michelle L’amour started 10 years ago, Anna Fur Laxis and Roxi D’Lite 7 years ago, April O’Peel 5 years, and so on. Just like any other art, there are people who take to it quickly and people who never quite get the hang of it, and plenty in between. I think 6 years is a pretty respectable length of time, especially for a performer in a local troupe.
The very first burlesque show I ever saw was hosted by two women bigger than a size 4-6 with the utmost of fun and confidence… which is attractive no matter what size, age, gender, etc a person is.
That she is a size 4 and being asked to lose weight as if it is a “concern” for her health is not attractive. A size 4??? That was the size of supermodels back in the heyday of THE SUPERMODEL.
All of the first shows I saw had bigger women in them and smaller and taller and shorter and it was part of me wanting to do this. To be able to stand in my pasties confident in my body no matter what size was attractive. I do see that many of the people producing now have a specific view of how they want to curate their shows. I also see groups/producers that have shows representative of what they want to see are also well supported.
I do not think what this producer did is cool.
I also believe that when we are producing the shows we are interested in seeing than the audience shows up. I’ve participated in shows like Sweet Lorraine’s Shades of Burlesque which is an all black woman burlesque show. It’s been packed every time she produces it. I love that burlesque allows creators to be creators from soup to nuts. I say eff off to him and go create your show. Clearly, just even from the support here, there is interest.
It doesn’t seem to matter if you are big or small. As a woman someone always will have something to say about how you SHOULD look, think, be. That’s their business. We just gotta keep it moving.
First off I want to say this has been a very interesting discussion, and I think XX did the right thing by speaking out on this issue. I’m interested in playing devils advocate on this because I’ll admit, sometimes I don’t “get” burlesque and I’m hoping that by being an ass I’ll forward the discussion and gain a better understanding. So please don’t take offense, that’s not my intent.
The comments I’m seeing are coming at this issue from the point of view that XX is a great performer and shouldn’t be told what’s attractive and what isn’t. Or to phrase it differently, that great performers can come in all shapes and sizes. But what if she isn’t a great performer? Six years is hardly enough time to master an art. What if the acts she was performing didn’t offer any depth of expression. What if they were a poorly executed strip in costumes that no longer fit properly? I recently lost 10 pounds myself, but the way my weight is distributed is different then when I was this same weight and “fit”. So what if, despite dropping weight, XX looks flabby?
I don’t think anyone could argue that women of all body shapes CAN be sexy. Nobody is going to tell Foxy Tann that she doesn’t have it going on. But what about a performer that doesn’t have it going on? What about a performer that is recycling a few acts that just no longer fit her persona or body type? What does a producer tell that performer?
I think we all picture the producer as a cigar smoking wolf like in the old Tex Avery cartoons. Focusing on profits and big tits. But what if the producer was someone you knew? Picture the producer is a friend of yours, you hear through the grape vine that they did this and of course you’re upset, but how do you approach them and what do you say? Everyone is going to make a boneheaded move from time to time, and as a community if we can build people up and show them a better path, it’s more productive then tearing them down.
Again, I wish XX the best going forward and I hope she finds what she’s looking for artistically. I look forward to your responses.
Wow. I think I need a week to fully digest this as well. My first images of neo-burlesque was the BUST magazine article featuring Dirty Martini and World Famous Bob. So, right off the bat I saw fuller figured women like myself performing this art form I’ve loved all of my life. However, finding burlesque instruction at that time (late 1990’s) wasn’t easy. Thankfully, I found Heather MacAllister’s Fat-Bottom Revue where I was “the petite flower” of the group at a size 16 (and 5’3″). She PACKED venues routinely. There is always an audience out there that wants to see burlesque done well, by people who have confidence, passion and talent with their art. This producer is appalling, yes, but it happens everywhere and with female producers too. The more we open our mouths and discuss this discrimination and bullying, the less likely for it to continue.
The dominant paradigm doesn’t need to be defended. It has lawyers, guns, and money. Calling it sexist isn’t bullying. Anyway, we all participate in some shows that are corporate or otherwise aren’t egalitarian. I am not calling foul on every such show or event. However, on my own, for pure joy and belief in the power of subversive and progressive art, I do not produce them or worry about getting booked into them. I believe in developing your art, hence I run a school where the instructors are developed performers. But I don’t believe the world will suffer if there’s a show where people walk out because of lack of mainstream pretty. And I care more about keeping burlesque open to all types of shows than about burlesque itself. If burlesque narrows down to only one kind of show, whether it’s all political-no-glamour or all Pussycat Dolls, I’ll find something else to do.
If people who can’t enjoy a great performer because of that performer’s size, condition, age, race, or gender walk out of my show, fck ’em and I’ll pay them twice their entry fee not to come back. Don’t want them.
@Annie- do you think it would be acceptable to be bullied like this if XX was larger?
I think that point is unimportant. No matter the size, a person shouldn’t receive treatment like this.
There is a reason my posts are anonymous. I’m very aware of how unpopular my opinion is within the community, and in fact, the majority of bullying I have witnessed within the community has been aimed at anyone who might dare to suggest that physical beauty is an important factor in creating “successful” burlesque. If my identity was revealed, I would be shunned for such blasphemy.
At no point did I ever say only one body type is universally “sexy.” Actually, there are a wide variety of tastes out there and plenty of room for everyone. I think we ladies tend to become trapped in what WE personally find sexy and assume this holds true for all. On the point of advertising, there is a reason advertisers choose the images they do – because that is what consumers want. Remember, they are advertising to women, not men. The women you see in Vogue are markedly and drastically different than those you will see in the various porn mags for men.
Advertising aimed at women is not intended to promote a body image, but rather to assure women that the given product will help them achieve an ideal which is most common to them. Advertisers are trying to sell you your dreams, not preach. And the fact that we are here discussing what size we wear as a measurement of sexiness is proof that those advertisers know what theyre doing.
I am not insecure about my body. I own it. My confidence makes me sexier and more desirable than any model in a magazine. Further, I am strict with my diet and exercise regularly, because if you want to look your best, it takes some work. I believe I owe this to my audience, it is an integral part of my art. No I am not “skinny” nor would I want to be. Crackheads are skinny. Skinny is not sexy to me.
Finally, this has nothing to do with XX, but I do not agree that all body types are great in burlesque. I have been to many shows where performers were just plain unattractive but the producer and performer were too busy being nice to be honest about it. I do not want to see obese women or men doing a strip tease, period. It is harming our art. When audience members leave feeling “grossed out” you have just permanently lost that audience. Those people will tell their friends how horrible it was and in fact, I have personally had many friends tell me horror stories about their burlesque experiences and say they would not return. Without an audience, our art would be a handful of people performing for an empty room. I can do that at home by myself. If we want to further this art, we MUST create shows that people want to see, and will enjoy enough to return and bring friends. An artist’s primary responsibility is to reach an audience, not turn them off. There are far too many burlesque performers who believe that this is about them, or for them. The art is not for the artist or it would not work.
Thing is, we aren’t even talking about a ‘bigger’ or ‘plus size’ performer in this instance. Shes a SIZE 4!!
Johnnyboy, I think we can ennoble one body type without insulting another. There’s room for all sorts of bodies in burlesque. Come on, man.
I think something that disturbs me very much is this idea that someone else comes in and tells you how you should make your art. On stage as a burlesque dancer, everything that the audience sees is our art. Our body, costumes, makeup, movement, etc. and for someone to tell you that they know best and know what you ultimately are feeling is really horrible. To assume that every full-figured performer is insecure about their body is a very false assumption. Conversely, I’ve seen many conventionally attractive women be riddled with inner strife. We will never know the inner wars that people are fighting- we should never think we know either. Assumptions are very dangerous.
@Anonymous Burlesquer: I’d love to chat with you about this particular comment:
“If you are insecure about your body, why perform burlesque?”
If you truly think that there is no insecurity in burlesque, you’d be sorely mistaken. I’ve not met ONE performer that hasn’t had an issue, either temporary or ongoing. How could anyone walking in this culture of “beauty” not have had a body issue? Have you walked outside? Everything we see on TV, in magazines, and online screams “You’re not good enough- no matter what you do”. Performing is a way of taking that back. Many of us were performers in different ways even before insecurities took their hold, as natural performers you become compelled to perform despite the issues that have taken hold in our brains.
Artists are made via their insecurities and hardships. Beauty often comes from pain. That being said- I don’t enjoy seeing performers act out their insecurity on stage with poor shows, lack of body awareness- but a great performer, even with insecurity will rise above, perform in spite of and still be a success, blasting audiences with their deep well of confidence that they access on stage….they are re-born on stage every time they perform. To assume that every full-figured performer is insecure about their body is a very false assumption. Conversely, I’ve seen many conventionally attractive women be riddled with inner strife.
Well Sydni wanted me to chime in with my two cents worth. Neoburlesque is one of the most egalitarian and ultimately feminist artistic endeavors in human history. It caters to women of all shapes and sizes as long as there is talent attitude and most importantly, a “brand.” For example, “Golden Glamazon” is Sydni’s brand. But when I read about so-called “producers” discriminating against the BurlyQ plus-sizers, it fills my heart with sorrow. Why do people have to be so close-minded and try to hammer their human beauty subjectivity on others? Some of the most talented NBQ performers I know are heavy-set, and SRO crowds love them!! And why do they succeed? It’s all about attitude and brand–plus heavy is sexy to many, and someone mentioned variety.
I have a feeling, however, that the national NBurlyQ network is so strong that this producer will not last long in this business. The egalitarian nature of this artform, where all are equal, will preclude him from continuing. And I thought the only bullies are in school, silly me. Thanks for inviting me to post something Sydni. lt;3 Jimbo
Thank you all for your responses, I hope this helps our community stay transparent and strong, lets not lose ourselves to standards others want to place on us. We are all beautiful, we are many and let our voices be heard.
Here’s the deal, it’s not okay to try and keep someone silent. I was asked to be silent about being told to slim down, that this was a new rule that all the other girls looked over and agreed to. But if I had stayed silent, if I didn’t ask my colleagues, “is this what the new clause is really about” I would have never found out that they had no clue of the implications behind this new clause. And THAT is manipulation, which is only one aspect of why this story is not cool.
A lot of men I know and myself as well actually hate the waif look, if a girl turns around and looks like a little boy its not appealing. I thought it odd that he thinks ‘the audience ‘ wants to see skinny. I am not just speaking for myself when I say I would much rather see curves than bones… He is definitely trying to bully and manipulate. XX should ignore sick-os like that try to keep your chin up love.
I’m finding it difficult to imagine why some of the commenters are unable to see the problem with this producer’s actions. Bastard Keith is absolutely right. This guy has a right to produce the kind of show he wants with the kind of performers he feels his “audience” wants to see. And telling one of his performers that she needs to lose a few is totally his prerogative. Does it make him a Grade-A Dickwad? Yeah. It does. But to choose to pursue his dickwaddery in a private, confrontational way using shame as a tool — and demanding that the situation not be discussed with troupe mates, to boot? It’s controlling and manipulative. Not at all constructive or respectful. No one should ever tell you what you want for yourself. Or who you should be. And, personally, as a Skinny Minnie with a boatload of my own body issues, I have a great deal of respect (and a little jealousy!) for fuller body types (or any body type, for that matter) that can get up on a stage and own it. It’s what I love about burlesque. It would be so lame to see the same types of bodies and performances repeated over and over. If burlesque got to that point, I might as well trade my pasties and heels in for a cardigan and some flats and sulk off to work in an office somewhere.
Hey there, Anonymous Burlesquer. I’m an MC and producer in New York City. You know what? I agree that no producer is under an obligation to cast anyone. I mean, the whole point of producing a burlesque show is that you get to make the show YOU want to see, right? And part of that is crafting an aesthetic experience, right? And body shapes are part of the aesthetic, right?
I mean, sure.
If you cannot see the problem with the approach this producer took, then you might want to go back and read it again. This is bullying. It is cruel and it targets and victimizes the performer. First off: XX can’t talk to the other members of the troupe about the “new rule?” That’s fishy from the get-go. Preventing communication between women is a classic male tool of oppression, and in this case I’m glad XX went ahead and found out just how full of shit the producer is. Of course he didn’t talk to the other performers. It’s the same cowardice, the same evasive, irresponsible attitude that made the producer claim to “represent the audience.” Nope, sorry, you represent your own tastes as a producer. And that is FINE. It’s just that here, the producer is calling it something else in order to legitimize his feelings and delegitimize XX’s. After all, doesn’t she understand that he’s only being realistic?
It’s painfully condescending and mean, and the real stake in the heart is when he attempts armchair psychoanalysis about how she REALLY feels about her body. Here’s where it goes from bullying to some Jedi mind trick shit designed to make a woman feel profound shame.
“At the end of the day, you are fighting me about this because a.) your feelings are hurt by my honesty about a situation that we both know to be true, and b.) it dredges up all sorts of hurtful self image issues that you are applying to yourself. If you were to step back and look at the situation rationally, you would agree that this isn’t the body image that you want to represent yourself with or that you want to put onstage. You want to be healtier, more attractive, stronger, faster, leaner. You want the same things that I want for you. You just don’t like hearing it from me.”
Read that again. This is classic misogynous bullying. The woman isn’t rational. The woman is emotional. The woman doesn’t know herself, doesn’t really understand, and needs the perspective of a man. She’s really just displaying “selfishness” by refusing to see it his way, the AUDIENCE’s way.
I call shenanigans on this. Reading it sickened me as a man, as an artist, as a producer.
If you have your taste, OWN IT. But don’t you DARE put it on some invisible “audience” or make a woman feel shame to make your point. You don’t want to work with a certain body type? Don’t hire them. You think someone has moved away from the type they were and thus no longer has a place in the troupe? Fine. Fire them. It makes you a jerk, but at least it makes you an honest jerk.
This producer has the gall to bring up “Vegas standards?” Well, first of all, he’d better be paying Vegas money. Beyond that, Vegas shows have a weigh-in and a measurement standard which is established BEFORE THE AUDITION.
Which brings up the issue of standardized body shapes. As a cisgendered male, with all the privilege that entails, I’m loathe to give my opinion on this sort of thing. But I generally think homogenizing the imagery of burlesque is both boring as hell and not in keeping with tradition. As long as there has been burlesque, there has been physical variety. You want to talk about the audience’s tastes being considered? Every audience has loads of different kinds of people, loads of different tastes. If I, as a producer, wish to reflect my audience, then it is my responsibility to have different body types, ethnicities, styles, etc. Otherwise what are we DOING?
If I ever sent an email like this, performers would be right to out me and make sure no one ever worked with me again.
Oh, and to answer two of your points:
1. If women without body insecurities did not perform burlesque, we would be deprived of some of our most astonishing talents. Don’t you imagine for a second that being a great burlesquer means having an indestructible self-image. We’re all working through something.
2. The point of performance art is to perform art. You take a commercial risk any time you present something outside the mainstream. The things that hurt burlesque’s reputation are not body diversity or “losing touch with their audience” (here, code for not hewing to a Maxim/Vegas standard of physical attractiveness). What hurts burlesque’s reputation is poorly produced and performed burlesque. If you really are in the business, as your name indicates, I am surprised that you do not see it the same way.
But hey, it takes all kinds. Isn’t THAT the point?
@Twyla: ANY person that wants to tell you what they think about what’s ON your body or what to do with your body is an asshole.
I have a lot of tattoos. I have 2 cover ups. Clearly I like tattoos, and think they’re incredible on women. Have you ever heard of SuicideGirls.com? I started modeling there years ago- hot women (of many sizes- though I do fear it’s more contemporary sizes these days) with tons of tattoos and interesting things to say.
My tattoos are a part of my journey, a part of my life. Not all were done by Michaelangelo but they are a part of *me*. I pity those who like to tell me what they think or try to read me. These people have nothing better to do in their day but drag down other people.
More women need to say something immediately. Don’t stew or take it in. Say something! As someone who does this (you wouldn’t believe how many people think it’s ok to conjecture in front of me if I’m male or female due to my height)- I now take delight in making it known to them that I have no desire to take their abuse.
I don’t think the producer was bullying anyone, and as a producer, it’s his/her right to choose what type of performer to include in the show. Every producer does that. If the performer takes issue with the producer’s standard, then don’t work with them. This is not bullying.
Bullying is a situation where someone does not have a choice about being a victim of harassment, and is generally not able to defend themselves. In this situation, the performer has merely been asked to lose weight or leave. If the producer decides that a certain body type is not inline with the style of the show, that is no different than the producer of an opera deciding that a baritone is not the right fit for the leading male role, or a theater producer deciding that a tall person is not a good fit for the leading role in their play. These are “style” considerations, and it is the job of the producer to make such choices.
Further, there are many burlesque troupes that embrace all body types. Why does the performer feel it necessary to fight against the producer in this situation? Why not just move on to another troupe where she would be welcomed with open arms? I don’t understand the outrage.
When performing burlesque, you are doing a strip tease. Some producers will have standards for their shows or body types that they prefer. It is awkward and embarrassing to fight against that, and just shows insecurity on the part of the performer. If you are insecure about your body, why perform burlesque?
And I don’t agree with others that everyone should be welcomed. I have been to shows where certain performers made it very unpleasant for the audience, and caused audience members to leave without seeing other performers in the show. If a performer is truly not concerned about providing a show that is appealing to the audience, than why take part in performance art? The entire point of performance art is to provide entertainment for the audience. I think too many burlesque shows have lost touch with their audience and that is why burlesque tends to not draw much of a crowd outside of the burlesque community. Sure, some shows draw a crowd. But in general, burlesque does not have a great reputation as a performance art for this very reason.
I’m in the “I wish I never got these tattoos” closet. Today is the first time I’ve ever admitted that, it’s very painful. A few years ago a guy read me, saying “what are you so proud of? It’s not like your tattoos were done by Michelangelo”. I was so upset,, but he was right, my tattoos weren’t done by no Michelangelo. They’re not aging well, they’re fading, and look smudgie. I used to think they were so cool, but now I’m so deep in regret. I know my tattoos marginalize me, and put me in a box I don’t want to be in any more. Shit
Oh, one more thing: By my count, there were a half-dozen visibly overweight women in the BHoF competition this year (two of whom won titles!) I’m not privy to how many applied. But we feature a lot of different types of women (and men!) on stage over the 4 nights of the event; I can’t think of any reason to privilege the tournament as more representative than any other night.
Agree with almost everyone, so I won’t rehash all that. But can I just say, we have plenty of larger women (and men!) performers on burlesque stages here in Vegas. I think maybe he means “burlesque” (with quotes around it) on the Vegas Strip, but the real burlesque community here is pretty dang diverse. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, jerk!
In America, most sorts of discrimination are strictly illegal within a reasonable ability of an entity to comply with a necessary accommodation. Unfortunately, that does not apply to the modeling or entettainment industry. Lawmakers have caved in to strong lobbyists who are mostly white male mysogynists representing white male mysogynists with narrow views of beauty who see it as entirely areasonable to discriminate against persons of size and color as less marketable. It’s true. Anywhere else it would be a criminal offense to fire or threaten someone’s job stating size or color as the reason. Not so in the entertainment, modeling and stripping business where it is entirely legal. The complainant will almost always lose that lawsuit. Even the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) won’t take that on. I hate to play into the “angry lesbian” stereotype but this is an unarguably patriarchal issue and it’s going to take a good while longer to topple this unfortunate norm. Those who know me know I’m not a man hater. I do applaud each and every one of us who stands their ground, speaks their mind and does whatever small or large part she/he can to break down this most despicable enabling of individuals, groups and organizations in these industries to justify their negetive opinions of persons of size and color under the umbrella of capitalism and imagined audience desires. I apologize for the rant and the final run on sentence. xoxo
I’m very surprised with what this entry had to say, mostly because its hard to believe that someone could be so astronomically ignorant. I feel very upset for the performer who had to indure such a reckless, tactless and down right tasteless commentary about what “the massess wants” and truthfully this is something I think all performers need to rise up and defend eachother on. Its a sad truth that the burlesque and stripper world seems to be pressure by the wildly unattainable idealism of becomming this “ultra perfect super thin barbie type figure”. I am all for being healthy, and looking great on stage but it has been proven that you can do that regardless of what size you are!
From a personal stand point, I’ve had my share of good and bad experiences in both the burlesque and stripping world. I’m from a smaller city in Canada, have been performing for a little over 6 years and at 5’9 and 230lbs.
I am the “biggest” Burlesque Performer (to my knowlage) in my entire provience. I feel that health is very important but health and size dont equate to the same thing. The main REASON why I have been doing this so long is because of the positive feedback I get after every performance (woman are the main audience around here) When they see my size, they are amazed that I have the confidence to get up and shake what I got. Some have even gone as far to say after they see me on stage, that they will never feel ashamed about there body again. That is an extremely powerful message. Being bigger might be a “neiche” and you might not be widely excepted; but look deep down and think about your intentions in performing. I’ve accepted that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but that producer is wrong, there IS a market for all different shapes and sizes; Small AND Big.
Dont be ashamed about what you look like, and don’t feed into the bullshit this producer is giving you. Life is too short and You only have one body, so embrace it and love it for all it’s perfect glory!
Hi Sydni, I’m a fan of yours. Love seeing you perform.
I’m in the conservative South.
Our cards asked audience members..
Did you like our show?
What did you like most?
What did you dislike?
What would you like to see more of, in a Burlesque show?
What would you like to see less of?
Do you like our performers to dance to older/retro music,, or to new music?
Would you come see our show again?
Would you recommend our show to friends,,
Why or why not?
Who were your favorite performers in our show? Who would you rather not see again?-that one hurt-
Who would you like to see perform in future shows?
These are all pretty basic questions,,
and whoa did we get some brutally honest answers.
Twyla- I’m so curious as to know where you perform? In Seattle we’ve never had the issues you have, and the same with my time in NY.
I’ve performed all over the world, and while I’m certainly not everyone’s cup of tea- I still get work. To some, I’m too tall, too muscular, too brown, too tattooed…..and I still work. I’ve gotten beautiful compliments in places where I couldn’t even speak their native tongue, and seen shows where big, bold, brazen ladies have brought the house down.
What did your cards ask, if I might inquire?
Until we confront the cultural norm, which by the way is set up primarily by big business doing everything they can to make you want to conform to their unreasonable standards of beauty- some people will have these experiences. We must stay proud and vigilant in being who we really want to be. It’s time for women and men to realize that these standards aren’t real- it’s all fake, it’s all drag.
OH MY GAWD i am so finishing the chocolate ice cream after i finish this. . .
As a former person of size (POS) there is absolutely NO nice way to hear someone questioning your weight. However – there are wonderful ways to say it and the problem here is that someone thought they were be business about something that is highly emotional. You just don’t walk up to someone and act surprised when they freak out after you tell them HEY. . . YOU’RE FAT. I mean, who ever LOVES to hear that! Really, that’s the problem with it all. . . body consciousness and size awareness are very important in LIFE and we need to adress it with caution and compassion. Honestly there was a year that I put on 70 pounds and i wish after the first 20 somebody had said WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOIN’ GIRL!? It would have saved me the year it took to lose 80. We have to accept the discussion, and the critique, and the scandal that comes along with Burlesque, opera, figure skating, gymnastics, theater. .. etc. We are examining the body at every moment. . . hanging decoration on it, glittering it up. It’s par for the course – and the job of the artist is to transcend raw materials. BELIEVE ME everyone is working against something. .. too young, too old, too fat, too bitchy, way too gay. A producer is not a director or a troupe leader some I’m wondering why XX didn’t say fack off wacker – I’ve been in this show for 6 years and you can’t talk to me like that. Being concerned about someone’s health or emotions is one thing, and has a language of it’s own – but dumping some kind of “artistic vision” on someone’s body like that is crackersnatch!
I thought I could handle some honesty before we passed out comment cards to our audiences. They hit me like a ton of bricks. Our audiences let us know that they did not like us fat girls, including me. They told us they were angry about spending money to have to see fat girls. I still can’t believe how universal that opinion was. The majority also let us know that they did not like tattoos on women, that a tattooed woman is a trashy woman, and the more tattoos she has, the more trashy she is. This also includes me. It’s funny how they like tattoos on men, but not women. If you think you can handle some honesty, pass out comment cards to your audience. We did, and it was brutal. I’m still feeling the sting. I’m rethinking weather I should have gotten these tattoos, I can drop some pounds. Here’s my advice to future dancers,, stay lean, mean, and tattoo free, you’ll make much more money. I have eyes, I know who’s touring the most, and making the most money,, Dita, Kitten, Michelle, Pearle, Catherine, Immodesty, Julie, Dinah, Kalani, Medianoche, Ginger, Coco. What do they have in common,, Weight in check and little to no tattoos.
We all know that audiences want to see women with beautiful hair, and if we don’t have beautiful hair we throw on a wig. None of us get hurt feelings over this reality. It easy to put on a wig,,, it’s not easy to loose weight or have tattoos removed.
Now I’m depressed that I thought about all this.
Also- I absolutely think that there could be more variety of ALL types of human on our stages so long as the level of talent is consistent. As a producer, variety is certainly my aim, but often my pool isn’t as diverse as I need it to be. My hope is that when this kind of discrimination is bit back, more variety will join ranks.
@Cygna: to play devil’s advocate- how many applied? We don’t know.
The ratios of “fat” performers to conventional sized performers is still disproportionate, much like POC’s (performers of color) and those who *appear to be Caucasian. You could wonder how many POC’s actually applied vs. got into BHOF.
It’s sticky when you start accusing particular organizations- we don’t know their application rates.
What I do know about BHOF though is that they have a LOT of people grading the videos.
Anybody who’s “surprised” about this kind of thing isn’t paying attention. How many fat performers were competing for an award at BHOF this year, last year, the year before?
Pertaining to response #5, I am voting for “this isn’t the body image that you want to represent yourself with or that you want to put onstage” as the most arrogant and disgusting thing the producer said. Really? He knows how she views her body ever so much better than she does?
This saddens me to no end. While I am not a burlesque performer, this is seen very often in the belly dance community as well. And it SUCKS all the way around. While my troupe sisters and i arent ALL 120 lbs wringing wet, we are skilled and expressive performers and excel far past what the GP thinks those of us with a little extra can do.
Simply & Quickly… This is appalling and I feel the producer who did this needs to be outed and them promptly get out of producing. There’s no room for people like this in burlesque!
BTW–I have also known very awesome strip joint owners. But I have heard those conversations about losing weight way mroe at strip joints than at burlesque clubs.
That producer sounds like a strip joint owner. The whole “we gotta get asses in seats” mentality is a path to homogenization based on speculation.
There are various venues for burlesque. Some are more sexist/looksist/racist/ageist/mainstreamist than others. I believe in creating our own shows so we can show what we believe in, but not everyone is a producer. The best we can do at times is be willing to not work with someone who is known to be these things–but how many people will turn down stage time for a principle, rather than because they personally have been bullied? I’m not saying no one will, but I am saying not everyone, no matter what they may believe about the way a producer treated someone else, will turn down their money and exposure.
We have to police ourselves as well. What pictures are we using to promote ourselves? What pictures are we liking and putting on our walls? Are we promoting ourselves as performers or models?
Sydni, Thank you for shining some light on this issue. Thankfully, this is not something I have personally experienced, and it saddens me to hear about this happening to XX and other performers.
I agree with Penny Starr, Jr, that it is the producer’s responsibility to know their audience, but it does seem that he is projecting his narrow aesthetic preference onto them and using this as a lever for control. In 6.5 years of producing all kinds of shows for all kinds of audiences I’ve never experienced an audience that all had the same taste!
Our troupe is very diverse – in age, size, shape and it is one of the reasons we are booked – audiences LOVE to see people on stage that they can related to. As long as we work hard and produce an excellent show, they LOVE it – we’ve never had a complaint from a presenter that some of the audience felt some of the performers too old, small, large, etc. Most of our shows are to a few hundred people in smaller towns in Canada, not to an educated burlesque audience, and they certainly have shown their appreciation of our diversity by asking us back year after year. After almost every show at least one of members is approached by someone in the audience with a tear in their eye saying how good they feel about themselves because they saw that performer on stage – and it’s happened to every one of us – tall, short, tiny, large, young and older.
Burlesque IS so amazing because we are evaluated on our performance not our physical attributes. Let’s keep it that way!
XX, perhaps you can take some of the diverse sisteasers in your city and form your own amazing group! You’ll certainly be more in touch with the performers and your audience!
I’m so torn in my response to this. Like a lot of us, I come from a dance/theater background, and in that industry we are constantly told to lose weight. It comes with wanting to entertain professionally. I also come from a background in “conventional” stripping, where I was once fired for being 5’5 and 120 lbs. The demand that was placed on me was to lose 30lbs or lose the job. So this feels like a familiar but unfortunate lump that comes with entertaining in any capacity.
I’ve also had plenty of sketchy experiences with male producers, many of whom book based on what they find arousing instead of what is good and commercially viable art. It’s also an opportunity for misogynists to wield power over large groups of women – and naked women at that! It exists in every area of the entertainment industry (and the working world in general). I think the answer to this is for the good men who produce and work in the community to set an example and to speak up when there’s a problem. Sexism hurts everyone, and it can’t just be women’s voices talking about it. I’m mentored by men, and my body size has never – not once – been addressed in assessing my capabilities as a performer. There are good ones out there, but we need to be sure to include them in the conversation.
Producers can (and do) book the kind of look they want, and unfortunately there is a mindset that most audiences want to see traditional standards of beauty as opposed to wanting to be entertained. Those of us who think differently need to get out there and produce our own shows, and book based on talent and polish rather than waist size. This is easy for someone in a big city to say – and it sounds like you might not have the same resources or city size, XX, and that’s a shame. I also can’t imagine feeling forced out of your burlesque family because you aren’t meeting what sounds like an arbitrary standard. If you decide to strike out on your own, though, consider putting together your own vision, and also think about reaching out to cities near you for out of town shows. Don’t let this producer take away your love of what you do. He doesn’t deserve it.
This reminds me of the great opera singer Deborah Voigt getting fired for being too large for a costume. It’s not just a burlesque issue.
)Granted…Ms. Voigt did lose weight and is now better than ever, but she says she lost it for health reasons and not because she wanted to give in to bullies.)
I write as an audience member. One of the very first burlesque shows I attended in Seattle had a couple of zaftig performers. Besides loving the whole show and having my eyes opened to all the great talent and burlesque out there for us to enjoy (and cheer on!), I came away from it with one concept in my previously-messed-up-head corrected… and that was, beauty and charm come in all sizes, and that burlesque was pretty much dependent upon hard work and talent, not how anyone looked physically. I was quite amazed, actually, with how SEXY *everyone* was, and threw all my pre-conceived notions out the window. One performer particularly was just amazing that night, and she was indeed one of the more zaftig ladies. After that when talking to others to try and get them to go out to burlesque shows and see what amazing, terrific, affordable, shows we have right here under our nose every single week it seems, I found they often had the same preconceptions about body type… and were thrilled when they actually attended a show, saw that these were all very real women in all shapes and sizes, putting themselves out there and risking judgment but also at the same time being very powerful and confident… which made them even more lovely, cute, and fun to watch. So when I talk to people who have never tried attending a Seattle burlesque show, I tell them: Performers come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re all beautiful. Hard work and talent win above all other things.
Screech! Pause while I subdue my rage!…. Ok. I know this goes on, everyday I see beauty privileged in burlesque. Its not the only way to get ahead, and burlesque is fantastic and unique in the ways it embraces all types of body, but anyone who says it is not influenced by stereotypes of beauty in the same way the wider world is, is wrong. I get the “what the audience wants” argument, but in my several years of performing far and wide, what I find is that audience want variety (in acts and in bodies), and good acts. That’s it. Any imposition by a promoter about appearance comes from them. And we all buy into it to an extent by pedalstalising beautiful performers based on their beauty. Not that beauty should not be admired but it should not be the key to get ahead above someone of similar talent who does not have said beauty. Trouble is, those that benefit from beauty often support it’s tyranny, and it has the glam and the societal approval to make it punishingly normative. I love burlesque for its inclusivity but I really think we need to be honest with ourselves about the suckerdom for beauty we definitely have, and the way some events promote it almost solely. And you know what, all this said, I still want to be that beautiful perfect girl who is admired and loved. Damn you, social conditioning!
So saddened to hear when women are treated like this. Thank you for the excellent article, Sydni.
This is the time for women to love themselves as they are, not to be bullied by society or anyone in it into thinking they are less than because a certain norm is not met. I am so thrilled and honored to lead a troupe that not only accepts but encourages and loves women of all sizes and shapes. They are all beautiful, amazing woman who have found a better life for themselves…just by having a home to express themselves on stage.
This behavior happens regularly in my local burlesque community. It saddens and angers me greatly. Thank you, XX, for sharing your experience and thank you, Sydni, for your excellent response.
Couple of things:
Penny Sr remarked once on my ability to run my own show (versus dancing in her day, when all she had to do was show up and rehearse). I told her that all the work it was worth it, because I got to produce a show that I was proud to put my name on. If I had danced in her time, I wouldn’t be allowed to produce (Texas Guinan and Bricktop not withstanding) and that if I were dancing back in her day, I would be considered too fat to do it.
I do want to argue that the producer of a show should be in tune with what their audience wants. I’m not saying this jackass wasn’t using that as an excuse–because, he was–a good performer is not repulsive to an audience by gaining a few pounds. But I know exactly what sells on my stage, and that can depend on many factors, like the venue, is there corporate sponsorship, is the crowd older (over 60), etc. If I didn’t pay attention to the rhythm of crowd, giving the show a structure, how much art or transgression they can take in any one show, when to give them an intermission so they can pee without missing part of the show, I wouldn’t still be producing.
As a performer in LA, I can tell you there are plenty of shows that are body type shows. And I can stamp my little foot and shake my fist, but the bottom line is I live and work in LA, where our cottage industry is manufacturing your body image issues. So I can’t be in certain shows–life isn’t fair. I think I’m doing OK for myself being over 40 and under 5′, 38-28-38 stuffed in a 125 lb bag.
One last thing, I have heard whispered accusations that I cast only skinny girls. Look at a picture of my cast to know that is not true. My cast is made up of polished performers, regardless of size. The idea of ‘skinny’ is in the eye of the beholder.
The qualities of being a “less than honorable producer” and a “bully” are not limited by gender or any other variable. Both are present in all variants of people in this little microcosm.
Argh! Health trolling a dancer based on weight? Health is not something that can be determined by looking at a person’s shape. If he determined she couldn’t keep up to the athletic standards of the show, that’s one thing, although it seems unlikely that someone would create an act that they could not physically perform. Veiling obvious creepy esthetic standards as “for her health” makes so angry!
I am in shock about this. Really in shock. I’ve dealt with this judgement outside of burlesque but not inside of it.
As a producer you can choose who you want to cast, for whatever reasons that flit through your head…but for me I cast performers that entertain. Body size and shape has nothing to do with this…I cant ever imagine going to someone and informing them that I couldnt cast them due to their size/shape/gender.
How can someone assume that they have the right to talk down and police someone elses body?
I have so many issues with this….so many HUGE issues. GAH!!
Yet again: superb article. Glad you addressed this subject!
I for myself never witnessed such bullying, but I am not surprised. Lately, I´ve been noticing more and more events that seem to feature only one certain type of body/performer (young, slim, perfectly toned, big breasts). This, of course, does not mean that any bullying was involved. Yet, I am not happy with the direction, namely standardized beauty, burlesque is heading.
I am fully aware that in the golden days of burlesque I probably wouldn´t have been hired (I ´m slim, but a pear-shape. Huge hips, no breasts). And this kind of lookism is a part burlesque that should definitely not be revived.
As a newbie to the Burlesque scene, I find it very disconcerting to hear stories like this. Only a few weeks ago, Roxi D’Lite tweeted that an Australian strip club had refused to hire her on the grounds she was “too fat.”
Any preconceptions I had about the female body and its (what I believe at least) acceptance within the Burlesque community came solely from being a lover of the art, and therefore a regular audience member. So when I wrote an article for a publication, entitled ‘Burlesque & The Body’ I argued that actually Burlesque is probably *the* only industry in the entertainment business that doesn’t judge a women by her dress size, but by her talent. Which is how it should be! From the shows I have been to, if an audience has grown disinterested in a a performance it wasn’t because the woman on stage was a little ‘heavy’ or because she wasn’t that cookie-cutter image of ‘beauty,’- it was because her act wasn’t capturing enough attention. And if a crowd has been in raptures over a performance, well… it was because of just that- her *performance* as an artist. As a talented, confident, woman.
I agree with Sydni- I hope this guy get’s run out of town with his tail between his leg!
the fact that sizeism is making its way into the burlesque community is very disappointing to me. if we start to discriminate based on size, what happens to some of our very best performers? Would this producer not have booked Dirty Martini?
The burlesque world should be about talent, and performance ability, not about size, race, creed or ability.
(And thank you for linking to my blog, Sydni!)
This is horrible!!! Ugh.
what’s interesting about things like this, is that if you sit in the audience to some of these shows where they want the girls to be skinny minnies, is that the audience actually appreciates variety.
and it’s appauling that this producer has so many issues within himself. first off i wonder if he was even paying vegas wages. i wonder what is it about this work that makes these producers think they are god. i’m sure they compromise quality performers just to get that size 2 on stage.
i’m sad she walked away from performing. every time i see stories like this it makes me realize how badly i need to do “thick” the burlesque show. good lord when will women stop getting ripped a part of everything they are and do?
“Now that its resurgence is mostly powered by smaller funding, self-producing women and the underground (for now), we have the ability to change this paradigm for good. We must make sure these things are talked about before burlesque gets bigger; we must make sure that we keep our dignity in a culture that loves to rob it from anyone that deals in sex and flesh, let alone just being a woman.”
THIS is a huge reason that so many women (and men) are self-producing – we finally have the power to show off ourselves as we feel best, which is nearly always in the best light for us. I also encourage XX to let fellow performers know about this behavior and hopefully it will spur some sort of local community reaction, even if it’s as simple as one performer after another turning down gigs from this man until he has no show left.
Also check out this wonderful blog that addresses bullying as well, by Snarkbat: http://snarkbat.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/bullying-its-not-just-for-kids-anymore/
No one and i mean no should ever push you based on weight, style, gender, sex or body image. That is very sad this happen to you and am truly sorry. *hugs* your welcome in Cleveland Ohio if ever you need to travel 🙂
As far as this goes this discrimination by weight is everywhere now of days and girls do not say anything about it. No one should ever push you like that… ever!
I’ve been through a similar experience w a so-called producer.
Wow. Screw that producer in the nose with a cactus soaked in lemon juice. That kind of behavior and body-policing is completely unacceptable. I don’t care what the arbitrary number on the scale is, I care about people’s talent and ability to entertain.