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.
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This week’s question comes from a performer who’s identity I’ve chosen to protect , location undisclosed. Let’s call her “XX”. All of the identities have been removed from this post, including the location of the peoples involved. Statements (taken from correspondence) from the producer has 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, and that is of discrimination and misogyny in burlesque- this episode being “size-ism”. As burlesque becomes more and more popular, we need to take notice of our surroundings in which we’ve become accustomed to- and make sure that all of it’s 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: http://www.upworthy.com/bully-calls-news-anchor-fat-news-anchor-destroys-him-on-live-tv?g=2&c=ucfb1
This year I stepped down after 6 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. Ok… 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 to be the sexy woman that I am. Later that week I informed him that I could not follow his new rule and do not agree to the terms we discuss, 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:
“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 lineup 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 recognize 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 homogenized 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.