It’s our first IndieGoGo Guest Blog!! Sqeeeeee! Thank you, Erica Jagger, for this fantastic, thought provoking, and incredibly relevant blog. Especially considering that here, most of my lovely Burlesque colleagues and I have chosen to remain anonymous as we all embark on the beginning of our careers. Wouldn’t it be nice to see the day that we didn’t have to?
You can see Erica’s other work at: www.asexywomanofacertainage.com. And I suggest you do. Start with her about section - as soon as I hit the first two paragraphs, I knew I liked her.
“I didn’t have to diet, I just had to put on pasties”
- Margaret Cho
Tiny B. Hiney, Burlesque Artist
Lotions and potions that will rid you of cellulite and instantly fade away scars, magical hair loss treatments, five secret steps to lose that flab in a day—you don’t have to look far to find a magazine article or advertisement based on the simple premise that your body is insufficient. You are insufficient. What’s more, there’s something you should be doing about it, and if you’re not working towards somebody’s idea of perfection, well, you’re to blame.
In the introduction to Jo Weldon’s amazingBurlesque Handbook, Margaret Cho names both her struggle with body image and its cure: burlesque!
"Watching a beautiful woman enjoying her body, sharing it with an audience basking in her humor and sensuality and loving her as she loves herself, teasing and taunting them in a sexy hide-and-seek using fans or other fanciful props—this is the antidote to out poisonous and deadly depressing body issues," writes Cho.
As a spectator, I am drawn to the confidence and cheekiness of burlesque performers, yet their uninhibited and playful relationship with their bodies seem all too rare. Burlesque may be the antidote, but why do we swallow the poison in the first place?
Does it have to be so unusual to love our physical selves? Why spend so much time agonizing over our imperfections, when we might be thanking our bodies for the amazing feats they perform daily—moving, seeing, hearing, tasting, touching—these everyday miracles of sensation that go mostly un-celebrated.
In this video, Cho speaks about the power of burlesque more broadly, but her message is clear: burlesque can transform your relationship with yourself.
How does it manage to do this? Burlesque calls bullsh*t on messaging that says your body is insufficient. Burlesque is about indulgence—not only loving your body as it is—but adorning and moving it in ways that make you feel even more fabulous. The terms are yours: What can you do for your body that makes it feel good? Relish the sensation of the water as it runs down your skin in the shower. Stretch exactly as you feel like—without following any expert advice—just doing what feels best. Shimmy your shoulders and sway your hips to a song that makes you smile. Wear a secret pair of super sexy panties. Show some skin. Put on an alligator costume. Whatever.
I acknowledge that these are not revolutionary suggestions and unlikely to undo years of body-shaming in just so many simple steps. To claim that would be as disingenuous as the promises of instant weight loss and overnight complexion perfection. It’s not “on you” to get over your body issues alone. It’s on all of us to change the way we relate to ourselves as a culture. On the other hand, I don’t believe women—and I say women because their bodies are constantly on the line, but I acknowledge that others struggle as well—are doomed to feelings of inadequacy and shame. We can begin to change, to heal.
I had the good fortune to attend a talk at this past Catalystcon East by Toronto burlesque performer Tiny B. Hiney. During her session, Tiny described a performance where she outlined her scars with glitter. In that one gesture, it was as if she said: I am not going to hide my struggles or the stories they have written on my body; I am going to highlight them, honor them, and make them beautiful. As a young, petite, feminine person of color, Tiny looks quite different from the picture of a leader that one might find in an array of stock photos, yet she clearly is one. Her powerful presence was another reminder that the images that we see in the world are skewed by those who have the power to produce and distribute them widely.
Finding role models—women who are larger than her but confident and beautiful and sexy—helped Margaret Cho realize that her happiness need not be tethered to her weight:
“I saw that happiness didn’t have to be a smaller size; it was an attitude. I didn’t have to diet, I just had to put on pasties.”
We may not be able to choose who Vogue puts on their cover or the way women’s images are routinely photoshopped beyond recognition, but we can find counter-narratives, spaces where people of all shapes, sizes and colors are celebrated as beautiful. The world of burlesque is not a perfect utopia of total equality, but its history of satire, deliberate impropriety and the current emphasis on self-production means that unlike much other media, in burlesque, diverse bodies are seen and adored.
Lelu Lenore in La Petite Mort Cabaret’s The Education of a Woman. Photo credit Nathan Karuna
About BTS: Burlesque Toy Shop is a sex-positive toy shop committed to promoting body-positivity and sexual health. We celebrate the body not only through our burlesque-inspired lingerie, but also in our toy collection, which is 100% body-safe. While the sex toy industry remains unregulated, it is up to retailers to boycott toxic toys. At BTS, we are committed to bringing our patrons exclusively toys worthy of their bodies: non-toxic toys that are best in class for price and performance.