Most women have body issues. Heck, most men do, too.
I got lucky, growing up in theater and dance. By age 6, I was changing costumes in coed dressing rooms and whipping off petticoats in theater wings, just beyond audience vision. By age 7, I was gyrating hip rolls and performing my left splits/right splits/middle splits as choreographed. These performance arts left very little room for self-consciousness or self-judgement, thank goodness.
Teenagers have the odds stacked against them when it comes to healthy body image. If a girl didn’t grow up in theater or dance, there’s a high likelihood she’d be called “loose” if she performed body rolls in public, or worse yet, had to listen to her musical idol get called a “slut” after twerking on national TV.
Boys are shamed just as much for the things their bodies do and feel, and are called creeps when they try to express themselves. Couple that with our social obsession with animal products and processed foods, and the popular parenting technique of placing an iPhone in every 8-year-old’s backpack, and you’ve got a recipe for trouble. Young men grow up to be genuinely overweight, ashamed of their bodies, with no clue how to get through it besides posting a few more Instagram selfies, overcompensating with machismo or saving up for that cosmetic surgery.
As a mature adult now, I perform live burlesque in Hollywood, and across the country.
You might be surprised to know that there are as many women as men in our audiences (the ladies are certainly more vocal!). Well-dressed women run up to me after a show, just sparkling, saying they “always wanted to do that, but could never,” and I am affected. They don’t mean simply “disrobing on stage.” They mean embodying confidence and embracing their sensuality, while half-clothed in public.
Audiences are fascinated by the burlesque performer because we represent people who’ve broken free from body issues. We are celebrating the way we move, our emotional connections to the movements, our creative self-expression and our engagement with onlookers. Women love other empowered women. And men need a classy setting where they can express their adoration of empowered women, while maintaining their dignity, too. Everyone is empowered at a burlesque show.
If I could teach every teenage girl that how she moves her body has nothing to do with how many lovers she takes, or doesn’t…
If I could teach every young man that changing in front of others or seeing others change is not perverse…if I could thank every gentleman at my burlesque performances for the respectful praise they lavish upon me…if I could give every woman two minutes in that spotlight herself, while gently whispering how stunning her movements, how mesmerizing her performance, how attractive her entire being is…I would.
I would, I would, I would.
The spirit of burlesque is the spirit of self-celebration.
Burlesque is today’s medicine for body issues and sensuality fears we’ve been injured with. Burlesque is a much-needed modern healing art, and plain, damn good entertainment. I hope to look at you looking at me in a show soon.
Photos courtesy of Tonya Kay.