Burlesque Medicine: Healing Body Issues & Empowering Women

tanya bathtub burlesque

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.

tanya billboard

Photos courtesy of Tonya Kay.

Tonya Kay is performing with The Lalas Burlesque at New Mexico’s San Felipe Casino Hollywood Oct. 12 and Los Angeles’s Club Nokia Oct. 19. 

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  1. This is very much the gospel we are trying to spread in the belly dance world, too! We have a somewhat different presentation, but the messages about loving, owning and enjoying your body, your womanhood, and your sensuality are the same. Keep at it!

  2. Elene, YES, I’ve seen it in belly dance class too! And I’ve seen it in pole dance classes specifically. Do you and your cast mates experience the audience shift too?

  3. This is such a great message for girls to hear. I think it’s great that you’re spreading the message of confidence in body image. Thanks for the awesome read!

  4. I actually totally disagree with what you are preaching. The focus here is still on our bodies and displaying them to others for approval. You can love your body and still maintain self respect by not stripping. It’s still presenting women as sexual used packages marketed for consumption. I would feel I had failed as a parent if my daughter ever felt that she needed to sexually objectify herself in order to feel validated.

    1. Cyn, I think you’re missing the point here. A woman showing her body because she feels empowered to do so through self-awareness and esteem is NOT objectifying herself to feel validated. If your daughter wanted to dance because it brought her joy it would be your feelings that brought a sense of shame to it, not hers. Why would you want to stifle your daughter’s sense of free expression and individuality? Would you want someone to tell you something you thought was exciting and wonderful was shameful and wrong? How would you react? Would you let their idea of propriety control your actions? Life is for living not holding people hostage in judgmental chains.

    2. I agree with every thing but I still feel many men prefer the stripper/burlesque performer over any woman

    1. Shame is an unfortunate ball and chain thrust upon us by generations of people raised by those who struggle with introspection and communication. Shame holds us hostage to other’s expectations of how life should be lived and deprives us of our individual voice. If you feel shame regarding anything in your life – manner of dress, sexual orientation, communication skills, etc., please get some counseling and free yourself to BE yourself. You are a wonderfully, unique human being that deserves to feel and experience this journey in your own way!

  5. I feel badly for you and your daughter that you think women need to cover up to maintain self-respect. Are shoulders shameful? Are knees? How about neck, skin on the chest and if so, how much skin on the chest? Exactly what parts of the woman’s body are shameful and which are not?

    Either you value and adore the woman’s body covered as well as uncovered, or you are in judgement of female beauty and sexuality expressed. To me, any form of female repression, even if it is instigated by another female, is exactly what’s kept women getting married at 20, staying at home taking care of children to the detriment of their social lives and professional lives, living quietly and politely with clean houses. I would never teach my daughter to be ashamed of herself and her body no matter what she chose to wear – full length dresses or corsets. I have a mother and she supports me and is proud of me, I am blessed to say. I hope your mother was the biggest supporter of your glory and self-expression. I hope your daughter can say the same.

    But on a more important point in this conversation is your mistake that the focus of burlesque is “on our bodies and displaying them for others approval” which you couldn’t be more wrong. I’m not sure how many burlesque shows you’ve attended or how many real life burlesque performers (we aren’t talking about strippers in this article – if you know both, you know each is a totally separate career path) but burlesque performers are trained dancers, comedians, actresses, costume designers and I think we all would agree we are putting our CREATIVITY ‘on display’, like every other professional actresses, dancer, musician, ect. And if we are seeking approval, it’s for our creativity and not our bodies. That’s the whole point – burlesque performers are confident in their physique (no matter what it looks like or how much clothes it has on or off!) and we celebrate ourselves and each other in our performances. I don’t need anyone’s approval. My confidence and self-esteme is secure.

    Burlesque actually takes the emphasis OFF the obsession with the body, which is created by the perversion of telling women we are “too sexual” “too gorgeous” too anything to stand up for ourselves, run the household, own our own businesses, be a mens’ boss if that happens to be the case. I dance with five burlesque companies that charge ticket prices, like all theatre, to see our shows at dinner theaters. All five of the companies are owned and run by women. I can’t think of an art form or career actually, that is LESS objectifying to females than burlesque.

    Sorry you don’t like my career choice. I probably couldn’t stand working whatever you do for a career, either and might even find it offensive. We are clear we don’t want either others’ careers. But on a human level, if anyone is telling a woman she is shameful (or embarrassing or deserves to be raped) because of what she is or isn’t wearing, then that is oppression of the female created by a patriarchal perversion and that’s exactly what I’m fighting against.

  6. I believe that the amount of clothing a woman wears is a personal decision, there is no shame in it at all. It is about what makes a lady happy, how she wants to present herself and it is a shame so many people look down on ladies just trying to live and feel free. If a woman wants to dress any way she pleases, I would hope that would be okay and that people would not find fault in it. Beauty is different for everyone and there are many ways women can dress to feel beautiful.

  7. I have to disagree with Cyn. Burlesque is an art! Any form of dancing (even stripping) is an art. And art is healthy for the body and the mind. I don’t think you can say you’ve failed as a parent if you have a child who has found their talent, become successful with it, and is happy doing it. That’s exactly what you want out of this life. Too many people are depressed because they don’t know what they love, they haven’t found their talent, so they’re working art a job they hate…I would rather my daughter be a happy talented stripper…and I would be ecstatic if she were a happy burlesque dancer :)

  8. I wholeheartedly agree, and there should be no shame at all, even when confronted with the following disclaimer: When those body or self esteem #SelfLove issues are being assuaged, not healed, by the adoration of men (or women) who are, in the case of nude photography or films for instance, often urging the woman (or man) onto displaying their body or sexual prowess solely for the pleasure or financial gain of the photographer, production company or viewer. I believe that it is just as easy for the viewer, creator or aficionado of the erotic arts to substitute erotic displays of all kinds for their own lack of self love, love of others or ability to express love as it is for the artist, performer or subject of various types of erotic art to substitute that validation, and truly believe that it is fulfilling, while still suffering an elusive emptiness that can only be filled by truly loving themselves and taking pride in their authentically-empowered sense of self and body image. By the same token, it is a mistake, imho, to assume that ANY practitioner of the erotic arts suffers at all from such a vacancy since it is this self-love and brilliant gift of transferring positive body image (and in the case of live performance often the gift of laughter as well as the exemplary nature of #BodyLove or #BodyPride transferrance) that is the inspiration for the same instinct and urge to perform gifted to any actor, belly/ballet dancer, etc. who has discovered the profound difference between celebration of self as a gift that must be shared.
    This from one who has spent a lifetime journeying from a barely subconscious need for validation as substitute for self-love to a place of self-love as the authentic source of the shared, communally-perpetuating celebration that cannot help but be shared. #SingTheBodyElectric

  9. wow, the search for love. in all you do, from career, to raising a family, to our choice in movies to watch – maybe what you’re saying is all we are all ever doing is hoping for love and connection.

  10. I think more what I’m saying, distilled, is that we all hunger to share love (otherwise there would be only one of us, without the need for connection) and that the love we long to share (give and take) the most is that authentic love that is born of a complete sense and love of *SELF* that can then be shared, displayed, celebrated or blatantly sung and danced around and upon as a way of declaring the joy thereof and the divine invitation to others to love themselves, give of themselves by embracing the expressions on display, being inspired by them and “loving it forward”.
    I’m learning a lot about my own perception and loving myself a bit more with each of these words prompted by your discussion for instance. This act of “brazenly” ;) displaying my feelings and thoughts begins with self but is absolutely meant to be scrutinized as a display from which I deliriously anticipate any enlightenment shared or inspired.

  11. Thank you, Don. Live performances are very popular with the ladies, too! And that’s the true test. Because women don’t feel good about themselves watching it, they will leave. They will grab their mates and leave. If the women are your most and biggest fans, you know they are empowered and inspired by the connection.

    John, I’ve worked with you as an actor and seen your work. You are extremely brave and authentic – yes, brazen – in your self-expression and you do deserve to be acknowledged. It’s not easy being vulnerable in front of others, in order to share with others. Perhaps to be received so deeply, ‘love’ is the feeling shared for even a moment. When I got off that plane in Washington DC, I had no idea the caliber of actors I’d be among in Within The Darkness.

  12. @ Nicole: So should we not hold murderers, rapists, prostitutes, etc. hostage in judgmental chains? Are there to be NO standards for anyone? Women will never share the privilege and respect afforded to men if we continue to allow ourselves to be seen as merely sexual ornamentation and entertainment. This is not about shame; I am not ashamed of my body. Just because a woman chooses modesty and self respect does not mean she is ashamed. I do not need counseling, thank you. @ Tonya: I’m not teaching my daughter to be ashamed of herself or her body; I am teaching her to love and respect herself and her body and not reduce herself to a piece of sexual entertainment. I’ve made no mistake about the focus of burlesque… you may think you are putting your “CREATIVITY” on display but if that were true you could do so with your clothes on. OH…. But then you wouldn’t feel your body or sexuality had been validated, just your talent. I’ve never attended a burlesque show as I would NEVER financially support women who are such a detriment to our equality, but sadly there is plenty of video footage out there for research purposes… so I’ve seen more than I ever wanted to. Burlesque isn’t for women who are confident and secure in their bodies. It’s for women who need others to validate them. “Burlesque actually takes the emphasis OFF the obsession with the body…” Really? Then why strip? You can dance and be creative without getting naked. Oh… but then nobody would applaud your breasts… they’d just be applauding your creativity. Darn! I think it’s hilarious that you think that because women own and run their own companies it negates women being objectified. Nope… not even a little. To be clear, I’ve NEVER said a woman should be raped. But I do feel that we have a right as women to hold each other to standards that will better our chances for equality. Obviously, you’d rather strip than further that goal. @lilhpster: my kid could wipe his boogers on the wall and call it “art”.

  13. I am a little angry at the sell-outs among my gender, yes. Those that seem not to care at all about the effect their “hobby” has on our fight. Sadly, I don’t think therapy will solve the issues of inequality that we face.

  14. My wife had much the same opinion until I drug her to a show. Now she likes them. I respect your views, but if you’ve never been can you really judge what it’s about? A burlesque show is a much different experience than a truck stop strip joint. I wouldn’t even put them in the same category.

    If you don’t have one locally, or are embarrased to attend, I recommend a film called A Wink and a Smile. It addresses some of the issues you seem concerned about and shows what a show really looks like.


    1. I appreciate the information but as I stated, I’ve seen enough performance videos. I’ve also heard, ad nauseum, that I “just haven’t seen the right show”. There isn’t a show that will change my mind; women who participate in these shows (as performer or audience member) are hindering the progress of women’s equality, period. I won’t attend a show and have no desire to waste my time watching a film about it. I don’t expect my comments or concerns to have any impact at all. It would just be nice if burlesque dancers, strippers, etc. realized the damage they are doing to our fight.

    1. I am an Executive Assistant. I am faced daily with a barrage of entitled men in suits looking me up and down and talking to my chest. My degree, my intelligence, my experience mean less to the world because I am a woman; the gender hierarchy is painfully evident. Because I choose to express my femininity by wearing makeup and heels I am treated with even less respect than those women who strive to conceal any reminder that they may possess a vagina by dressing like men and shunning makeup and jewelry. While my inner girly-girl can’t be beaten into man-armor, I understand why those women embrace their disguises. They want to be respected for who they are… not the body they reside in. But men want to see those bodies and our patriarchal society says we should please the man, right? Sex sells, let’s see more boobs! There seems to be an endless supply of sad young women who are more than willing to oblige by stripping down and swinging around poles, for the right price. There are those of us screaming in our heads, “NO! This is not what women are! We are not merely naked, gyrating bodies supplied for your arousal and release.” But those women keep showing up at those strip clubs to sell their bodies for cash. Bad enough? Nope! We have a whole other set of women saying, “Yes! We want to flaunt our bodies and be ogled and applauded, too! But only if we can wear sequins and feathers and make up little dances all by ourselves! Look at us, too! We are sexy, too! Let us convince you!” These women are willing to pose for the male gaze as long as it’s on their own terms… progress? You all seem to think so. You call it “empowering”. How does it empower you to do exactly what men want you to do – take off those clothes!?! Since when does shaking your tits=power? You are just validating the misconception that all women want to be sex objects as long as they say when, where and how. Gee, it kind of sounds like you are your own pimps… oh wait, that’s one of your selling points, right? Women run these businesses so it’s a feminist thing, right? Isn’t that what you all tell yourselves? Yes, I’m pissed… burlesque feels like women giving up the fight to be equally respected and settling for sequined pasties and pretty costumes, instead.

  15. I’m sorry that you feel that you’re treated with less respect when you express your womanhood. If it’s true, to heck the ’em. Be yourself and be the best you that you can. Success is the best revenge.

    Look to your own path and be careful not to trip on the roots and stones.

  16. Yes, Cyn. I hear that you are angry that you work under a man. You are angry you want to wear make up and heels but feel you can’t. You are angry with women who do wear make up and heels without regret. You are angry with women who don’t wear make up and heels for “playing the man’s game”. You are right, you are repressed. And I am so sorry. I wish for you liberation, empowerment and freedom from anger. I personally do not feel restricted or repressed in my life – no one dictates what I do. It’s a perspective shift that everyone – female and male – can enjoy. But they have to stop playing the victim card first. Best to you and your health.

  17. No, Tonya, I am not repressed. I still do what I want and wear what I want but I pay a price for that… thanks to women who conform to the idea that our gender is meant to provide titillation and sexual arousal. What I’m angry about is the way women are viewed as sexual entertainment. Women as a gender will never be empowered or liberated because of women like YOU. If women didn’t act like sex objects we wouldn’t be treated as such. But enjoy your pasties and glitter while the rest of us pay the price for you and your “freedom”.

  18. Again, I’m so sorry you have not found your sexual identity. Or if you have, it’s cowering the corner hiding from some event that happened in your past and you are taking it out on other women. I only accept support in my life. And I give support. So again, I wish you the best. If you choose to attempt to berate me or other women, no matter who they are and what they do, I will have to ask you to stop commenting. That energy is not welcome here.

    1. This will be my last comment. Don’t want to keep putting a damper on the pasty parade, right? You seem to think that something is lacking or broken in me and that is the reason I feel that what you do is wrong. You are wrong. I am a strong, fit, beautiful lesbian woman who wants to see equality among men and women. You are doing a great disservice to the female gender and not all of us are going to sit on the sidelines swallowing the “psuedo-feminist” bs that says “if it makes you happy, it’s feminist and you should do it”. NO, it’s not. YOU are the reason men will continue to look at women like meat. YOU are the reason women will continue to make less than men and struggle in male dominated fields. Because YOU continue to strip off your clothes and reduce yourself to a piece of titillation. If strippers, burlesque “dancers”, porn stars, etc. would stop serving themselves up and stand up and demand to be treated with respect then something might change. Unfortunately, you want to keep on the blinders and strip of your clothes so you can receive that validation you so desperately need. I truly hope it makes you happy… it’s costing other women so very much.

  19. I get it. So it’s not okay for men to devalue women, but it’s okay for you because you are a lesbian. Nice. Please keep your female bashing off Pyragraph hence forth. I am of the opinion that YOU are what is holding the feminist movement back. But we disagree. So again, I wish you health and hope to never hear from you again.

  20. I would like to link to this fabulous video as an addendum to this, erhm, rather vitriolic conversation. I like the video because she explains how deeply rooted our culture’s shitty attitude toward women is: women are sexually objectified no matter what they wear or how they act. (Think you’d agree with this, Cyn, with how your coworkers treat you.)

    Moral of the story: burlesque is not the problem (if the problem we’re talking about is shitty treatment of women). Shitty social norms are the problem. What’s the solution? Sex positivity. Awareness. Education. And probably burlesque, too.

    Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_4dPB9MVS8

    1. Sage, I had no plans to comment on this again as Tonya doesn’t like people to disagree with her. But, I very much enjoyed the video and couldn’t agree with the young lady more. However, how are people supposed to move past seeing women as sexual objects if women continue to present themselves in that way? How does burlesque promote EQUALITY and the end of sexualizing women? Women who get up on stage and dance around and take off their clothes are behaving as sexual objects served up for the pleasure of others. It’s exactly what the young lady in the video was saying about the media… using women’s bodies for profit. What the hell do you think burlesque/stripping is? Tonya can claim her “creativity” is what’s on display but how much creativity does it take to strip and light nipple tassels on fire? I think it’s hilariously ridiculous to bounce your breasts around with tassels on them but I think women are actually attempting to be sexy when they do that. Can you imagine a man twirling tassels from his penis? No… men don’t usually demean themselves in that way. We can’t expect people to stop looking at women in a sexualized, objectified way when women continue to behave in that way. We are told that we should want to be wanted… and that is what burlesque encourages and why I’m angered by the women that perpetuate that sexualized stereotype. If anything, the video you shared just confirmed my feelings. Thanks :)

  21. Sage, thank you for that video. I’ve shared it and agree with so much of what she said. You are right, sex positivity and awareness is the solution. No woman, no matter what her career, what her manner of dress, what her fitness, what her intelligence, what her sexual persuasions, deserves respect. And nothing is holding any of us back from granting that respect to one another we so desire to see spread worldwide. Respect and support one another (and I included not only women, but men, too, in this). There are not segments of society that don’t deserve it.

    1. You’re welcome, Tonya! I love that video because she talks about the separation there is between people themselves and this shitty, shitty framework our culture has built around women and body image. Laci says in the video, “Often, objectification is confused with thinking that a woman is hot, but objectification is not the same as being sexual or being sexually attracted to someone.” So true! Pretending that women aren’t sexual creatures (or asking women to cover up their body parts) isn’t the solution to sexual objectification—it probably just contributes to more sexual objectification. Women should be able claim their bodies as their own. We should be able to act the way we want to act, to show the body parts we want to show, without being looked at merely as things to have sex with. Women are sexual “subjects” (as Laci describes it in her video) and we should be recognized as such. We’re not passive: we’re people, we’re actors, we’re active, and that needs to be recognized. Thanks for starting this conversation, Tonya. I’m really enjoying thinking and writing about this. :)

  22. So you have respect for women who beat their children, Tonya? What about a woman who steals from the elderly? How about a woman who keeps popping out babies so welfare will send bigger checks? Respect is not just a given and not every woman, or man, deserves it.

    1. Hey Cyn, Peri here, Pyragraph’s publisher. I think you’ve gone above and beyond making your point. We lean towards a light-handed moderation policy in the interest of fostering lively discussion, but I’m piping in here as a warning that your comments are starting to venture out of our comfort zone. Disagreeing is OK, explaining your opinion is OK, attacks are not.

  23. i think women should use their bodies as dog intended:
    to crush the weak and whiny specimens that are weakening the human gene pool.

  24. I don’t think God (dog?), or whatever idea of a creator you embrace, intended women’s bodies to crush anybody, Stue… and I’m guessing we would disagree as to which “specimens” are weakening the gene pool. I’m done here. Bury your heads in your glitter and feathers and continue hindering the progress of women’s equality. Women like myself will never enjoy gender equality because so many women are happy being sex objects and are encouraging other women to enjoy this “freedom” and “empowerment”, too… we are f-ing doomed!

  25. There was some discussion about “respect” here, as well as I sense, a lack of respect. I wanted to comment on the subject of “respect”:

    A recent addition to my list of favorite lectures is Paul Chappell’s “The Art of Waging Peace”: http://www.booktv.org/Program/15113/quotThe+Art+of+Waging+Peace+A+Strategic+Approach+to+Improving+Our+Lives+and+the+Worldquot.aspx

    I’ve transcribed a bit from about an hour and ten minutes in, on the chance that Cyn, and others, might find it useful:

    “The reason why martial arts teaches you to always respect everyone including your opponent, is the vast majority of human conflict comes from people just feeling disrespected….

    “So martial arts teaches that the best self defense isn’t punching or kicking, the best self defense is conveying respect. And if you know how to convert respect to people, you dramatically reduce conflict in your life, and when you do have conflict, you dramatically improve your ability to resolve that conflict. I learned this in the army too. The army taught the importance of respect, and I learned how respect is almost like a shield, and that if you’re a leader in the army, no matter how disrespectful your subordinate is to you, you always have to be respectful back, because when you become disrespectful back you lose your moral authority as a leader….

    “So you see the meeting of martial arts philosophy, military leadership, and peace philosophy, and this doesn’t mean you let people walk all over you at all. If you look at Martin Luther king Jr., and Ghandi, they respected their opponents, even the people trying to kill them, right? They used this technique very effectively to build their moral authority and their appeal to a wider audience, but they were the last people to accept injustice….

    “This has a lot of power when we’re using nonviolence, if you’re a leader in any kind of organization, or just going through life. In all of human history, I don’t think anyone has seriously said, “I hate it when people respect me. I can’t stand it when people respect me. My biggest pet peeve is being respected.”

    “So I’m trying to show here how “Waging Peace” philosophy, nonviolent philosophies are also life skills, life philosophy. And what you learn through martial arts, what you learn through nonviolence, you apply … to the workplace, to being a manager, to being a leader, to relationships to friendships, to family members, to strangers, right? If you’re dealing with strangers this can have an impact.”

  26. I refuse to feign respect for those I don’t respect. This has been like discussing the negative effects of secondhand smoke with die hard smokers. They refuse to acknowledge that their habit (or here, “hobby) has negative and harmful effects on others. These women have traded in the hope of gender equality for the validation of strangers and this “look at my boobs” culture is spreading… I work with teen girls and I see the effects that the likes of Miley, Beyonce and the mainstreaming of stripping (burlesque) have on the way these girls are internalizing and acting out on this over-sexualizing of women. For me, Tonya’s article and her desire to encourage others to seek validation of their sexuality by stripping for strangers is highly disturbing. I won’t pretend to respect someone or something I find so reprehensible.

  27. Thank you, Peri, for chiming in as publisher to insist on keeping the conversation healthy.

    Fred, thanks for your transcription on giving respect as a non-violence tactic and as a character defining trait. I’ve trained Tae Kwon Do and Wushu and found what you shared to be true in their teachings, even at beginning levels. I’d like to throw in there yet another reason to cultivate respect for all and that is inner cleanliness. When you turn hateful and oppressive towards others those thoughts are the thoughts in YOUR head (not theirs) – those words are the words in YOUR mouth (not theirs). Disrespect lives in you when you are disrespectful, no matter how justified you feel you are and it’s spiritual self-toxification. Anger harbored is YOUR anger – not the person you are projecting it on to. For my own good, I respect all beings as a first and a given.

    Sage, yes! That’s how I feel too! You said “Pretending that women aren’t sexual creatures (or asking women to cover up their body parts) isn’t the solution to sexual objectification—it probably just contributes to more sexual objectification.” It’s PERVERSION that creates objectification and disrespect. When women’s bodies and sexuality are seen as things that must be hidden … when men are shamed for being attracted to another person or offering their own sexuality publicly … when a society feels its sexuality is repressed and cannot be expressed, perversion is created. I’ve traveled 18 countries, many multiple times, and have witnessed and experienced wide ranging socio-sexual norms across cultures. The most sexually expressive cultures tend to have the least perversion and also the least female repression. The cultures with the strongest judgements on the feminine, demanding asexuality and lack of sexual expression are generally keeping their women in a cage socially, too at best and sometimes denying them a position in society at all.

    The USA is a huge country, so it’s important to remember that socio-sexual cultures vary greatly from state to state/region to region even in our one country. Women in rural Mississippi experience a totally different social position than San Francisco. As do women in Los Angeles compared to women in Las Vegas. And I’m not ignoring men here in my statements either! Both sexes (all sexes) are injured by sexual repression, perversion and objectification.

    Seth, you’re being funny. Or are you an actual boy-lesque performer?

    1. Mostly just being funny and lighthearted. But also someone who has a growing interest in what it means to be a man and be sexual – both with a partner and in mans of myself, for myself. Penis tassels seem a little personally silly for me, but i also like the idea of sex/sexuality and bodies being fun and funny. Our bodies are funny! Penis shaking is funny… Anyway, making light and having fun and a laugh seem like beautiful parts of sexuality and sex, and i would like to experience more of that for myself. Thanks for the article tonya. Very thoughtful and eye opening.

  28. Right on, Seth! I’m called the sexy Carroll Burnett or bombshell Lucille Ball when I perform burlesque because I agree totally with you! Bodies ARE funny and fun! And there is nothing more attractive (or entertaining) than a great sense of humor.

    1. Absolutely! That is an amazing compliment to you, getting compared to those two women. That says a lot about how you must carry yourself when you perform. As you said, confidence and a sense of humor: very attractive, in a performer and a person.

  29. Hello Everyone,

    I’m so very sorry to hear that burlesque has hurt anyone. As a performer and trained actor, vocalist and dancer I found that within those genres there is often a very narrow expectation on looks and age. There is often a lack of personal agency and decision making on one’s own, as well. Before I had my son I was able to navigate with ease among theater and film projects, alike. After I had him, I just wasn’t the body type so many were requiring. I went into burlesque to be able to create my own schedule and to be able to call the shots on what I wanted my performances to be. Burlesque was the only theatrical artform where I had full freedom to costume design, choreograph, provide narrative and political commentary and to take off or leave on any article of clothing that I wanted to. Our society is so used to a very specific body type and being able to show that a woman…or man…who doesn’t fit that type does and can feel wonderful about themselves. It’s really not about validation. I’m sure there are many people in the audience who are not thrilled about my size, age, color, or scars. But, the fact of the matter is that I get to show the women in the audiences that look more like me than in the magazines that they deserve to feel wonderful about themselves. I’ve had so many women write me letters about how I’ve changed their life by watching me. They always wanted to feel comfortable in their own skin, but never could because they’d never seen anyone who looked similar to them do it. I don’t consider myself that different than the typical “on tv” body type, but it is. I don’t need to take my clothes off to be a great performer, but the neo-burlesque community is onto something truly beautiful and liberating. No one should tell women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. We all draw the line somewhere, and I understand that some people are more conservative than others. Burlesque performers, for the most part, are an accepting and diverse group of people who do their best to create great art. We don’t get paid well for it…at all…but we do it because we love it and because it has saved so many of us from being miserable and believing in a bullshit status quo about how we should look and act. This isn’t just about women performing . It’s about men, too…and all sexes. This art is done with love. We save the clothed performances for when we’re trying to make money and willing to play the game. Burlesque is a chance to do what we love and believe in with very little restrictions in a community who is willing to accept diversity.

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