Body Image in the Adult Industry – Take Two

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The other week I wrote a blog post about body confidence and how working in the adult industry after gaining weight made me feel. That post was true, but it was not the only perspective I have on the situation.

I want to start this post by saying: I find many blog posts about body image and body confidence really shallow and disingenuous. I also want to say: Your body doesn’t need to be perfect to make you feel confident.
We hear so often ‘all bodies are beautiful’ but in the face of western capitalism these platitudes mean little. The thing is, it’s a narrow lens through which bodies are perceived, and that lens will always manage to trick up a new insecurity where we look for evidence of our unworthiness.
If I were to book a modelling gig back in my size four frame, I wouldn’t show up perfectly confident. I would show up and worry that the photographer was judging me for my acne scars or my overlong roots, or maybe my ingrown hair spotting. Why? Because shoots are stressful and intimidating, and in any intimidating circumstance we begin to look for reasons we are not worthy – which often manifests in some really unhealthy thoughts and follow through actions.
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Working in the adult industry made me judge myself, and often harshly. If I wasn’t making money, it could often feel that it was due to how I looked, the weight I had gained, the fact that I wasn’t wearing false lashes that night. However, this industry has also made me appreciate my body in ways I never realised: Seeing women fall twenty feet from the top of a pole, and catch themselves right before hitting the stage floor, made me appreciate what a body can truly do, and how fitness and beauty isn’t always reflected in what we look like, static in an editorial style shoot.
Walking through the clubs to pay house fee, dressed in track pants and a hoodie, I would always notice the way the apparently undesirable ‘hip dips’ curved into lines that highlighted hip and butt muscles, the way stretch marks glowed under black lights, the way a move could form a stage-pose that perfectly highlighted what most see as ‘perfect femininity’ – and these poses could be created by any woman in the club, the curviest, the thinnest, the fittest.
The women who made the most money weren’t the thinnest, or the prettiest – but those with the most stage presence, the ones whose thigh muscles could withstand more private dances on a busy night, the ones who could catch the crowds attention by doing a trick or show no one else in the club could master.
It taught me something:
Bodies don’t have to be ‘media’ perfect to make you feel confident. There’s more than one perspective to every viewpoint. There are few viewpoints in a photograph, or even film footage.
There are many viewing platforms in a strip club, lights change, angles change, poses change. We are three dimensional beings, and our bodies can rarely be captured in just a photograph. Regardless of how beautiful the photograph might show us to be.
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It’s about Mindset: 
I grew up in a house where my mum would bring home sketches from her life drawing classes, nudes, portraits, and sit them on the floor and she would look for the ‘flaws’ in her drawings. The flaws, I always told her, that she was trying to erase were the strokes and curves and pressures in the sketches that made them look like hers. The flaws represent her style, her thought process, her flow, and she is an incredible artist, even if she doesn’t always see it. Working in strip clubs always reminds me of the poses held in editorial magazines, life drawing classes, and studies of movement, muscle, curve, light and shadow. ‘Beauty’ isn’t supposed to be a mindset of lack, but of abundance – of finding it, without first reducing it according to a narrow lens, and trying to fit into that. Beauty isn’t restricted or restrictive. It’s not lacking, it’s not ‘when’, ‘if’ or ‘as soon as’. Beauty just moves the way it moves, and if you can’t seem to find something beautiful in yourself or others, it’s time for a change in perspective.
My body looks so different now to how it did a year ago when I first started dancing, but as long as my mindset holds firm I still make the same targets in the club as I did back then. My body has changed because my life has changed – a year ago I worked a desk job and did pilates every morning, my abs were flat and my legs were thin – now my thighs and butt are muscle-filled to push through excruciating hours in heels, on stages, full shifts worth of exercise. To only verify my body as ‘worthy’ by looking to exterior sources, or even comparing myself to the person I was a year ago is unfair – I no longer lead that life – I am no longer that person. Rebirth is a constant flux. Just like muscles, when we are worked through, and faced with new challenges, we break down and repair. My mindset broke when I compared my body to how it used to look – to the body I have now – and repaired, forging new neurons to connect – when I began to look at beauty in a different light.

Is Social Media Classist?

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Our social media feeds are littered with rich bloggers – the ones that can afford $500-$1,500 DSLR cameras, extensive iPhone bills, expensive holidays, and lots and lots of photo ops for smashed avocados or breakfasts in plush hotel room beds. I remember when I was eighteen years old the tumblr blog Rich Kids of Instagram was an anomaly – now it seems to be standard.

I grew up in a working class family, in a tiny town with a low-income average, and I have done every kind of work from washing dishes, to designing university degrees – to dancing topless on tables. I am someone who has never known wealth, and whose highest wage came in the form of fifty dollar notes being thrown at me on stage, picked up and stuffed into rubber bands around my wrists (yeah, that’s where we strippers keep our money haha).

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My beef with Instagram is not necessarily the algorithm. When I downloaded Vero a few weeks ago (lol) I realised that I actually hated the chronological algorithm. Unfortunately for me, around the time that I started to get serious about this blogging game was when the first of the non-chronological algorithm changes happened back in 2016. I was behind in the tech-support center of the Instagram/digital nomad world. Even though I’d been blogging for years, I was a 22 year old who had just finished university. My #relatable reality was more based in my housemates and I tiptoeing around the hole in our bathroom floor, and dumpster diving the ‘good’ bread from behind the supermarket.

I was able to afford an iPhone when I started my first real job, which no longer meant using my DSLR to take photos, putting them on Tumblr and then using screenshots to put them on Instagram. Yay! Then came the new changes, including my current gripe – swipe up links.

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Being a small business owner, social media is intrinsic to my success. It’s a clothing brand, people want to wear what the ‘it’ people wear, they want to support what the ‘it’ people support. Even when I worked in a strip club full of Instagram-famous dancers (which by the way I have no beef with, more power to you girls! Change the damn face of the sex industry!) this type of marketing was present. ‘People want the girl on the billboard outside the club’ – our marketing team agreed with me. It ties in to a basic human need for superiority. When we covet someone’s lifestyle – or what it appears to be – we make the unconscious connection between the objects in that persons feed and our own search for happiness. Shopping can fill a void – as well as our leaps for uncertainty and adventure, or ‘the new’.

It’s hard to grow a brand without a following these days, and it’s even harder to sell your products against the current grain of web-browsing laziness (i.e. the reality that I’ll go back to someone’s Instagram story to find a swipe-up link rather than google it).

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At the moment Instagram swipe-up links are only available to users with over 10,000 followers. Swipe up links are an incredibly easy way to sell something or link someone to something. When I’m at my laziest, I will avoid googling content I want from someone in favor of going to their Instagram account, clicking on ‘stories’ and finding the swipe up link I saw earlier. When I found myself doing this on a late Sunday morning while marathoning Gossip Girl on Netflix I stopped and thought – God damn I could get a lot of click-through to my blog, Youtube, Patreon,and store with swipe up links.

Its hard to start a business, and go through the initial highs and lows. It’s hard to be a content creator in the face of so much change. It’s even harder though, when you start to feel as though a platform that could be an amazing advertising tool for you, offers no support for you as a small business. This truly is why I don’t believe in supporting a business that doesn’t have your back – but as a business owner, I literally cannot not use Instagram.

It happens in social settings too, the follower-count based Classism. Nowadays people ask how many followers you have on Instagram, as if it shows what value you will add to their lives by befriending you. People will go out of their way to befriend models and Instagrammers purely for the online clout. It’s spongey and gross, and it’s even grosser to witness IRL. Don’t get me wrong, I fucking love social media and how many people I have connected with through it, friends I’ve made, creativity I have been exposed to. Yet picking your mates based off 1) followers, and 2) what you think they can do for you, or how superior it makes you feel to be near them is just – Ugh. Just ugh. Christ. On a goddamn bike.

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I don’t watch Black Mirror, but I’ve heard about the episode re: People with less likes or social status not being able to go to certain restaurants. It’s starting to feel like that’s where we’re headed. I mean, I’m writing this with a raging case of PMS – but I say this as someone who truly adores bloggers and youtubers, and kids making careers from their bedrooms. I love women who can use their fantastic ass, or amazing tech savvy to start a business from the ground up. I live for hearing these stories. I don’t think social media is ruining society – I think the addictive personalities and habits it creates – the reduction of using it mindfully – is highly detrimental to our empathy skills and social development as humans.

It does depend on what you consume though, how much, how often – and what you’re trying to create in turn. So many of us turned to social to escape the rat race – and now it’s starting to feel like it’s become the biggest one of all.

Of course, we know the initial social media methods were based on addiction in order to attract consistent users. Facebook, like all forms of media, wanted its’ ad revenue.

In terms of helping people grow, I personally think a better algorithm would be something that kind of, ‘graded on a curve’ – as in, sure prioritise those big posts that do well from the 1M+ follower Influencers, but then prioritise those posts that do well for someone with an average following, or only a few followers. Create something that promotes the best posts at all levels. To be fair Instagram head honchos, if you’re listening – that would be a smart business move because it would be effectively using Meg Jay’s ‘weak ties’ theory in a digital setting.

So, how does this tie into classism? Is it a new breed of bougie vs proletariat?

Society has always operated with the notion of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ – aspiration has always existed and caused followers and copycats. The aforementioned psychological phenomena of using products to fill an alignment void – where we believe the things will take us closer to the lifestyle we imagine the object of our aspiration is living – has always been around. Those who do not have, are prejudiced against. Social media has the ability to cause intense separation between the classes of those with and without followers, ‘it’ items, and other lifestyle factors.

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PLEASE STOP WEARING STRIPPER CLOTHING ON INSTAGRAM IF YOU ARE NOT A SEX WORKER – AN OPEN LETTER FROM A STRIPPER:

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Over the course of the Easter long weekend, millions of women all across the world, laced and buckled high-heeled shoes designed for Pole Dancing in order to work long  hours in strip clubs made by the brand, ‘Pleaser’. Pleaser shoes have been a staple piece of the uniform worn by strippers across the world for almost two decades now. At the same time, the clothing store Dolls Kill came under fire by these very same dancers, for releasing a direct knock-off of a Pleaser design – featuring light-up clear heels.

Those who wrote to the brands Instagram page were dancers, and other sex workers, and they were subsequently all blocked one-by-one, by the brand page. I was one of those women, I checked the block via my store’s Instagram account and found that it was true. Several women sent me direct messages saying they had been blocked as well, and then the same sentiment began appearing across the Instagram stories of the women who had complained.

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Why did we complain?

More and more we’re seeing photographs of the clothes and outfits worn by strippers photographed in street or festival style, and by bloggers who have never done any form of sex work. They love our outfits (with good reason, we look great!) but when they wear our clothes they do not say anything about the silencing and oppression we face. They report our photographs, bully us, and ignore us because of the societal paradigm they have let themselves adopt – that sex work is degrading, or below them – but dancing on tables (literally our job description) in ‘fashion pleasers’ at your mates birthday, is not.

My personal complaint was that these shoes were offensive because the brand in question did not use the opportunity to raise awareness about issues sex workers across the world are facing, such as SESTA and FOSTA – and the removal of our safe spaces and peer communities, where we connect online to reduce stigma and feel less alone.

The brands response was to then block every sex worker who wrote a complaint – blocking a large portion of their paying customer base (yes, we pay for things. We have money. We’re loyal customers. Shocker!) and delete the comments from the post. They still kept the caption on the post which read: ‘Calling all sugar daddies’ alongside a money emoji.

Some women of the industry did not see this as an issue. Stating in the comments sections of Instagram posts, ‘who would buy the shoes except dancers or pole dancers?’ But when Dolls Kill chose to block us, rather than hear our complaints and make things right (perhaps by donating some of the funds to sex work-based initiatives) they made it clear that these shoes had not been intended for us, but for the women who want to dress like us and still treat us as though we are beneath them. They proved that they did not see us as a legitimate portion of their consumer base. 

Creating a photograph-able Instagram trend of our work uniforms – when our own hashtags are shadow-banned – adds to our isolation. The use of the shoes as a trend also heightens the idea that dancers and sex workers exist only in a fantasy world for non workers to project their own ideas about onto. I found the way they blocked all of the sex workers writing complaints abhorrent – why not wait for the storm to pass and then address the issue, as opposed to blocking us? Right when U.S sex workers are finding their voices silenced via SESTA and FOSTA.

It felt like a hurtful snapshot of exactly how a company willing to profit off looks created by dancers over the decades, was also willing to ignore the women wearing the look when we complained. I thought about the millions of women over the decades who have cut up swimsuits, bedazzled shoes, perfected stage make-up, and invented pole tricks – and I felt angry.

The adult industry has spawned many designers, artists, creatives, stylists, singers, writers, professors, actors, comedians, psychologists, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. We exist in the mainstream world as well as in the clubs – we are paying customers in as many respects as the next person. Albeit none of us paid to go and see that disgusting Scarlett Johansson film where she kills a male stripper.

It’s so easy to take a few outfits or moves from the adult industry, and then do what the brand did and completely ignore us and our issues when we do complain. Some of the comments they deleted were sex workers speaking up about the larger issues we face. Instead of accepting us as a community they ostracised us. They prevented us from creating awareness, and fostering a conversation between us and the young women who might purchase these shoes, where we could explain that as a workforce we face extreme stigma and often cruelty at the hands of society. They denied us our own right to explain why created a fabricated ‘stripper-hoe’ aesthetic to garner likes on Instagram was wrong.

The funny thing is, when I was a teenager I used to lust after Pleasers so badly on eBay. I loved them. But if I had purchased and worn a pair out, and a dancer had given me a talking to – I would have taken them off and never worn them again. The youth is always on the right side of history, so rather than taking this battle to the companies run by old, white men who still think it’s the 1970’s and that it’s acceptable to profit from women’s bodies and creativity – although we still need to fight these old blokes re legal issues – let’s take it to the youth and be reminded that the more we humanise our industry by telling our stories across our varied platforms, the more individual minds we can change.

Cali