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.
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.