‘Christ,’ I said turning to my boyfriend the morning after my third or fourth weekend as a stripper. ‘How does anyone manage to gain weight stripping?’ My thigh muscles were burning and I was already starving upon waking up. When I stood up to walk my legs shook.
‘I think you need some carbs and protein,’ he prescribed. We immediately took a trip to the supermarket to purchase some mushrooms and pasta.
I used to work at one of the most ‘instagram famous’ strip clubs in the world. I’ve written before about working in the adult industry, the business end, the great and trashy shoes, and the highs and lows of it all.
Before I became a dancer I was in the best shape of my life. I had quit my dumpster-diving lifestyle of being a crust-punk street rat, and traded it in for a 9-5 office job designing university degrees. I woke up at 5am every morning and I did yoga and pilates in my living room for 45 minutes, then I ate a chia seed pudding with Papaya before hopping on the train for my morning commute. I was an AU4-6 and I had the flattest stomach and tautest thighs I had ever seen protrude from below my hips. I loved the way I looked, this kind of workout and lifestyle is me to my core – I adore fitness when it comes from a mindful, educated manner. This was in 2016 – my food philosophy was on point, and every single leg circle, or downward dog, reinforced in a physical sense my life philosophy of loving the act of putting effort into something.
Fast forward to 2017 and I fell a bit off-track. I’m not too sure where the psychology of it began, I’m still trying to figure that out. I do know that my rent went up and my chronic hip pain became worse, and I ended up in a bit of a terrible cycle of not stretching because I was in too much pain, and then being in more pain, and not being able to stretch or in some cases even walk properly.
I made it through my first weekend of dancing with a wobbly ankle, and fell back into my bed with $1400 crumpled up in the sheets around me. I fell asleep with a smile on my face thinking that I’d figured it out! I’d figured out a way for me to pay my rent, eat, and not have to be in excruciating pain every day. I could write for me again if I was dancing. I could rest my wrists, and stretch my back, and only be in pain for two days out of the week. It seemed like the perfect trade-off.
Granted dancing did give me that. I still suffered pain, but not having to sit at a desk for hours typing proved to feel incredible. My shoulders relaxed and I took up compound lifts at my local gym to improve the stability in my hips. It also improved my ass – greatly.
Unfortunately when I worked I drank. I don’t really like drinking, but even a small amount of alcohol, mixed with sleepless nights is an easy set up for a poor self-care routine. I quickly gained roughly seven kilograms, moving from 45.6kg to 52. By the end of my time as a dancing I weighed around 57 kilograms and wore an AU8. I could still zip up my size 6 clothing, but it didn’t exactly look right.
Now, at a size eight I’m still small. I do have a tiny frame though, and I do prefer myself to look a bit fitter, but even just a few extra wobbly bits in a strip club filled with legitimates Instagram fitness babes with millions (no joke) of followers it was easy to feel enormous. It was like going to the Playboy Mansion every weekend. I’m not going to lie, I have legitimately called in ‘fat’ to work. Of course at the time I said I needed a self-care day, which wasn’t a lie.
I’ve never suffered an eating disorder, but I have often had a very unhealthy relationship with my weight. I was chubby for two years in high school, and then again for two years at university. When I left my old University for RMIT in 2012 I was the heaviest I had ever been, and it took roughly a year for me to go from an AU12 to an AU6.
My weight gain almost always follows the same pattern – or at least it did when I was a teenager/young adult. I would become depressed, and I would lose my sense of mindfulness and will to self care. The reality is, self-care doesn’t mean being the fittest you can be: It means exactly what it sounds like, to care for yourself. As a human gentle exercise and trying to make healthy choices, physically, mentally and emotionally is a form of self care. Self care was not intended as a memo to buy the most expensive face mask on the planet.
You can still make an absolutely incredible amount of money at a strip club even when you personally think you’ve gained weight. It really depends on hustle. When you’re in a private room giving a dance, or doing a stage dance, and the customer loves it, you don’t think about how “fat” you feel. You think about the next move, you go with the flow, and you vibe with the client. However sometimes, when you’re on the floor it can creep up on you.
Some clubs employ a ‘fat watch’ policy, weigh dancers, bully them into getting surgery – all of which is used as a psychological tactic by club managers (who are notorious pieces of shit) to keep women beholden to their club or the industry. I’ve never understood the idea of breaking people down as a sales tactic – it has never worked on me. Except maybe by Instagram models to force me to pay a $70 per month gym membership (joking).
With all of this in mind it’s easy to see where a dancer can lose it when it comes to body image. There were many times I nearly did. My clientele changed with my body as well , it changed my hustle, it changed how I photographed, what lingerie suited me. I also, at twenty-fucking-four felt the first pangs of ageism. Even though there were women in the club who were much older, and making much more money than me because they were smarter and more confident with men.
The thing is, for me my body image is so ingrained into my whole being – going to the gym to make myself more conventionally attractive for men I didn’t care about, and a strip club manager who didn’t even know my name seemed so entirely useless. It didn’t feel right to me. I started to reduce my body image to something that other people saw. I wanted to work out and eat better sure, but the very thought of creating change in my life for a group of male counterparts who – no matter how ‘good’ I looked according to white male standards – would still charge me to work, and put me on Fat Watch if I gained a pound, just didn’t fly with me.
My body started to feel out of alignment. This has less to do with sex work, and more to do with not having a peer group within the industry to snap me out of the exact mentality that I’ve just written up. The way I treated my body was derived from being sick to death of a club dictating my appearance in return for extremely poor treatment and bullying tactics. However, I was also failing to align the worship that occurred surrounding my body within the club from clients, and from myself and the other women around me. I found my struggle to stay mentally afloat as a dancer too difficult at that time. Clearly, this is why I’m sitting here on my couch on a Wednesday night typing this instead of hauling my ass onto a stage somewhere in lingerie worth half a months rent.
What followed my body feeling out of alignment was my entire hustle, my personality, even my work ethic falling out of alignment. In any image based industry, feeling that you’ve let yourself go, that you’re suddenly not deserving because you have allowed yourself to slip (especially as a self-confessed perfectionist) this far, created a massive block monetarily for me. My motivation was as shot as my waistline, of course this particular thought let me slip even further in that old chestnut of – ‘well I may as well get fat now!’ Despite having lost the weight a million times before.
I’m a total girly girl – I love heels, make-up, clothing. I always have. So it might come as a slight shock that I also have an extreme derision for the way societal pressures can enforce certain beauty standards, and the way looks can denote financial standing and status (I come from a working class background after all). In the club it’s how we make money: A nice, bespoke suit on a man in his forties usually means a typical interaction with a good client – he has money, he’s intelligent, he’s well read and socially apt enough to not treat you like total dirt. On the other hand, a suit on a twenty-one year old? Forget it, he spent all his cash on the suit so he could try to Pick Up Artist a baby stripper.
I can’t pinpoint every part of body image and the adult industry in one blog post. When it comes to women living in a patriarchal society, body image is a nuanced struggle, spurred and scorned by so many diet plans, Marie Windsor downloads, and fashion magazines. Add in the pressures of an appearance/confidence based job, and you’ve got a recipe for a whole lot of body dysmorphic tendencies and weird underlying issues on everything from self-doubt to guilt, to financial blocks and then some.
Sometimes knowing what your standard – your personal attainable standard – was for your body image, having felt the best and most fit you ever have and then attaching actual monetary worth to that can be horrific – because you might not be able to keep it up, and you don’t know what psychological impacts that storied attachment might have on you in the long term. In other cases, it can be incredibly empowering, making you feel on top of the world. Making you realise flat abs don’t matter. Every stage set still eleaves you feeling like you’re on a cocaine high, and in cases like mine it can cause financial blocks, or blocks in self-worth.
At the end of the day in a strip club it’s all about confidence, the weight gain or ageing you might experience can change your hustle, but the real thing that changes it is your mentality. You can feel more confident at a size twelve than you did at a six, if you truly feel more aligned in mind, body and soul. If what you’re doing makes you feel connected to yourself and your purpose. For me this wasn’t the case, my weight was too intrinsically linked to my feelings of self-worth. If I wasn’t the perfect ab-cracked, thigh-gapped, twerk-queen dancer – I wasn’t able to pull myself together. Of course I still made money, but it prevented me heavily from certain hustles, and feeling as though I shouldn’t try. This is of course a ridiculous mentality – because women don’t spend thousands on butt implants for no reason, and one-pieces can cover a stomach that has expanded with time. I was able to follow this latter mentality – pull my shit together and have some of the best nights of my life, but there was a serious connection I had found between my body image and my sense of self-worth – and of course that sense of self-worth trickled down into my finances and into my world outside the club.
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