*Content note* This article contains discussions about disordered eating.
The clubs in which I have worked have had femme/female dancers and mostly male customers, so this is the dynamic that I will be referring to. This article pertains to my individual experience only, other strippers have purported that their participation in this industry has helped, rather than hindered their body image, like anything each experience varies by individual.
Four years ago at the age of 31, I auditioned for a club in London and was rejected. After much pressing the house mum told me that the reasons were that I had visible stretch marks, I was older than what the manager liked and was bigger than what the usual clientele at the club would go for. I thanked her for her honesty and promptly applied for and was hired at another high end club, but also lost four kilos in meantime. My BMI was still in the healthy range, but this took a toll on my psyche.
For any stripper who has suffered from an eating disorder, the club can be a precarious place. As much as the body positivity movement has been successful in promoting self love at any size and widened the range of bodies that are deemed ‘acceptable’ there is unfortunately one place where all that work has unfortunately been stopped at the door (literally), and that is the strip club.
Strip clubs are places where bodies are sexualised. It is a commercial transaction between two consenting adults for one of those adults to encapsulate a fantasy, and a big part of that fantasy is catering to the male gaze…a gaze that has unfortunately for many remained very narrow. Although the idea that every man prefers a different age and body shape is true to an extent, the default ‘ideal’ for female attractiveness is still white, slim, feminine women between the ages of 18-25 (or who at least look like they are) and strip club hiring processes have reflected this. ‘Slim’ is the most sought after body type by men searching for women on dating apps. Of course there is a place for curvier bodies, and I know many strippers who don’t fit this mould who are financially successful, but that tends to be an exception rather than the norm. Where does this leave strippers who have a history with disordered eating? In a work environment surrounded by triggers. It is a daily, uphill battle to remain healthy and not fall into dangerous patterns.
Stripping is essentially a sales job, and the service you are selling is time with you. Every rejection is to an extent, a rejection of yourself and that can wreck havoc on even the strongest psyche. Of course clubs themselves do nothing to counter this. It is generally much harder for a curvier stripper to be hired, especially in clubs that consider themselves to be ‘upscale’.
To the SWERFS who are reading this, again, fuck off. Eating disorders overwhelmingly begin to affect people in their early to mid teenage years. They are a result of many different socioeconomic, emotional and psychological factors on top of the persistent societal policing of womens’ bodies, they affect GIRLS who then grow into women who carry these issues into adulthood. Do not use this in your puritanical crusade against us.
Promoting diverse hiring policies often seems like screaming into a vortex so long as clubs are owned and operated by men who pay little attention to such ‘womens issues’, changing that would be a nice start.
I don’t have a solution for this other than the obvious, i.e. to encourage living a healthy lifestyle with a healthy relationship to food and body image. I am of the belief that no one ever completely recovers from an eating disorder, it’s just something that is managed on an ongoing basis and it does get easier with time when healthy behaviours become habitual.
by Katja Hippopotamus