~ Strip or be Stripped ~

When I was 8 years old, I told my mother I wanted to be a stripper. She looked at me with her young and caring eyes, wise past her years, and simply said, “Honey, whatever you want to be do it well, and I will support you.”

She meant every word and holds them true to this day. As one of my biggest fans, she comes to as many shows as she can, loves and adores my burlesque community, and is very verbal about my achievements to anyone who will listen.

The little girl I was then clearly did not understand completely what it meant to be a stripper, but she was dazzled by the strength those woman had. The feminine energy a showgirl exuded with every seductive, controlled and powerful movement. When I was little, I never saw the body in its exposed form as bad, wrong or shameful. I saw it as beautiful, natural and sacred. The showgirl was exaggerated from the everyday, a goddess on earth.

That brings us to adolescence, that magical time in a human’s life when everything stops making sense. Childlike notions of freedom and expression are challenged at every corner. We grew up in a western patriarchal society, dominated by advertising and oppressive stereotypes. A heavy weight to have looming over you, distracting you with unrealistic ideals of aesthetic beauty and success. These ideals teach you that aesthetic beauty = success. We are taught to subscribe to a false self created by someone else, rather than to nurture and create our own selves.

Although the magic never faded from my eyes, there was some clouding of it. When bombarded with messages of how one is supposed to be, it can be a journey to get through the lies and come out on the other side. Having a “non traditional” shape and size and being quite masculine in stature, I was confused as to why I did not fit this mold.

For a time, my body was a source of distrust. As I was becoming a woman, my sexuality was budding, but I did not feel sexy. I was too fat, too plain, too tall, too flat, too butch, too boyish to be considered a pretty girl. By today’s standards, at least. Please note that all of these qualities are physical. Never mind my incredible capacity to love, my compassion for my fellow man, my humour, wit or intelligence. If I was not pretty, who would even care? These were the little voices that developed in me. Luckily, I was punk as f*ck and chose to fight them every step of the way. But it does not mean they were not there.

We are sexual creatures, we are human. In a fundamental way, we are here to get it on! Why else do we have such prominent sex organs? We are also naked first. We clothe ourselves for protection from the elements, and also to attract certain people into our lives. Using clothing as a calling card as to what tribe you might belong to. But in this society of body shame, being naked is deemed wrong. If we are proud to be naked, there must be something wrong with us. Who are you to love your body when I hate mine?

I used to write for a Riot Grrrl zine. My entries were always, always about self love. Now I perform and teach burlesque. To me, it’s the same thing – reaching a group of people who are searching for answers and permission to just be themselves. To take ahold of the beauty that is yourself and not what someone has told you to be. The first burlesque show I ever saw widened my perspective and peripheral vision all at once. This is what I had been searching for. I had not yet became the stripper I had told my mother I wanted to be, but I was close.

She took the stage and was dazzling. Her costume, the dance moves, the energy. Her body was, like mine, imperfect. But what resonated most was her presence. Her absolute desire to be right where she was. She was making art and she was inviting us along for the ride. No preconceived notions about how she is “supposed” to look or act. It was all her from start to finish. Magical. I wanted to be part of this world. I had a lot to give on the subject; I had been waiting since I was 8…

I did not start calling myself an artist until I had been doing Burlesque for about 4 years, and teaching for 2. Like any art form, it takes a while for it to incorporate itself into your veins, into your soul. Burlesque being an unconventional art form, it was hard for me to put it into context.

“I’m an artist.” “What do you do?” “Paint.” — Easy.
“I’m an artist.” “What do you do?” “Strip.” — Complex.

I was also in the space of – how am I allowed to call myself an artist? This is just what I do, what I love. But something changed the day I allowed myself to call what I do art. To give it value. To value myself all over again. A different kind of vibration travels through me now. After letting that in, I got to speak with the same kind of power I gave to other people when discussing their achievements, their art, their passion, their triumphs.

6 years later, the value of what I have gotten from my never-ending journey into burlesque is quite phenomenal. For myself and for others. The lessons I have learned and struggles (so many struggles) I have faced to be able to unleash what I do are so very valid. Now, I get to teach and work with women on the same path as me. Stripping away layers of our hearts, souls, and clothing all at once, to lay it all on the floor.

We stand naked and exposed on that stage with such immense personal power for all to see. To invite and invoke others to do the same. You do not have to strip physically to peel back layers of yourself, but what we offer is an insight to how it might be connected.

This is my art, this is my power, this is my passion.

Art Deco Chic in the Spring 2012 – Photo by David Denofreo

This piece was written on my reflections from 2 recent articles – Burlesque and Feminism: It’s complicated and Burlesque laid bare.
The argument and commentary can go in circles forever, both the words Burlesque and Feminism have many meanings for everyone. But like any art form, what your intentions are behind your creation is what gives it life and power. Simple.

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  1. As a “too fat, too plain, too tall, too flat, too butch, too boyish” former stripper who has a book about stripping coming out in a few months, I absolutely LOVED everything about this post. Such beauty, such poetry. You are one of the blessed few who understand the power of the female body and aren’t ashamed to admit it.

    Thank you. And thank you to Jennifer Cooper for making me aware of this post. I will be sharing it on my author page. http://www.facebook.com/author.JessicaMcHugh

    Thanks again. ❤

    1. Hi Jessica, thank you so much for your kind words and the re-post!
      It was something I needed to say for a while and was interested by the easy honesty that came out.
      Your feedback is taken straight to heart.

  2. I saw my first burlesque show in Vancouver and being a male from Montreal My first impression was WOW everyone in the room from the crowd to the artist are all here to celebrate our perfect imperfections.
    I’ll never go to a “strip bar” ever again.
    Thank you Vancouver for your wonderful hard working performing artist in the burlesque scene.

  3. I have so much love for you Lola Frost. Sincerely. This post brought tears to my eyes.

    I believe I have said this before but you inspire me with you physical and emotional strength. While struggling with injuries (and other things) for a few years I took a step back from our chosen art- burlesque. One night while attending Kitty Nights, I saw you perform.

    It was a turning point for me. After that performance I knew I wanted to feel strong in my body again.- like Lola! I was on the road to recovery but a few things were holding me back; most notably, a belief that I could not be that strong again. I begun to challenge that belief from that point on.

    Thanks for being you.

  4. How timely!!! I was just thinking as I was on my run this morning about what is wrong with being a stripper?? I have always said to one of my daughters she would make a good stripper. I get horrified responses , obviously! But I was serously considering my coments to her today and honestly as long as you have your head screwed on right , its a great buisness to be in and a wonderful art form , and as you say shows our imperfections in a real and proud way, how more empowering can it get???? way to go to your mom, give her a hug from me !!! so glad I am not the only mamma out there who will love and support her children for whatever and whoever they want to be , as long as they are happy and safe. way to go gurl!!!!!

    1. Thank you Jane!
      The greatest gift my Mumma gave me was the freedom to choose, and the support of who I was. She is incredible and strong. Allowing your daughter to bloom into her own amazing being is a great thing.
      Thank you for reading, I will indeed hug her for you. 😉

  5. Beautiful article Lola. It is easy to see why you are such an inspiration, a kind soul, and a beautiful woman. Keep it up champ.

  6. I really appreciate this article, thank you. I am a uni student studying local and international development/issues with interest in gender studies (and a self-proclaimed feminist)–I have always been attracted to the idea of cabarets and burlesque. In the last year or so, I started to attend multiple shows and explore the world of burlesque. Studying women’s issues, I found myself questioning whether I can truly call myself a feminist while genuinely enjoying burlesque. I often feel torn, hypocritical and stuck in limbo as to where I stand on a lot of these issues. I have been continually re-evaluating my stance and actually swaying more towards burlesque now more than ever before. I look at it as a woman’s self-proclamation of power over a her body, sexuality and place in a patricidal world.
    I am looking forward growing in these opinions, my own self-love and sexuality while I continue to, slowly-but-surely, explore the world of burlesque.

    Thanks again,

    1. HI Brittney,
      As I am sure you have been discovering, it is not as black and white as just feminism and burlesque. People are always trying to pigeonhole Burlesque as a feminist art form. While any art for can be feminist just by the statements if makes with the art itself. Keep exploring with an open heart. As soon as we look at the world in any sense, with a narrow point of view we are lost.
      Thank you for reading, I value your feedback immensely.

  7. I had no idea you had a blog, never mind a brilliant one…but why am I surprised? My first Burlesque show after living all over the world, was here in Vancouver at the Dollhouse. My little brother was with me, so knows my dance past, and we were both blown away by your Michael Jackson duet. This performance made me an instant fan of both you and the art form, yet it was for deeper reasons than being entertained, many of which you have just written about here. Thanks so much for expressing what so many of us feel so eloquently. xoxo, Mel.

    1. Melanie,
      Thank you my dear, the blog is new, 7 posts in I think, so 7ish weeks…
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I remember meeting you that night at Dollhouse, it’s been a great journey since.
      Much sass to you! ❤

  8. Was fun watching you dance in rd my fiancee had great birthday and I love the words you have written here. You are an amazi g woman and talented

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