Every day, more and more women are experiencing the transformational power of burlesque performance, even beyond helping build confidence and heal body image issues. Some of my students have performed burlesque to work through serious trauma from sexual assault, abusive relationships, eating disorders, and even suicidal tendencies. I have personally worked out a large number of my own demons on stage, to the somewhat oblivious delight of many audiences.
Category Archives: Body Image
I have not written much here in the last couple of years. I certainly haven’t shared anything personal here in a really long time, and I am nervous and excited today because I am about to break that silence.
The last few years have been fun and challenging, and it has been very exciting to take my business in new directions, work on so many fun projects, and meet so many lovely new people. At the same time, I have faced some attacks against my business and my person that have seemed very close at times to derailing my whole career. Lies have been spread about me by people that I loved, lies that made me out to be a very different person than who I am – someone I wouldn’t want to know. These lies affected me, and continue to affect me, both personally and professionally.
Some of you may know what I am referring to, but I have no wish to go into detail here. What I really want to talk about is what I have learned from this situation. As a result of this, I have asked myself repeatedly, “Do I really want to do this any more? Why am I doing this? Isn’t this supposed to be fun?” And each time I have considered this, the universe has answered my questions in the form of emails and conversations with my students (or sometimes even people I have never met) telling me how my classes, workshops, events and products have changed their lives for the better. They say that my programs have changed the way they see their bodies and their selves, changed the way they relate to others and live in the world, and brought joy and self-acceptance into their lives where they had previously questioned their own worth. Now that is work that is worth doing!
This is why I do what I do. I do this because I love people, and I truly want to be of service to those who can benefit from my programs. I want to see every one of you shining with confidence, secure in your own sexiness, going after your dreams. I want to see you all living your lives at your full potential, working on expanding that potential until you have come so far that you are amazed when you look back at where you started out. I want you to amaze yourself with your own fabulousness. I want you to feel sexy and sassy and stylish and present your best self to the world every single day. Why? Because it feels so good! When you are feeling confident, the world opens up to you, and you can accomplish anything! This is what I want for you.
This is the motivation behind everything that I do. There is absolutely nothing more satisfying to me than watching you step beyond your previous comfort zone and accomplish things that you didn’t dream were possible. I want you to feel like a goddess, a celebrity, a star. I want to see you express yourself as the beautiful, brilliant genius that you are. This is how I see you, and nothing is more thrilling for me than to watch you begin to see this in yourself, even just letting the awareness seep in through a small crack in your shell at first before really letting it in.
I have been calling myself a Body Image Activist for a few years now, and I really do feel that this is my calling, my true life’s purpose at this time. As a result of all of my questioning, I now feel refocused and re-energized toward this work, and I am working on more than one project to step up my work as a Body Image Activist!
What does that mean? That means I will be launching new resources and programs, based on the confidence and body image exercises from the classes I have been teaching since 2004 as well as practices and techniques that I have learned through my own quest for self esteem and confidence throughout my life. As Mohandas Gandhi recommended, I am going to be the change that I want to see in the world, because that is the only way to create lasting positive change.
Today, I have unveiled a new blog project: “All Kinds of Sexy: A Bombshell Betty® Everyday Bombshells™ project celebrating sexiness in all shapes, sizes, ages, abilities, and backgrounds – because there are All Kinds of Sexy in this wide, beautiful world we live in!” I will be posting articles and links to other articles on the web that are relevant to self esteem, positive body image, and representations of ALL kinds of sexy! I will also be posting photos, profiles and interviews of Everyday Bombshells and media icons that fit the bill. I hope you enjoy the project!
With love and laughter,
After writing this post, everyone in my life seems to be talking about body issues! A recent thread in a burlesque list hashed out some controversy about whether the burlesque scene is body-positive and what that means. Friends and family have come to me expressing unhappiness with their bodies. I have personally been dealing with the fact that I have gained 20-30 pounds in the last year and a half (mostly I’m fine with it, it’s just frustrating when my favorite clothes no longer fit over my ass). An email conversation with Violet Blue, the witty and lovely sex educator, author and sex columnist for the SF Chronicle, resulted in quotes in her column and a mention on her blog.
All of this discussion has inspired me to go a bit deeper on this issue that affects all of us to one degree or another. To start off, this is the full rant that I sent to Violet Blue, which she quoted from in her column:
What I have always noticed in my own life and when I am watching other people is that “when you feel sexy, you are sexy.” Period. The end. There are people out there who are attracted to every body type, age group, coloring combination, clothing style, you name it. What makes one person stand out more than another are confidence and vivacity, both of which come out when someone is really feeling sexy.
I have shared dressing rooms with thousands of ravishingly beautiful women over the last 12 years, and the one thing they all have in common is… none of them think they are beautiful enough! Our society teaches women to pick themselves to pieces, analyzing each and every feature individually and keeping a list in our minds of each and every perceived fault. No one comes out of this scenario feeling good, and when women are in this mind set, nothing you can say will change the way they feel about themselves. Believe me, I’ve tried. (Have you noticed that most women will argue with you when you give them a compliment rather than just saying “thank you”?)
On the other hand, men tend to be seen in more of a gestalt fashion: people look at the whole package – including personality! – and evaluate the sexiness and attractiveness of the person as a whole rather than analyzing the perfection or imperfection of each feature. This is a much easier standard, and I find that the women who are most confident tend to see themselves in this way as well.
I don’t think people learn through words, they learn through experience. With this in mind, what I strive to create in my classes (and what many burlesque shows create) is a totally new environment where women of all shapes and sizes and ages and complexions get encouragement and support from each other rather than competitiveness and criticism. Often for the first time in their lives, they are allowed to explore their sexuality and enjoy their bodies in a safe and non-threatening way.
As new people come into the group and experience how the group encourages others who do not represent our society’s unattainable ideal of what is beautiful, they see how sexy these other “imperfect” women are when they are letting go and feeling sexy, and it allows them to stop judging themselves so harshly. Soon enough, they start stretching themselves, coming out of their shells more and more, and the encouragement and support they get from the group allows them to let go of even more of this unneccessary shame and self-judgement. This is really powerful and transformational, and I have seen it start huge snowball effects of positive change in people’s lives.
I think the best thing people can do to start feeling good about themselves is to get rid of the critics! Turn off the TV when it’s talking about some celebrity’s weight issues! Stop listening to your mother or your friend or your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse when they make comments about your weight. Hang out with people who think you’re hot! Find them. They’re out there!
As I mentioned in my previous post on this subject and in the quote above, these body image issues are pervasive. It is not only heavier women who feel insecure or downright ashamed of their bodies. Women of all ages, sizes and shapes feel this way, and many men have body insecurities, too; they just don’t usually talk about them as much, I think. I have asked some of my students (women of every body type and various ages) to give me their thoughts and experiences on how learning and performing burlesque has affected their body image, and with their permission I will be posting some of them here soon. The responses to my questions made me want to cry in a really, really good way. Such beautiful women!
I was surprised a few days ago when someone posted this comment on my post about Lindsay Lohan’s ode to Marilyn’s last photos:
I do agree that it’s exciting to see the pin-up aesthetic coming into the mainstream media … However, these photos of Lindsay Lohan are ATROCIOUS! Why on God’s Green Earth would these ever be published! Lindsay’s figure is emaciated and she looks like she’s about to kick the bucket! She took a gorgeous icon’s last photo shoot and turned it into squirrel droppings. I hope that the mainstream media can use the pin-up aesthetic … but, I certainly hope that they don’t keep bastardizing it like they did with this photo shoot!
I find this whole attitude offensive! If we are going to escape the limitations and shame placed on us by our society’s pressure to fit into one ideal body type, we’re going to have to stop hating people of any body type, not just ones that look like ourselves. Hating people because they resemble our current cultural ideal is only going to keep spreading body hate and unreasonable pressure. You can’t create freedom for “fatties” by hating the “skinnies.” Thin people are under just as much scrutiny and criticism as everyone else. Personally, I don’t see the difference between automatically hating someone because they are “too thin” or “too fat” and hating someone because they are of a different race or gender or sexual orientation. It is all judging someone because of what they are physically rather than who they are as a human being.
1. Weight itself is not a health problem, except in the most extreme cases (i.e., being underweight or so fat you’re immobilized). In fact, fat people live longer than thin people and are more likely to survive cardiac events, and some studies have shown that fat can protect against “infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.” Yeah, you read that right: even the goddamned diabetes. Now, I’m not saying we should all go out and get fat for our health (which we wouldn’t be able to do anyway, because no one knows how to make a naturally thin person fat any more than they know how to make a naturally fat person thin; see point 4), but I’m definitely saying obesity research is turning up surprising information all the time — much of which goes ignored by the media — and people who give a damn about critical thinking would be foolish to accept the party line on fat. Just because you’ve heard over and over and over that fat! kills! doesn’t mean it’s true. It just means that people in this culture really love saying it.
2. Poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle do cause health problems, in people of all sizes. This is why it’s so fucking crucial to separate the concept of “obesity” from “eating crap and not exercising.” The two are simply not synonymous — not even close — and it’s not only incredibly offensive but dangerous for thin people to keep pretending that they are. There are thin people who eat crap and don’t exercise — and are thus putting their health at risk — and there are fat people who treat their bodies very well but remain fat. Really truly.
3. What’s more, those groups do not represent anomalies; no one has proven that fat people generally eat more or exercise less than thin people. Period. And believe me, they’ve tried. (Gina Kolata’s new book, Rethinking Thin, is an outstanding source for more on that point.)
4. Diets don’t work. No, really, not even if you don’t call them diets. If you want to tell me about how YOUR diet totally worked, do me a favor and wait until you’ve kept all the weight off for five years. Not one year, not four years, five years. And if you’ve kept it off for that long, congratulations. You’re literally a freak of nature.
5. Given that diets don’t work in the long-term for the vast, vast majority of people, even if obesity in and of itself were a health crisis, how the fuck would you propose we solve it?
6. Most fat people have already dieted repeatedly. And sadly, it’s likely that the dieting will cause them more health problems than the fat.
7. Human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Fat people are human beings.
8. Even fat people who are unhealthy still deserve dignity and respect. Still human beings. See how that works?
9. In any case, shaming teh fatties for being “unhealthy” doesn’t fucking help. If shame made people thin, there wouldn’t be a fat person in this country, trust me. I wish I could remember who said this, ’cause it’s one of my favorite quotes of all time: “You cannot hate people for their own good.”
10. If you scratch an article on the obesity! crisis! you will almost always find a press release from a company that’s developing a weight loss drug — or from a “research group” that’s funded by such companies.
I really love that bit that she says, “You can’t hate people for their own good.” I wish I knew who said that originally, too. She has links to resources supporting her statements on her website, so check it out.
Two national magazines have published articles about my Pinup Workshops and Photoshoots so far in 2008! Curve Magazine published an article chronicling the adventures of three staffers as they participate in a private workshop for their Jan/Feb issue.
A few days ago, a friend in an online social website sent me a message telling me that he’d read about me in the April issue of Skin&Ink Magazine. This was a little surprising to me, because I had originally expected the article to run in the March 2007 issue – a full year ago! You can read the article here (sorry, I don’t know how to make it into one PDF document): Page 1, 2, 3 and 4. It is a great article, I think. For some reason though, whether due to misquotes or changed ideas in the year and a half since I interviewed for this article, a couple of my quotes don’t really express my perspective on a couple of touchy subjects, so I’d like to expand and clarify what I think about two subjects mentioned: very thin fashion models and pornography.
First of all, I don’t think fashion models are personally responsible for the eating disorder epidemic that is taking place in the United States, accompanied by misogyny and body hating from both men and women. Fashion models have as little control over their genes and overall body type as the rest of us do, and they are under considerable pressure from their industry to maintain extremely low body weights in order to get work.
And THAT is where the problem comes from. The industry pressure. To be fair, the fashion industry has recently started making efforts to change this. In the last few years, some countries have banned models that they deem unhealthily underweight (read about it here), and Jean Paul Gaultier recently featured a plus size model, Velvet D’Amour on the runway in Paris. You can read a couple of opinions about Gaultier’s gesture here and here.
I’m not sure what Gaultier’s intention was or whether there will be any real changes in the fashion industry standards, and to be honest, I think that in recent years more of this body scrutiny and criticism has come from Hollywood and the tabloids than from Paris or Milan. Tabloid magazine headlines are constantly screaming about celebrity weight fluctuations – whether real or imagined – as if they are really national news. Actresses are constantly attacked and pressured, which makes them lose more and more weight to keep up with expectations, and then the women who read these magazines and hear these reports compare themselves with the supposedly “fat” actresses, and translate the criticism into self-hate. Enough already!
This is what I love about the modern burlesque resurgence, and one of the things I love most about the pinup movement as well. These communities are creating a space for women (and men!) to come together in all of their shapes, sizes, ages and races and be seen as sexy, powerful and beautiful! Pinup artists like Coop and Big Al celebrate voluptuous women. Women of all body types and ages come to my burlesque classes and pinup workshops, and start to feel good about their bodies. Not in a few months when they lose 15 pounds. Now. Just as they are. I have heard other burlesque performers talk about how participating in the burlesque scene has given them this confidence, too.
Along with her identity as an Asian-America, Cho has struggled with her identity as a woman, particularly her personal struggles with eating disorders. As a young woman growing up in her family, Cho was susceptible to sexist messages that told her she had to be “small, petite, and skinny” to be beautiful. As a result, Cho developed a devastating eating disorder, and went through dramatic periods of anorexia and bulimia. After being told to lose weight while working on her television show All-American Girl, Cho starved herself for several weeks, eventually becoming hospitalized for kidney failure.
A breakthrough for Cho came when she saw burlesque being performed for the first time. “I was so amazed when I saw the performance. There were women with all different body types, ages, races, and you could tell they were so happy and comfortable with their bodies,” she said. “I was crying when I saw it, it really cured me.” For Cho, who performed burlesque on her tour “The Sensuous Woman,” burlesque was not about sexualizing herself as much as it was about emancipating her from the idea that her body is a prison. “We are so conditioned to a certain look that models have, and people think that’s the only kind of body that can be beautiful and sexual, and that’s not true, everybody has that ability.” Cho believed that performing burlesque allowed her to see that ability.
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Another issue from the Skin and Ink article that I’d like to address is pornography and the degradation of women. I do not believe that all porn is degrading to women. Some is, some is great, and some I probably just don’t get, so I don’t like to make blanket statements about it. As Mae West said, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.”
I’ll wind this up with my favorite quote of all time regarding pornography:
“I don’t know what the definition of pornography is and nobody else does either. Pornography is somebody else’s erotica that you don’t like. People are interested in their own sexuality and they’ve always reflected it in their art. End of story.” – Erica Jong