PEEPING INSIDE THE STRIPPER’S MIND
THE TRUE COST OF TAKING YOUR CLOTHES OFF
Does stripping down to your ‘party suit’ for a living change the way you view yourself? Mind Guru Kim Lacey explores the ethical and psychological impacts of parading around in a G-string. We’re still wondering why the Guru team weren’t born with any ‘erotic capital’.
“Being a ‘dancer’ certainly does change your
outlook on life.”
In March 2012, upon the discovery that footballer Mario Balotelli was busted visiting a strip club, the British press went wild debating the ethics of gentlemen’s clubs. This media frenzy prompted Dr. Stu, Guru Magazine’s Editor, to address the blogosphere with his post ‘ The psychological cost of
being a stripper.’ His blog post sparked a lot of conversation – more than 40 lengthy comments! Now, although I’ve never been an exotic dancer, all of this heated talk got me wondering about the motivations and experiences of this oftendismissed profession. And while you might fundamentally disagree with stripping, please keep an open mind – I’m more interested in why they do it and how they approach it.
A G-string full of greenbacks
One of the first things I realised was that Googling the term ‘stripping’ yields dozens of results – but probably not the ones you’re interested in if you plan to write a serious article on the subject. What I did find, however, was a fascinating book by Catherine Hakim titled, Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom. Hakim defines ‘erotic capital’ as “a mixture of social and sexual attractiveness” – a trait you immediately align with strippers. Despite my lack of experience of disrobing for strangers, I have waited tables – and one of the most sought after qualities was social attractiveness: the ability to entice others with your conversation and charm. Combine social attractiveness with a sensual striptease and you have yourself a real moneymaker! According to an article by Susannah Breslin on Forbes.com, strippers earn on average $30 (£22) an hour. It’s usually not a steady income; the day of the week (weekends are primo) and the clientele both affect your take-home pay. Breslin notes that strippers usually work approximately 82 hours per month and earn an average of $2,500 (£1,600) for their time. With these numbers, it’s pretty obvious that strippers know how to play up erotic capital very well: there’s a huge market for it, after all.
“…I feel so much empathy for the girls who work in this industry. I didn’t like many aspects of what I knew I was going to have to do – so I walked out. I’ll take the non-stop collection calls any day. But many dancers feel exactly the same, and don’t quit. They are working so hard for so little respect, money (yes, money: after the house gets a cut its insane how little you can go home with), and balance in life, sometimes for YEARS. It’s a draining job in every way.”
The mind of a stripper
There’s certainly a lot more to think about beyond the cash. Considering that a growing
number of teenagers and young adults are being identified as having body image issues,
many will wonder what effect this has on the self-esteem and the emotional well-being of (specifically female) strippers. In one study (referenced in the original blog post), researchers compared a group of females who were employed as exotic dancers with undergraduate females who were not. The two groups were asked several questions about how they perceived their own body, their awareness of ‘ objectification’ (being seen as a ‘thing’ instead of a person), and their comfort level in a sweater versus a swimsuit. Admittedly, it was small-scale research – but the results were nevertheless revealing. These Californian researchers found that female strippers were much more aware of how their appearance affects others’ perceptions of them. As a result, the exotic dancers were more likely to place more importance on taking care of their hair or nails, or hitting the gym. The women also had less satisfaction in their personal relationships and were more likely to think their romantic partnerships would fail. As you might expect, the exotic dancers’ confidence was also hooked into what they thought about their looks – and would more often “be ashamed if people knew what I really weigh”. One of the most surprising findings from the study is that when it came to body shaming – ‘an internalized aspect of body consciousness’ – there were no differences between the two groups. And even more remarkably, overall selfesteem was the same between the strippers and the non-strippers. We can’t know for certain whether these findings would be true for all strippers: researching the sex industry is tough because few men or women agree to take part. It may be some time until we see the full picture of the emotional state of women in the striptease industry. Until then, we are forced take such findings with a little pinch of salt – or rather, a pinch of glitter.
The seduction of the sex industry
So why would someone go into the profession? One of my favorite examples can be found in Melissa Febos’ memoir Whip Smart: The True
Story of a Secret Life. OK, so the writer isn’t technically a stripper – she actually chronicled her experiences earning money as a dominatrix during grad school. A self-described cultural anthropologist, Febos explains how every preconception she had about ‘erotic capital’ was wrong, and thus changed her perspective completely. She repeatedly notes that medicine is the only other profession that observes the
“From a young age I began dancing. As soon as I turned 18, I was [exotic] dancing. At 24, I am still dancing. However, this is two children later. I am educated, have graduated from college and now must take my boards, but yes, it took me this long to finish [dancing]. I must say, at first it started out as fun and games. Coming from no family I have always worked hard, but one night a friend told me to try it so I did. I made [lots of money], thus I stayed.”
human body with such intimacy (pun intended). I wonder what Dr Stu would make of that… Before I sign off, I want to point out one final thing: the feminist perspective. Many of the commenters on the blog argue whether or not stripping is degrading to women. (There was a lack of people discussing male strippers, and I don’t see how they’re immune from that argument either.) It’s tough to agree or disagree with these arguments; many of them have valid points about using the body for ‘erotic capital’. Others have suggested quite the opposite – that carnal industries are actually liberating. (See Nadine Strossen’s Defending Pornography for an in-depth argument.) Whether you agree with it or not, there’s a whole lot more to stripping than you’d imagine (no, now stop imagining that).
“Stripping is not worth it. I may have made a good amount of money but I’ve come to my own conclusion that I would rather have my mental well-being then be financially at ease. Please girls, every moment in your life, every experience, molds you to who you are now.”