what a striptease/lap dance workshop taught me about body image empowerment

Wow its been a while since I posted anything in here. I’ve been swamped ever since my last post, owing to the fact that I’ve been working on my final year thesis and attending more dance lessons in the evening. Working on a 10,000 literature review can be a nightmare after a while. My 2 project mates and I have to skim over hundreds of articles and revise our report multiple times and after a while, I just lose the motivation to write a blog post. This really makes me wish I had a Quick Quotes Quill like Rita Skeeter does in the Harry Potter series where it automatically writes down everything you say. Or in this case, a Quick Quotes….something so whatever I want to post magically types out here by itself. To write is to bleed. Anyway this is going to be a long post so if you actually manage to read on to the end, congratulations! I went for a striptease/lapdance workshop sometime last week. Yes you heard me right. A striptease / lap dance workshop at an exotic dance studio held by a pole dancer called Chili (though now that I think about it, Chili could have been her stage name) from Australia who’s been pole dancing for a couple years now and she runs around the country performing and giving classes and stuff. A friend signed us up for this striptease workshop and my experiences with the workshop made me reflect about body acceptance and gain some perspective into what empowerment means in the context of body image. By the way, if you’re reading this post to look for pictures, you come to the wrong place so if you’re looking for nudes because you saw the word ‘striptease”, sorry not sorry. Anyway, the workshop involves performing an (imaginary) lap dance and stripping our clothing after. Chilli had sent an email a few days before the workshop telling us to bring extra bikinis or underwear because we’d be stripping and honest to God I thought it was because we’d be pouring chocolate syrup or body glitter on ourselves on our underwear after stripping our clothes off and so the extra bikinis were for us to change into after the class. Sadly I was wrong. So there I was, happily bounding up the steps leading to the studio brimming with anticipation because seriously what a GREAT way to spend 2 hours on a Sunday learning how to do a lap dance and strip your clothes off in a sexy way. LIFE GOALS PEOPLE. LIFE GOALS. LEARN HOW TO STRIP YOUR CLOTHES OFF IN A SEXY WAY AND LEARN A LAP DANCE. They’ll come in handy one day. So N and I stepped into the dance studio, and we were immediately greeted by the sight of a dozen half-naked women tottering around the studio in the highest heels I have ever laid my eyes on and talking and laughing in their skimpy  underwear. And they had sexy underwear. I’m talking lace and buckles and cross straps and Victoria Secrets. I pretty much froze on the spot, with my eyes as wide as dinner planes and just trying to process the scene in front of me because can you imagine, expecting yourself to enter a studio with people dressed in regular clothes but instead you’re treated to the sight of near-naked women prancing about without a care in the world? All I could do was just gingerly make my way to the side of the studio to deposit my bag and casually asked one of the other girls why she was already in her underwear and she just said “Oh Chili says we’ll be starting the class in our bra tops and underwear and stripping it off. So just wear 2 tops and bottoms”. Wait. What? Nobody told me that we’d be dancing and stripping in our bikinis to start with. Where was it stated in that email? I have read that thing at least 3 times and it mentioned nothing about dancing 90% naked to start with. I mean okay I came prepared such that I brought extra tops and bottoms but i was working under the assumption that we’d be lap dancing in normal clothes before stripping to our bikinis at the end. With my body image woes, I  most certainly was not prepared to be dancing near-naked for the entire 2 hours. I had bargained for dancing in clothes for about 1.5 hours and being near-naked for the remaining 30 minutes. I was in such a dither and was stamping on the spot like a frustrated bull and torn with indecision & seriously contemplated wearing a black shirt over my bikini top. My tummy is my problem area; I don’t have flat abs. I have folds. My tummy isn’t toned no matter how many sit ups I do and I don’t have an hourglass figure. Its one of my biggest insecurities and I most certainly did not want to see myself in the mirror dancing with my belly jiggling like Jello. Nuh-uh. I mean I want to feel sexy when I lap dance and strip, not be grimacing at myself. And so right there and then, Chili came parading into the studio with her sparkly gold string bikini and sky-high heels which she calls “stripper heels”. She gets to the front of the class, claps her hand to get our attention and goes “Okay girls, gotten naked yet? Time to get sexy and lap dance for our men tonight okay?” And everyone just laughed and immediately started getting in lines to do warm ups. It was in a split second that I decided to just screw it all and so I just whipped off my black shirt and quickly sprinted to a free spot on the floor and trying very hard to stare at my own reflection. We did some stretching, some body isolations, and shoulder rolls and some shaking of the booty. So while doing the warmups I got to get a better look at the rest of the girls in the class and honestly, I expected most of them to have the typical, or rather common Asian/Chinese body: small, petite, skinny, small hips and a flat butt, and I expected women to turn up looking like models with perfect hair and skin but  I was wrong. I was seeing a dozen different body shapes and sizes. Sure some were skinny with flat tummies but there were also women who didn’t have that body shape and honestly it was the first time that I was in an environment that really and completely made me aware of body diversity. Some women were skinny but they had tummy rolls, some were skinny but had big thighs, two or three were plus size. And they were all in their underwear. After warmups Chili immediately went to break the stripping/lapdance routine for us. Here’s the thing: I have never seen myself dance in my underwear before. And having to stare at myself in the mirror and looking at my physical insecurities up close scared the bejesus out of me. I know that my tummy is my biggest physical insecurity but I’ve never actually been in a situation where I had to actually reveal this insecurity to virtual strangers and really confront this insecurity. I can only liken this to seeing the Pope. You know the Pope exists but when you see him for the first time, you just can’t quite accept the fact that he actually exists. Like “oh my god you’re real!” I have never felt so much more conscious in my life ever and I’ll admit, throughout the entire 2 hour class, there were some a few quite a number of times where I would suck in my tummy because just looking at how my tummy wasn’t flat irked me a lot. I was uncomfortable in certain positions because I couldn’t hide my tummy right. Lying flat on my back was fine because come on, your tummy looks flat that way. I kept trying to hike my bikini bottom higher so it’d cover more of my tummy even though it was meant to rest at my hips, or I’d sit up straighter and not slouch so my tummy rolls don’t show, or I’d just cross my arms and slouch ao my arms cover my midsection. Yeah. Don’t get me wrong, the routine was so much fun! We used a chair as a prop and I was doing body rolls and arching my back like a swan and shaking my ass and thrusting my butt out and biting my lips and flicking my hair and stripping my 1st bikini off and throwing it onto the floor. When Chili demonstrated this move, she actually brazenly removed her bikini top and revealed her naked breasts for us all. Now I’m a woman and I’ve seen nude women before, be it in a sauna room or in a movie but never in real life, and somehow to actually see your dance instructor take off her bra top in front of you was…interesting. Chili is my first topless woman. And she wasn’t even bothered by it. She just paraded up to the chair, reached behind her back and tugged at the strings and pulled the bra top away from her body in the most nonchalant fashion ever as though removing her bra top in front of strangers is the most natural thing that she does everyday. Actually now that I think about it, given her profession, maybe removing her bra top in front of strangers is a natural thing for her. But for someone like me – it sure wasn’t. So there I was staring at Chili and waiting to see the next move and expecting her to do something sexy with the chair and she suddenly rips her bra top off and I’m staring at her boobs. I somehow was able to keep a straight, impassive and nonchalant face as though women ripping off their bra tops to show their breasts to me happens everyday as well so that having Chili do so didn’t come as a surprise. I don’t remember thinking anything dramatic when Chili removed her bra top but a small part of me was all “What is the social convention for this? What do I do now that she’s removed her bra? Where am I supposed to put my eyes? On her boobs? It seems like I should because they’re now obviously the focal point but then again she’s teaching us and trying to tell us something so I should be looking at her in the face but then her breasts are showing and since rarely do I see another woman’s naked breasts in person all the time, such becomes an exotic spectacle which clearly warrants an ogle.” I couldn’t tell whether the other girls in the studio were ogling at her breasts in fascination or just neutrally eyeing them because their passive facial expressions didn’t indicate any hint shock or bewilderment. But anyway, back to the story, I was also pretending to pour body oil on myself while perched on a chair and laughing while gyrating on a nonexistent man on the floor. But the fact that I was so conscious of my tummy might have dampened the experience a little. I couldn’t execute the routine properly at the end of the lesson because half the time I was conscious about how my tummy looked and was trying to make it look like I have a flat tummy but to be honest, when you’re without proper clothing you really can’t hide much of your physical flaws. I was placed in an environment where I was stripped of my clothes, my protection that covered my physical insecurities, and where I had to bare my vulnerabilities to virtual strangers and my insecurities were most definitely showing by the way I was trying to unsuccessfully flatten my tummy. Then here’s the other thing: the other girls in the studio didn’t really care. They were just following Chili and rolling on the floor and gyrating to the music and looked so incredibly comfortable being near-naked. Unlike me, they weren’t awkwardly trying to adjust their bikinis or slouching to hide their tummies. They were having such a good time dancing and feeling sexy. The girls with the big thighs didn’t come in leggings. The girls with tummy rolls didn’t come in shirts. The plus size girls didn’t come fully dressed. Everyone was semi-naked and didn’t give a damn that that they didn’t have a model’s body and that their thighs and their tummy rolls were jiggling while they were dancing. It was then that I realized something: If you accept your physical insecurities, no one can use them against you. Most of the time when I think of women dancing in skimpy clothing I think of professional dancers: dancers who train hard all day everyday and end up with fit and athletic bodies and end up dancing for celebrities. The women in this studio however, aren’t professional dancers. They don’t train 7 hours a day dancing. They are but recreational dancers with a passion for exotic dance. To be able to dance semi-naked and performing seductive dance moves means that you have to be really confident and comfortable in your own skin and with your body to be able to do that. You can’t be trying to hide your tummy while gyrating on the floor; nor covering your thighs while you twerk (yes we twerked). You have to accept your body for what it is and not care about the fact that you don’t possess a thin and tone body. You have to accept that yes, I have tummy roll or have big thighs and no I don’t give a damn that they jiggle now because I’m having the most amazing time of my life. When you accept that, you are empowered and you feel confident. Take Chili for example, she’s has performed many lap dances for performance in her native Australia and at the beginning of the class before teaching the routine, she just grabbed her tummy rolls and shook and jiggled them around for us to see and bluntly said “Look at this, I’ve got a tummy and no matter how many sit-ups I do, these babies are still here and they’re never going to go away, but I’m going to teach you how to dance in a strong and sexy way because when you’re strong and sexy, you won’t even be thinking about your body flaws” The fact that she actually acknowledged her physical imperfections with such openness and confidence was very motivating indeed because here is a woman, fully aware that she doesn’t posses the most thin and toned of bodies, yet she continues to go on stage in skimpy lingerie and performing sexy dance routines without a care in the world that her tummy jiggles. She accepts that she doesn’t have a flat tummy and because of that, she is confident. She may not be the most confident but she’s confident enough to be able to dance near-naked and strip off her bra top because she’s confident the body that she has. Even the plus size girls for that matter. There has been so much flak online; plus size women being ridiculed for dressing in skimpy clothing or posting pictures of themselves in bathing suits and getting bullied for not having a thin body, but these girls in the studio? They didn’t care that they were the biggest girls in the studio. You could argue that the the studio is a safe environment for them to be able to dance half-naked, but that’s not the point. I’m not plus size but I certainly spent 10 minutes trying to decide whether to leave my shirt on and spent a fair amount of time awkwardly trying to hid my flat tummy which was such a waste of time because other than a sarong (which we used only at the end), there was nothing to hide myself with. But these plus sized girls were rocking in. Hell, they actually danced better than I did! They were so confident about themselves and it showed. Me? I was an awkward mess half the time. And I think that’s what body image empowerment is about – accepting that you don’t have the perfect body and being comfortable and confident with the body that you have, because when you accept your imperfections, you begin to love yourself and feel less of a need to get approval from others. When you are insecure about yourself, people will eventually spot your weaknesses and can use them against you to being you down and crush your esteem. When you accept your imperfections, you don’t see a reason to hide your body or be embarrassed by it. You retain the power and control you have about how you feel about your body. And that’s what I gathered in this workshop. When you’re confident and empowered about your body, you don’t see a reason to hide it. You are in control of how you feel and you alone determine how you feel about your body. When you’re confident, it shows in your actions. This striptease/workshop allowed me to explore my body in a way I’ve never done before. For the past few years I’ve looked at my body and only saw something imperfect – small butt, lack of nice abs etc. But learning how to pose sexy, walk sexy, sit sexy, and even undress sexy made me realize how feminine I can be even though I don’t have a supermodel’s body.  When I wasn’t awkwardly trying to conceal my belly, I felt really really really good about myself. I was flirting with the mirror, throwing coy looks at myself, rolling my hips and sliding on the floor, teasing an imaginary man in front of me and touching my body and feeling very womanly indeed. Learning this simple lap dance and striptease routine made me realize how much something is innocent as dancing and stripping can make me feel good about myself because during that moment, I was bringing out the feminine and sexy person in me – someone whom I’ve never seen before and you what? I like her.

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Some snapshots from class. And no as much as I felt incredibly womanly, I won’t be posting a ton of pictures here because of privacy reasons! See how I blemished the pictures? I don’t think it’d be ver polite to show the other women here in this blog without their permission so I had them erased.

Once again excuse me for the long post. If you’ve read this til the end, you deserve a nice medal! Really.

Plus, if there are any spelling or grammar mistakes in this post – SORRY. Really if there’ one thing I cant stand, its grammatical errors. I was so zonked out last night while typing this and literally had no energy to go through the post 5 times for proofreading before publishing. I’m starting to lose my perfectionist streak. Heh.

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One thought on “what a striptease/lap dance workshop taught me about body image empowerment

  1. Pingback: International Women’s Day: reflecting on what I’ve learned about empowerment | Infamous Lipstick

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