Bodies On Display: Skip New York Fashion Week. Go To a Strip Club.

A Lesson From a Gentlemen’s Club

 Have you gained weight?

My mother glanced at me. Her eyes travelled up from my shoes and lingered on the slim-fitting jeans that tightly hugged my thighs. She scanned my body with the precision of TSA official, looking to uncover secrets hidden under the thick sweater I wrapped myself in. Her lips curled into a smirk just as I began to protest her unwanted attention.

I know I’ll hear three questions the moment I enter my parents’ doorway:

  1. How come you didn’t visit sooner?
  2. Have you eaten today?
  3. Have you gained weight?

Although my mother claims she was teasing, as a young woman, my body is always on display and open to remarks from family, friends, and even strangers. In fact, if I had a dollar for every nosy relative who clucks his or her tongue before remarking about my weight, I could have paid off my graduate school debt months ago.

Like most females my age, however, I am my worst critic. I cringe at every unsightly bump, scar, and perceived extra flap of skin. Women annually spend hundreds of dollars on tricks and devices that may help us mask our imperfections. We flip through women’s fashion magazines to find those shoes that help us exercise when we’re not exercising. That new foundation that promises to give us an airbrushed finish. The pushup bra.

But as I walk past window displays of Jennifer Lawrence, Amber Heard, and other women lucky enough to land the cover of the September fashion issues, I re-live my strip club hopping adventure from earlier this summer. While lazily drinking away a hot afternoon, my friend convinced me to go strip club hopping with him in Toronto. I initially hesitated – not because I was opposed to going a gentlemen’s club; I was disinterested. It was not on my bucket list.

By the end of the night, however, I learned to better appreciate women’s bodies (my own body, in particular) at the strip clubs than I have by flipping through magazines.

My advice to young women who obsess over their bodies: skip the coverage of New York Fashion Week and go to your local strip club. I was more reassured about my body by the variety of shapes and appearances from the women who stripped on stage than by the same, slender figures of women who model tomorrow’s fashion trends.

As a triplet, I often compare myself to my sisters. Despite sharing nearly identical genetic material, our bodies – like our personalities – are different. I compare what I can see: their breasts are larger; their asses are flatter. And I assume what I cannot see: their skin is tighter they love their bodies.

For most men (and some women), it’s exasperating to hear females talk (mostly complain) about their appearance. We often impose a negative perspective when we compare ourselves to other women. She is taller than me. Skinnier. Prettier. 

But as I watched the strippers wrap themselves around poles, I realized that I rarely noticed women’s bodies as they were and not how I perceived them to be. I tend to see what I envy or disapprove of rather than staring without judgment. In other instances, I usually rush to protect my own body from being noticed, such as at the gym. I turn around and hastily change into clothes hoping that, upon a stolen glance, my audience is more forgiving of my imperfections than I am with myself.

At the strip clubs, though, we were enveloped in an environment that encouraged leering. So I keenly observed the bodies dancing in front of me. It was the first time I looked at another naked woman in person and not on television or in a magazine. I didn’t feel pressured to avert my eyes.

Some women were shaped differently than me; others not so much. Some were younger than me; others had evidently worked the pole for several years. I saw stretch marks, flawless skin, cellulite, toned legs, taunt abdomens, jutting bellies. I was fascinated by tattooed skin, precisely waxed areas, perky breasts, sagging breasts, and a colour palette of shaded nipples.

Nearly everything about the women was fake – nails, eyelashes, hair pieces, the synthetic outfits at the very least. Still, I found more comfort in the parade of womanly shapes that slithered across the stage than those that grace the catwalks. Even though both jobs arguably objectify and require women to use their bodies as commodities, models often come off as more sexualized than strippers because they sell an unattainable image to the people who lust for them and to the people who aspire to be them.

Strippers, on the other hand, put on a show with nothing to hide, hoping that their bare bodies are enough to earn some tips when working the pole and room. I envy the kind of confidence the strippers seemed to have in their naked bodies. 

That said, my strip club hopping days are over. I think I prefer learning to slowly appreciate the female body in the mirror standing in front of me than the female body on stage.  

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