Just because there’re boobies doesn’t mean it’s sexy

So.  After a year in burlesque, several performances, and a fuck ton of hours spent in tiny outfits and high heels, my question is this:

Why is it so hard to be sexy?

I’m proud of my body.  I’m proud of the way I look.  I’m almost 33 and I’m in better shape than I was at 23.  I make my living posing nude for artists.  And I’ve been living in a sex positive environment for years now, surrounding myself with like-minded people.  I’m very sexually open and adventurous and have been my entire life.  Why, then, do I find it to be such a challenge to showcase that sexuality in an art form of which the very foundation is built on the display of sexuality?

It seems to me that there are three basic genres of burlesque performance.  Comedic/Controversial.  Cute/Pretty.  Sexy/Aggressive.  And they’re not mutually exclusive.  The three can occasionally create this Venn diagram of awesomeness that taps into so many basic human urges at once that it makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time all while cumming in your pants.  But that’s rare.  Mostly, performers tend to ground themselves in one while injecting elements of the others here and there.  As a new performer who’s trying to find her voice in all this, I’ve been trying on all three.  And the one that is the most difficult to fit, even though it’s the one that feels most natural, is the Sexy/Aggressive shoe.  And surely it’s not a minority who find this a troublesome shoe to wear.  If it were, there would be more performers like the Burlesque Top 5.   And my mentor is one of that top 5 and no one can say that she doesn’t wear it on her (nonexistent) sleeve when she’s onstage.  Her teachings are infused with overt sexuality.  But when putting together an act of my own or even channeling it in class, it’s like swimming upstream.  It’s SO much easier to just be funny.

I’m not saying — at all — that comedy isn’t sexy.  Some of my role models are female comedians.  And half of my laminated ‘would totally fuck’ list is comprised of people with the funny gene.  (Woody Allen is #4.  Explain that.)  I consider making someone genuinely laugh the highest compliment possible.  Most of my sexual relationships have begun with that person making me laugh.  Funny is sexy and approachable.  Funny makes traditionally unsexy people sexy.  But sex is biology.  We, all of us humans, fuck.  We’re all sexy at some time.  We’ve all, or at least I dearly hope so, made the “Oh!” face and abandoned ourselves to crazy, sweaty acts that would make our mothers blush.  It’s in each and every one of us.  I get that your average, say, accounts receivable clerk wouldn’t be strutting through her office licking her fingers and grinding on the copy machine.  But women who willingly and enthusiastically sign up to strip their clothes off in front of an audience of strangers for little to no money?  What the fuck, I say?

Is it because it’s difficult to be sexy in real life?  We’re surrounded by sex all of the time.  It’s a constant bombardment and has been for as long as I remember.  But putting on a tight dress that shows off your bodacious ta-tas and strutting into a room full of low-slung skinny jeans, flats, and hand-knit scarves?  That’s some tough shit to pull off.  You know why?  Because it’s not the Male Gaze that’s sizing you up and oppressing you. The Male Gaze loves that shit on some level.  I don’t care how serious he is about his fixie bike.  It’s the FEMALE GAZE that’s got the problem with it.

I would love to believe that all women are my loving and supportive sisters, but you and I both know that that’s some seriously deep bullshit.  Women can be bitches, man.  Bitches.  The fact that some women are indeed my loving and supportive sisters is an aspect of burlesque that I adore.  It’s a supportive environment that I’ve never seen the like of, and I’ve made some solid and real friendships though it.  But all you have to do is go to a show to see the flip side.  There’s always that girl with the bitch face giving the woman onstage the stink eye.  Always.  Just like there’s always that face in the corner of your hipster coffee shop giving it to the girl in the shiny leggings.  You’ve all seen her.  Or even been her.  I know I’ve been guilty once or twice.  That bitch face haunts us.  It permeates the most supportive and body-positive of environments.  In order to be sexy in front of it, must you challenge it?  Flip it the finger with your tits?  All but slap it with your ass cheeks?  How do you ignore it?

I’m not meaning to wax all feminist here and cry out for us all to love each other because we’re all beautiful and wonderful females.  Because we create life, my mother goddesses.  Ugh. No. I’m just wondering why it’s so hard to be sexy, just sexy, smoldering, in love with your body, fucking va-va-voom in front of other women.  Why does being that automatically alienate you from a large portion of the female population?  Why does being funny or cute make it easier to strip?  Why do some performers seem to have the market cornered on in-you-face-sexiness?  It’s not a supermodel body or classic good looks.  This art form embraces all types of bodies and unusual beauty seems to be prized.  So why, then, the divide between nudity and sex?

Seriously.  I’m asking.  I don’t know the answer.  Do you, my sisters?


5 thoughts on “Just because there’re boobies doesn’t mean it’s sexy

  1. Slightly off-topic here, but…my theory is that burlesque performers naturally gravitate towards more comedic based numbers for at least two reasons:
    a.) it gets an immediate, visceral response (a laugh). Audiences watching a sensuous numbers are quieter and sometimes that feels to any performer like they’re bored or disinterested. (For the same reason, panicked improvisers go “blue” when they’re not getting a sufficient response from an audience. Because it goes for the easiest laugh.)
    b.) also, it’s easier to put up that wall of “this is a performance, not me. Judge the performance, not me” if the number is comedic in nature. Judgment is the one thing we all fear, on some level. And a sensuous number whispers the promise that “the sensuous thing that you are seeing onstage, is what I am like in real life”. And that’s a damned difficult leap for most people to make.
    8 times out of 10, when I hear that someone in my own company is prepping a new number, I assume that it’s going to be a comedic one. I encourage them to explore other voices onstage. (“Be powerful. Be feminine. Be flirty. Be sexual. Anything but funny.”) Otherwise, a performer ends up with a closet full of mumus, neon tu-tus, gigantic wigs and bunny-rabbit costumes and nothing that speaks to the promise of glamor, elegance, and sensuality that burlesque traditionally presents.
    I think that less confident performers also choose numbers that are designed to be clumsy, cartoonish or parodies of competent, polished numbers, because that’s easier to perform than an actual sensual number. I encourage people to go and do the thing that they’re trying to parody, instead of doing the parody. I feel like audiences are more impressed when they see actual confidence and ability onstage.
    What makes a number sexy? I can only answer for myself. But I respond positively to charisma, confidence and genuine joy for performance. Freedom of self expression. Flat-out denial of the sex-negative, manipulative society that we currently live in. Honesty. Vulnerability. Those are the things that I, personally, find sexy.
    Great article. Thanks for diving deep into the topic and swimming around in it. A fascinating and thoughtful read.
    All My Best,
    Chris O. Biddle

      • Of course not! Thank you for your thoughts and insight on the subject! I’m very interested in different approaches and opinions on burlesque — male and female. I agree with you that it’s very attractive to go for that tangible reaction with comedy and that a quiet, attentive audience can also be an intimidating one — whether it’s 200 people at a show or your teacher and peers in a studio. The latter can be a little more intimidating, actually. It’s easy to hide behind costumes and slapstick; it’s difficult to be vulnerable and honest. It seems to me that the magic of the art happens when you see that honesty on stage. When the performer and audience are connected, for just a second. It’s something special and it’s something I aspire to.

        Thank you for reading and commenting! It means a lot!

  2. I agree, humor is sexy. I think confidence is the key to sexiness. Even if you have to fake it until you believe it. Also, not giving a fuck. Like peaches. She is sexy. She has confidence, humor, and she doesn’t give a fuck (she even sings that sing). I wonder if she thinks she’s sexy or if she thinks of herself as a dork. As for the bitch face, that’s my neutral face……jk. Those women just want to be you. You should take it as a compliment. They’re so jealous they want to suck lemons…seriously, just ignore them and remember when they’re like 80 their face will look like that all the time. Go shake your shit with pride. You are sexy.

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