The dressing room walls were vibrating with each thump of the baseline. After a quick garter and lipstick check in the mirror I pulled open the door and headed for the stage. As my eyes adjusted to the smoky darkness, my brain played catch-up to the sudden shift in volume while I sauntered past the customers. The audience would never know I wasn’t down with the DJ’s song choice because like every good sales pro, I worked the problem.
Trotting up the four steps to the stage, I navigated my six-inch stilettos onto the neon flashing Plexiglas. My hips curved around each thumping beat, and my smile served as a beautiful mask of my internal disdain. I was not a fan of 80s rap group 2 Live Crew, but no one would ever know. After the performance I gave, the crowd really did think: me so horny; me love you long time.
Stripping is the ultimate sales job.
“God, you’re such a bitch – you have zero cellulite.” Shayla whined as she spanked my ass at the bar. “Great set, doll.” She sized my body with her Cheshire gaze. “I hate you.” Her smile was wickedly salacious.
“What?” I laughed off Shayla’s digs in-between deep breaths, still recovering from my Oscar winning performance. I played along, pretending to understand. “Oh right, thanks!”
Strippers are sorority sisters without midterms. Instead of libraries and lecture halls, our campuses are cigarette smoke-filled bars with 2 for 1 shot nights, yoked-up bouncers and horny DJs with drug connections. But no matter the layout, we have each other’s backs – and never miss a chance to throw out a good dig in the name of envy. Shayla was in her late twenties and carried faint traces of cellulite around her hips, but to me – she was a Godddess.
Later that night and alone in my apartment, I broke out my mental measuring tape. I inspected each body part standing naked in front of the mirror. It was true. Unlike my face, my 22-year-old body was casualty-free; spared from the damage of the rare blood disease I was born with, leaving my face covered in deep-seeded crater-like acne scars. My stomach was toned and flat, my B cups were perky and my backside was solid and plump. I knew my body was ‘stripper worthy’, so why didn’t I feel beautiful? On the heels of being labeled Freddy Kruger in high school because of my scarred face, being envied was foreign to me. Anyone looking at me through a complimentary lens immediately tossed me in a sea of uncharted territory. I was desperate to catch Shayla’s life raft that night in the club, but there were too many leaks in my self-esteem to believe I could.
When you’re young and peppered with wisdom from anyone older, it serves up nothing but reminders that we still have time. The delicious irony is that nobody in their twenties truly understands the concept of youth being on our side until it’s gone.
It’s been twenty-five years since receiving Shayla’s cellulite-free comment, but far less time since I truly appreciated it. In the blink of an eye, my rock star life style of the rich and famous lost and shameless morphed into middle-aged responsibilities of the tired and gracious. Gone are the days of peeling off my day-glow lingerie for dollar bills and using my body as the ultimate entertainment sales tool. I can barely remember being cellulite-free and my fleshy stomach these days – it’s so lovely, it could give Buddha a run for his Rupee. But I’m happy. I feel beautiful.
The road to self-acceptance for everyone is as unique are their story. Paved with personal landmines and life rafts, it’s a wonder any of us make it through. My body has carried me, as I have her. We’ve made the trek to the other side of Victim; through childhood abuse, young adult disrespect and most recently, the Universe’s health tests. My body and me are still here. Bruised and scarred, tired yet strong. Weathered and full of stories. We are each other’s hero.