by: Kevin Sparrow
When you take off your clothes in front of numerous groups of people, it’s important to be fairly comfortable in your skin. Especially if you’re a burlesque performer like me, and you do so on a regular basis. The time you spend examining yourself in front of the mirror, on grooming–or possibly manscaping–becomes a part of your process. Even making the choice not to groom or style yourself in a certain way is a statement in your performance. I see power in displaying this process performatively, power to overcome the cloud of body negative imagery we witness everyday. We give less power to the constraints–fake and judgmental as they are–that bind us in tightly tied strings when we engage in spaces that promote various body types. That’s why I do what I do and look to it as body revelation.
I have more recently been reflecting on the role body positivity plays in my burlesque career, so I thought it fair to pose a question at a recent Vaudezilla show to performers and audience members alike: what makes being positive about your own body important to you? “It’s the only one I get,” says stage vixen Nina Nightingale. Audience member Rob adds to this, “It’s your body, and the perception of your own body affects your mental health. You either need to improve or be happy with what you’ve got.”
For some, self-acceptance comes naturally. Performer Phaedra Black says, “You take for granted that you’re supposed to love yourself. You don’t think about the why.” And performing can be an opportunity to represent for those in the audience who might not yet have that self-confidence, as Booty Garland demonstrates. “Part of the joy I get from it is from people saying, ‘She’s thick’–and people are interested in that… People are still appreciative of my flaunting of my flesh. I’d rather be roly-poly for somebody.” Such intentional representations resonate with the audience and allow them to applaud unique bodies and find commonality they might not have explored for their own body. “Everybody has a body. Everyone has their own flaws. We shouldn’t focus on the imperfections of other people,” explains audience member Edwin.
Of course, the above samples are a survey of those of us who are currently operating from a body positive framework; outside of shows, we can only look on with invitation and cautious heartbreak to those still struggling while offering advice and support. There is always room to graduate to self-acceptance and body positivity, but the difficulty is in relating the journey of how one gets there. We all have a right to our bodies, and to cultivating them or manipulating them how we see fit. Let me repeat that part: how we see fit. Not how media sees fit. Not how catty queens or douchey bros at clubs see fit. Not how your family or lovers see fit. Because they’re doing two disservices, a disservice to your body and a disservice to their own. Body negativity impacts those who use it as a weapon as much as those who suffer the slings and shaming.
My body is not on display because it conforms to some abstract, elitist, non-consensual standard or because I lack reassurance on other aspects of my humanity. It is on display because it is a body different from certain normative standards, a body that by being revealed makes all bodies okay, a body that tells and listens. Own your body, call other people out when they attempt to shame you; the more we love our bodies a little more, the better we can help others love their own.
Kevin Sparrow is a Chicago writer who is interested in Queerness is both a favorite subject and pastime. His education in movies-writing has proved that he is adept at powering up computers and elementary keyboard use. Sparrow’s short stories, poetry and essays have appeared in that order in Harrington Gay Men’s Literary Quarterly and LIES/ISLE, as well as on the website Be Yr Own Queero.