A female lecturer once asked my class, consisting of both men and women: “As women, who do we wear make up for? Who’s attention do we want, if any, when we wear nice clothing or sexy shoes? Do we make our selves up for the male gaze, ourselves, or members of the same sex?”
The lecturer then proceeded to ask each of us our thoughts on this, many of the women who were above the age of forty seemed to all have the general consensus that as women we dressed to impress men, they believed that their generations values included dressing and making yourself up in order to attract a male suitor and subsequently a husband. The men in the class, regardless of their age, were tentative when asked for their opinions, and the majority mumbled incoherently and passed the somewhat loaded question to the person sitting next to them. The women under the age of thirty were quick to passionately assert that they did not base any of their appearance on anyone but them, and not one of them said that they valued an outsiders judgement.
When it was my turn to give my opinions on the matter, I tried to explain that I too agreed with what many others had said–we dress solely for our own self worth. Before I could elaborate the woman next to me abruptly, and loudly stated that I was a burlesque dancer, so obviously the way in which I present myself is so that men will find me attractive; the tone in her voice was somewhat facetious. Before I could finish my answer, someone from across the room asked a question I have been asked many times in the past year,
“Are you a stripper?”
In the grand scheme of things I am new to the world of burlesque, and that’s just it, burlesque is a ‘world’. I myself, in the past, have generally found it quite difficult to fit into most ‘worlds’, I am slightly meek, I tend to shy away from any type of attention, and more importantly, for a very long time I had no self worth and did not like anything about my appearance. Towards the end of 2013 I began attend burlesque events with friends who knew the industry well, every show was different, not only in theme, but also in the style of burlesque that was performed. With each show I started to dress in the theme, make an effort with my hair and make up, and ‘gasp!’, even began to wear heels. I don’t believe all these aspects are what makes a woman ‘feminine’ or asserts notions of what the western world views as what it means to be a woman, however in the process I instantly began to feel accepted. My style was different in rooms full of other unique styles, everyone had their own style eras, and in turn each person had their own individual reasons as to why they loved being in this world. Most importantly, for the first time in my life, there was no judgement.
I am now fortunate enough to be a burlesque performer, my style is geeky and at times clumsy, after all I am not naturally coordinated, I am taking classes to slightly alter this. The wonderful thing is that you can acquire a persona that is as far removed from your everyday, ‘normal’ life as you want. My stage persona only slightly reflects who I am in the outside world, unfortunately however the word burlesque still carries with it a stigma in its actual meaning. When I began helping, as well as performing in shows, it was something that I was wary about telling my friends and family, as I too was not completely aware of what burlesque meant. Many people will automatically assume that we are strippers, taking our clothes off in the hopes that men will find us attractive, I will not rule out that for some performers that this is their reason for doing it, at the end of the day everyone has their own reasons for becoming a performer.
This brings me back to my lecturers question: “As women, who do we wear make up for? Whose attention do we want, if any, when we wear nice clothing or sexy shoes? Do we make our selves up for the male gaze, ourselves, or members of the same sex?” Initially I would have answered with a mixed opinion, that as woman we dress to impress others in general, not only men, but also other women as they can be, in my opinion, far more judgemental regarding dress. In the past year my views have shifted, and this shift can solely be attributed to finding myself as a person and discovering what it means to be female within the all encompassing world of burlesque. It will sound very much cliché, but what many see as glorified stripping, I view as a creative outlet for my femininity. I no longer care as much about how others view my appearance, this has in turn taught me to not judge other women in how they look, or what path they choose to take in their pursuit of a creative outlet. I am now aware that you cannot attain confidence from the opinions of those around you, there is also little point in defining or justifying why you dress the way you do or have decided whether or not to wear make up in the hopes that others agree with your stance.
Others too believe that the audience at a burlesque show will mostly be made up of men who have just come for a ‘perve’, with a smattering of women. This is not the case, yes there are men in the audience, after all we are putting on a good show, though in my experience it is women who predominately attend burlesque shows. As a collective we are there not to judge, but to encourage. I chose to enter this world because it is all inclusive, no matter your size, shape, age or lifestyle, everyone is welcome. I have reached the point where the lines between this world and my ‘normal’ everyday life have blurred, I am proud of who I have become and if people want to believe I am solely performing for others approval and the attention of men, that is their prerogative. Some may say that women will always judge other women, and it is in our nature, though I believe burlesque can teach us about the ways in which women can support other women, and that needs to become more common.
– Pastie Politics Issue 1
Harleen Quinzell, more commonly known as Heather Morrison, is a recent graduate, hoping to eventually enter the world of editing.
She has been a single mother raising a boy for the past nine years, motherhood has changed her views dramatically in terms of what it is to be a woman, as well as what feminism means to her. Heather believes that one of her biggest roles as a mother is to teach her son how important woman are in this world, and at the same time how to treat them both now and in the future.
As a part time ‘hobby’ of sorts she performs burlesque, while she is still considerably new to the world of burlesque, this journey has so far proved to be an empowering and educational adventure, allowing her to discover who she is in the process.