As I asked the assistant for the glitzy material, I could see it.
You know—the look.
“What are you going to make from it?” she asked politely.
I am going to cover a bra in it for a burlesque show I am performing in. The theme is The Wizard of Oz and this fits in brilliantly.
Eyebrows raise. “Really? Burlesque?”
Yes—for my costume.
“For you?” Smirk “You don’t look like a burlesque dancer. I went to a burlesque show once—you know an amateur one in Parnell, a number of years ago… it was a lot of fun.”
I am Bethany Starr, and this is my story.
I‘m 50 years old, a size 18–20, and I started dabbling in this world of burlesque in February 2014. I was inspired by Misty La Moore at a Breast Cancer fundraiser I went to in late 2013 where Dixie Caramel and Soda Fontaine performed—where, with a boa wrapped around my neck, I was enticed to do an impromptu show in front of strangers and friends. Although I didn’t keep up with ‘the moves’ it was fun, and fun was something I really craved after reaching the tail end of a mental breakdown. The clapping and bravos at the end empowered me, even then.
Prior to that point I felt ugly, insignificant and not good enough. That performance gave me enough of a taste to want more. I wanted to overcome my mind hurdles to achieve my goal of feeling pretty, beautiful and feminine. I needed to do this for myself, and I could see burlesque becoming part of my journey. Over the past year and a bit, it has given me confidence, self belief, and a feeling of self-worth, instead of the unpleasant self-loathing of before. More than anything, burlesque has made me feel beautiful, something which I haven’t felt consistently since I was a child.
My break down surfaced from many different things that were happening in my life. The biggest of them was a previous relationship of several years that I could have died in. The abuse and trauma from this left me mentally scarred, after being told I was not desirable or worthy of anything I firmly believed I was on this earth to not be happy or beautiful like everyone else.
At 49, and with many counselling sessions behind me, I knew I needed to change this point of view. I actively and secretly advocated that every women is beautiful, every woman is worth her life, and every women deserved to be happy. I decided that would include me.
Fast forward to March 2014, standing at the side of the stage, Maestro de Ravages introducing me as a burlesque virgin, knees knocking, stomach churning, heart in my dry mouth, the audience unseen through the glaring lights, I step up—stethoscope in hand. My song Fever—by Peggy Lee, began to playing.
I don’t know what happened—but all of a sudden I was performing! Knees still weak, heart pounding like it was going to explode out of my chest—but the audience ROARED. My alter-ego took over, cheeky wink here, cheeky wink there, looking out into blackness—grinning from ear to ear, the performance went ahead, until the last item of clothing was removed and the music stopped.
But the audience hadn’t. They just roared and roared, they clapped and clapped. It was deafening. It was empowering. It was shameless. It was proud. It was fun, exciting and it made me feel beautiful and pretty inside. They didn’t care about my age, they didn’t care about my weight, and they didn’t care about my confidence. Their feedback told me they had quite a different perception of me, than what I believed people had.
After many years of self-confidence issues—I never dreamt I would be standing there; up on stage, in front of family, friends and a shit load of complete strangers, taking my clothes off.
My husband was initially worried for me during the first round of lessons, I could see it in his eyes. He didn’t want me to go through more hurt and pain, and at that first show I know he was very apprehensive. He knew how shattered I was after the first lesson, where although I was welcomed and was made to feel welcome, I noted all other class attendees appeared to be young and a size 6. I was lacking so much in confidence, I felt like a hippo in a show of graceful mermaids. I had nothing against these beautiful women but my perception of myself made me feel this way
After the show, my husband looked quietly proud, and tried to take photos of me from the table where he sat. Although I was euphoric I still believed I was an ugly duckling and didn’t want him to take them.
Since that defining point in my life — the one where I was standing on the stage with the audience cheering, I realised I can be confident, I can be beautiful and most of all, I can be me. That feeling was exhilarating, I wanted more and more. I made a decision to do another show, I was hungry for more of those feelings.
There were loads of ‘what if’s’ in my mind as I moved forward:
“What if my children find out?”
“What will my friends think?”
“What if I get laughed at?”
“What if I am still not good enough?”
“What if people think I am a slut?”
”What if I was brilliant at it?”
“What if I missed out on feeling good about me again?”
“What if I made my acts the artform others portray?”
“What if I surprised myself, and the industry, and the skeptics with the belief a woman of my age and size can’t do it?”
“What if I did it for me?”
The final point was the selling one. Although it might sound selfish, I needed to do something. I craved those feelings I had at the first show, and made burlesque my new found hobby.
Enter my second show—A tribute to the Andrew sisters. An act based in a man’s world of war, my aim to show a little piece of feminism in such a bloodied concept.
I discovered with this act that I can role play without fear, I also discovered that I had the ability to overdramatise my own personality vicariously through my alter ego, (I am cheeky with loads of odd quirks) without feeling judged for it. Traits that people didn’t see in my everyday life were emerging strongly.
By now I had told our teens what type of dancing I was doing — “Mum we already looked it up—it’s no sweat” … phew! that’s one but off my ‘what if’ list.
The second ‘what if’ on the list surprised me. Friends we hadn’t seen for a while messaged me through facebook telling me ‘bravo’! They had seen an ad for burlesque in their area and googled it. One of my images came up and they recognised it straight away. They embraced it and loved the show they went to, and want to go to more. Now I couldn’t hide it from all our friends, and I felt no shame in what I was doing, so started to tell more people. Their reactions have been from a judgemental eyebrow raise to “Wow, you’re fantastic, can we come?” Moreover, we have not lost any friends because of it—strike off ‘what if’ number two.
My hurdles were coming down, one by one.
Laughter—it’s the best medicine right? What if I made you laugh—who get’s the biggest dose of medicine—me or you?
Sexy—was I sexy? I still didn’t feel it after two shows. I loved the applause at the end of both acts, but I didn’t feel sexy.
I jumped into my preacher act with these two points in mind. I imagined myself being a sex kitten in the 60’s. To do this I had to let my imagination run rampant thinking about the compliments they might have received, what they would have done to feel and exude sexiness, and how they presented themselves so confidently.
Quirky (inducing laughter) with a side of gospel, I think I managed to step into this role as if I was the sex kitten I had imagined. I was so caught up in the song that I forgot the audience was there and acted out my moves without thinking, my face telling the story.
“You nailed it” I was told by my mentor Miss Cherry Lashes after the performance, the audience still whistling, roaring and applauding.
My confidence soared. I did it. I knew I was sexy. I knew what sexy was, and I was it. I was on a high and it showed. No one thought I was a slut, I knew I was brilliant at that act, I felt good about being me again, my artform in that particular act was what I felt others portrayed, I did it for me and I surprised myself — I didn’t care about the skeptics. In essense I had kicked my “what ifs” to Timbuktu, and some weren’t welcome back.
My family saw a dramatic change. I was less angry at myself, I was trying to take better care and be healthier, I was happier in general. My mind was slowly but surely changing.
As my journey progressed my sons started to take an interest in what I do, although they don’t come to many of my shows (as that would be way too weird for me!) they did come along to the Very Vintage Day Out 2015 where I performed with the Rock n Roll Circus.
Being close to Anzac day, I repeated my Andrew’s sisters number. As I got up on stage, in full costume I observed an audience who I could see in the daylight. “Go Beth” I heard Miss Cherry Lashes yell and I smirked, but not the sarcastic smirk of the lady in the fabric shop. This was a smirk of confidence and pride. The audience cheering and clapping, I was on top of the world. Skimming the audience, my sons’ caught my eye and put me off guard part way through my performance—but what I saw from them was huge smiles on their faces, my eldest yelling “GO MUM”.
It was totally awesome. Not only had I made myself proud, but I made them proud too—that is total awesomeness right there.
Now, in May of 2015, I am happier about me and who I am. I am gaining more confidence and accepting my age and looks. I am accepting that I am who I am and shouldn’t change to suit others.
Burlesque has helped me in so many ways. I have gained confidence, I have become creative, I have become happier and most of all I have learnt to sparkle and be me.
I am not near the end of this total self empowerment journey, I don’t think that will ever happen but I am enjoying what burlesque brings to me—and now I believe these words, be yourself, don’t change—the world will accept you just the way you are—love yourself.
– Pastie Politics Issue 2
Busty, sexy and sassy with a side of 60’s chic. This rubenesque lass will take you back to a bygone era of mods and rockers as well as embracing the neo-classical style of burlesque. Miss Starr is a newcomer to the industry, studying with the Hootchy Kootchy Girls under the mentorship of Misty La Moore and Miss Cherry Lashes. Quirky, vivacious and saucy, this nifty lady is outta sight!
Bethany entered the sparkly world of burlesque in February 2014. Based in Auckland her family consists of two teenage boys and a husband. She holds down a full time job in West Auckland.
Bethany loves the fact that media appears to be embracing women, and is extremely fond of current fashion trends that do the same. She firmly believes everyone is beautiful, and no one should be made to feel ashamed of who they are