Taking It Off

Candace, 01 August 2005, No comments
Categories: Women's Studies

There are many reasons why people take off their clothes. When I was suddenly single, pregnant, mother of 2 kids, no food, no money, no welfare I modeled for visual arts drawing classes. As a pregnant, desparately poor woman with no hope or future (or so it seemed) my body seemed the only resource I had for making any money. Lower class women have fewer choices about how to support themselves and this leads to making choices that women of higher socioeconomic status would not make – or would make for different reasons. For myself I could disengage from the fact that I was naked because I could tell myself the students were looking at my big belly, not *me*. And after all, it was for *art*. The school was always looking for a fringe subject: pregnant, older, people of colour. I was happy at first to be able to buy food but soon the baby was born and I went back to being ordinary poor white woman. My flag of interest was gone. Poor people are supposed to be invisible so that the rest of society doesn’t feel guilty for what they have.

A former roomate worked as an escort. She came from an upper middle class family and to her taking off her clothes was like theatresport, where she got to play a role, and challenge her ‘proper, lady-like’ upbringing. For her it was empowering. We are taught sexuality is taboo, something good girls don’t know about. Engaging with her own and other’s sexuality this way made sex and its associated rituals very powerful. This job for her was a first step in ending a several-year depression.

Her character was an intelligent, energetic woman with a long red wig, an accepted stereotype for white women. Other women faced with different stereotypes, for example: the docile or meek Asian woman, might encounter a more difficult work environment if they attempted the character my housemate did. Clients who expect a stereotype may not be satisfied with an individual when all they want is a stereotype.

Where I live there is a strip club on every corner and a massage parlour in between. It is part of our city’s culture. A friend worked as a stripper to put her husband through a Masters degree in Physics. They divorced soon after his graduation and she continued to strip to pay for law school for herself. Once she started practicing law she quit stripping. For her, stripping is what allowed her to climb out of student-class to middle class. For her it was a job, nothing more, nothing less.

Strip clubs are often found recruiting here on campus and offer controversial tuition stipends to new ‘talent’. Young women are often vulnerable and want to belong, be wanted, be seen as desirable. Women of colour are especially desirable because of the exotic-erotic appeal. The sign on the club closest to my house only a few weeks ago said “7 new exotic beauties” and something else about the cool air conditioning inside. I wonder if it occurs to anyone that these women may be intelligent law students or someone’s mother?

Age factors into motivation and reluctance to be seen naked. When I was young – late teens/early 20s – I never would have considered stripping. In my late 20s I didn’t see much other choice. Now in my 30s the people I know who make more than anyone else – more than the engineers and lawyers and tradespeople – are working in massage parlours. I often consider it . . . with children to feed it all comes down to money.

When I get overwhelmed by responsibilites – courses, kids, family, everyone needing something – I often think about working with my bare resources (so to speak) 😉 But then I consider whether I can be a ‘respectable’ citizen if I work with my body.

I’d like one of these abstaining (i.e. morally pure) women to trade places with me for a day at any point in my last 15 years. Their position seems so very very privileged from where I sit. It must be a challenge for a sexual person to abstain in this society full of sex, especially after so much heartbreak. Who do you think is happier? the people I’ve heard carrying on about abstinence sound …resigned? reconciled? well-indoctrinated? proper? everything good girls should be? It’s unsettling.


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