When did lucite heels take over Instagram, how did exotic dancers become fashion week entertainment, and what does this mean for women for whom stripping is a livelihood?
by Jane Helpern for iD
Jane Helpern is a righteous queen and eternal ripper ally. If she came to the club, I wouldn't mind if she took selfies because I know she'd be thrown' it like a boss.
Here's a sample from the piece (that you should really read it its full glory right here)
During last week's Academy Awards hysteria, a new installation appeared at the much-trafficked intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea in Los Angeles, as shiny as it is troubling. Clad in nipple tassels and a G-string stuffed with wads of cash, the supersized Oscar recast as a stripper was British street artist Plastic Jesus' latest piece of cultural commentary. In previous years, he's erected golden statues snorting drugs in an attempt to critique the dark side of a glamorous industry. "So many women come to Hollywood chasing a dream to become an actor, dancer or singer and, sadly, due to the lack of opportunities, combined with the high cost of living, they are faced with the reality of having to strip in bars and clubs," said Jesus in a demeaning artist statement that equates professional dancers with drug addicts. It's an all-too-familiar perpetuation of the "sad stripper" trope that today's enlightened and happily employed dancers must overcome daily. On the fall-to-your-death heels of New York Fashion Week and Saint Laurent's LA extravaganza, during which erotic iconography also abounded, we consider pop culture's complicated obsession with exotic dancers — and how it's affecting the real women of the industry.
In the centuries since the invention of the striptease, adult entertainment has seduced the mainstream. There's Dita Von Teese, the raven-haired swarovski-sparkled fetishist-turned-fashion icon who catapulted to fame after posing for the cover of Playboy, and is credited with resuscitating the art of the striptease. Then there's Diablo Cody, Hollywood's favorite (and only?) feminist stripper turned Oscar winner for Best Screenplay. Before becoming an industry darling with Juno, she penned an acerbic tell-all chronicling her yearlong exploits working peep shows and seedy strip clubs. And who could forget cyber bombshell Brooke Candy? The freaky, futuristic former stripper and daughter of one-time Hustler CFO has matured from raunchy rapper to finger-waved fashion house muse before our very eyes, with a Sia-produced debut album on the way. Lady Gaga, too, once worked the pole for cash, and has claimed that she earned more money dancing on tables than waiting them.
Though none of the aforementioned have been reticent about their skin-baring backgrounds, they've all since transitioned into careers widely deemed more "socially acceptable." But what does this mean for women for whom stripping is not a distant memory, but rather something they are proud of?
Consider the uprising of slutwalk founder and anti-slutshaming activist Amber Rose. As the ex of two prominent (and dueling) music moguls, she's been thrust into the highly visible role of amending society's dated attitude toward sexually empowered women. Her past as a stripper serves as the convenient backbone of West's inflammatory twitter diatribes asserting her trashiness. "The irony is that if you compare Rose and Kardashian, you don't find the stark contrast West's narrative relies on. Each gained notoriety — for better or worse — off the back of their sex appeal (Rose was a stripper-cum-model, Kardashian had a sex tape), and both are now mothers," reads a recent i-D piece about how the Yeezy-Khalifa twitter fight reveals Kanye's misogynistic views toward women. Unlike Von Teese or Gaga, Rose has chosen not to distance herself from her roots in sex work, nor has she repackaged her identity in couture outfits. Instead, Rose is on a sortie to prove that owning one's body and sexuality is an act of feminism, not an invitation for sexual harassment, as she recently had to explain on a talk show hosted by a baffled Tyrese and Rev Run.
And here's where it gets even more confusing. While Kanye's clambering up the the fashion ranks and publicly bashing his ex for getting naked, Hedi Slimane recruited Jumbo's Clown Room dancers to perform at Saint Laurent's recent star-studded Los Angeles affair, where front-rowers included Courtney Love, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Joan Jett (two of whom are former strippers themselves). For anyone who hasn't experienced Jumbo's, it's a divey Hollywood bikini bar notorious for its artsy clientele and Juilliard-educated rock 'n' roll dancers with a knack for clacking lucite to Black Sabbath. And that leads us to the Alexander Wang's high-voltage, sex-fueled fall/winter 16 collection, which sent punky models down the runway in pants embroidered with silhouetted exotic dancers. And perhaps we reached peak triple-X with streetwear brand Richardson's debaucherous fashion week party during which internet babe/budding fashion designer/newbie-nudie-dancer Zoe Kestan aka @weed_slut_420 made it rain for guests including Hari Nef and Jemima Kirke.
The fashion world is no stranger to accusations of cultural appropriation (see: baby hair and bindis). And once again, it could be argued that fashion folk are bandwagoning without advocating for the hardworking stripper community. In a culture that regularly discriminates against, doesn't protect (most dancers receive no benefits or job security), and degradesprofessional strippers, and where there is still so much stigma about women in this line of work, it's eyebrow raising to see designers capitalize on the street-cred served up by the sex work community. Does the industry care about the safety and well-being of sex workers — or are they cashing in on shock value and sex appeal?
To get some answers, we spoke to Jacqueline Frances, aka Jacq The Stripper. The self-proclaimed "enterprising megababe" — a stripper, stand-up comedian, and author of The Beaver Show, a brash, sexy memoir about her reality as a stripper — is single-handedly revolutionizing the world's perception of her occupation and fighting against the "sad stripper trope" by exposing what really goes on in those curtained off backrooms.
"Let's start with 'strippers are cool now.' Not actual strippers — we are still publicly shit on — but the idea of being a little bit trashy, sexy, and unabashedly so... this is cool," she explains, when asked about fashion's attraction to strip culture. "And if I'm being totally honest I'd like to think that I'm contributing to this shift in culture. I'm out and proud. Not a lot of us are, because it has the potential to ruin your life and/or any future career, relationship, life-in-general opportunities. And this is why when you take from the culture of our life and career, it's important to stand up for us."