Telling straight men, I do burlesque is an exercise in entitlement. Just as posting a slightly more risqué picture on Instagram seems to translate as an invite for vultures to circle your DMs, there’s something about even the suggestion of female skin that looks like an open sign. So many of our celebrations end up stigmatised and squashed as society tells us that safety requires clothes, if we don’t want unwanted advances, we must celebrate our bodies fully clothed or in secret.
I could’ve done that. I could’ve listened to my mum when she told 18-year-old me to stop posting slightly revealing pics on my Instagram. I could’ve chosen to remain covered up after being sexually assaulted, wearing long sleeves as armour and throw out my lingerie. I could’ve quit trying to reclaim my body and my sexuality, signed it over to trauma and let it go. It the sad reality for so many. Our bodies, our sexualities are so powerful, so when the weapon is turned back on us, its so easy to become scared. Feeling soft and small in a cage of sharp edges and skin.
Nothing about this society lets us be neutral about our bodies. Advertising wants us to pay with our hate, tries to fuel itself through self-loathing. It feeds us images of ‘beach bodies’ and airbrush fantasies, then tells us the remedy is weird powders of unknown origin that will definitely taste gross and definitely make you shit yourself. Or on the other-hand, it wants us to be head over heels in love with ourselves 24/7, to don the future is female t-shirts sold for £19.99 by the big man’s big business, made by oppressed, underpaid women, owning our sexuality in the regulated arena of the male gaze; hairless and lacey. There’s no room to breathe, it would be easier to quit.
I considered it but then became a burlesque performer instead.
Erotic performance seems like the furtherest place from neutral. I can see why from outside it may look the ultimate act of sexualisation, getting up on stage and getting your kit off, but from the inside, it’s a process of control and release. Burlesque, as with sex, sits right on that line between private and public, personal and political. While the final product is a public performance, it remains a deeply personal act. In its creation, you’re free. You build your own gaze, holding all the cards of representation. My routines are character based, I escape into them fully from staging to costume to music and movement. Every second is crafted by me from the first notes to the last step off the stage. The final performance is a fleeting moment, a blur of adrenaline. When I’m on stage, I see no one, think of no one. Far from the myth that women’s sexuality is for the favour of men when I perform, I couldn’t care less, in fact, I couldn’t even tell you if there was even a man in the audience. I care only for me, for how it feels when I move my hips like that, how it feels when I touch my thighs without a single worry of appearance, how my shadow looks cast onto the black curtain caressing my silhouette. I am in my own space of fantasy, the sound of applause appears as an articulation of my own self-love, I know I deserve it.
I have been a cocktail waitress, a sugar baby, a cannibal, Eve, and Juliet. I’ve whipped a stage, licked a vibrator, poured water all over me, rubbed fake blood on my boobs. And I never cared about what the men in the room thought. I didn’t care when I picked out the lingerie, nor when I did my makeup or took my bra off. My sexuality doesn’t exist for consumption. There is more to it, far more space between being sexy and having sex, there’s a whole world of performance and fun in that gap.
Just like with the DMs popping up a minute after you pressed post, when I tell people I do burlesque I feel their assumption that I must be sexual, up for it. It's assumed that every celebration of our bodies, sexualised or not, is a statement of promiscuity, proof that I will have sex with you, consent. No.
Lucy Harbron fancies herself to be a regular Carrie Bradshaw, writing about everything from gender politics to skincare, and forever sharing her unqualified opinions on fashion. As a part-time content creator and burlesque performer and full time soft-girl, Lucy is passionate about empowering open and honest conversation, refusing to shy away from her over-emotional heart. Find her at @lucyharbron_ on insta and over at thingsthebooksforgot.blogspot.
The claws of patriarchy need to be peeled off our bodies. To me, my sexuality, my body, my performances exist in the realm of feminism. They’re personal, a part of a recovery process as I learn to take control of my body with each movement, each routine crafted and choreographed for me by me. It’s a safe space. So, no I don’t invite you in, no I won’t perform for you. You can pay to witness it, never truly knowing the thoughts and feelings behind it, but enjoying the end product. You can buy a ticket, sit in the audience, join all the others I’m performing in front of, not for.