Lights in hues of pink, purple and red danced across the stage. I swayed my head lazily from side to side to a bad remix of O.T. Genasis’ “CoCo.” The music faded out for a moment as the DJ made an announcement: “Alright, fellas. Get ready for this one! Up next we have … Cassidy!”
The lights focused on the entertainer as she strutted up the stairs of her platform. My eyes traced her body: Her small stature and pixie face gave her the appearance of a woman in her early twenties, but she was aged by the icy focus in her stare and her tight, black attire. Smooth, mocha skin teased through the translucent lace stretched across her body.
In most instances, I’d describe her as beautiful, but here she was one thing: sexy.
She began her carefully rehearsed ritual, slowly shedding her layers as she grinded against metal and pivoted on the floor. As she swayed through her performance, dollar bills gathered and littered the stage about her. With a final thrust, she concluded her performance and collected her tributes.
As she gathered the modest but relatively generous pile of bills in front of me, she leaned forward on her knees towards me. “Hi,” she began, speaking to me through her impish grin. By this point in the night, I was far too inebriated to understand much of anything she said, let alone respond to her questions. Instead, I absentmindedly stared forward into her bare breasts.
I was snapped back into soberness as she leaned forward and grabbed me. “I like your boob, too,” she said, squeezing my left pec. Were it not for the scowl that broke across her face, the venom in her statement would’ve likely been lost on me. My hazy mind contracted, struggling to decipher what she said:
“She totally just called me fat!”
My kneejerk reaction was one of shock and anger—what was her problem?! I understood why she was frustrated: she was clearly trying to seduce me into a costly private lap dance, and my refusal was less change in her pockets.
But that didn’t justify a fat joke. Had I insulted her?
I held no malice for Cassidy, and if I did, it certainly wasn’t because of her occupation. In fact, I greatly admired her because of it. Strippers are not the desperate lowlifes they’re often depicted to be—they’re brilliant opportunists, men and women who weaponize their sex appeal.
In many ways, Cassidy’s sex appeal affects how she is able to present herself. She embraces her ample curves and pretty face to strip money from those who might see her as a object for their entertainment.
Having learned the value of my own sex appeal years prior, I saw through the club’s perfumed smoke and foggy mirrors. This may have been my first time in a strip club, but I recognized the set-up immediately.
It was, in some ways, similar to my first job in retail when my manager admitted to hiring me as a salesman because of my looks. It was even more like the countless times men have propositioned me with money, assuming they could buy my sex.
While I’ve never gone so far as to have sex with someone for money, I have certainly used my sex appeal for profit—sometimes a corporation’s, other times my own. While our experiences are vastly different, there are certain similarities in our portrayals of sexuality.
Although they’re very different stages, a retail floor and metal pole call for essentially the same act: Smile and make your customer feel special. Play the role they want you to play—dumb college jock, manipulatable 19-year-old girl, whatever you can pull off best. Give ‘em a grin, look confused, bite your lip a few times, just make sure to hold back your laugh. Sure, they’re looking down on you the entire time, but, in the end, you walk away with their coin.
There may be some who enjoy this game and find it empowering, but to me, it’s mind-numbing. Sure, the benefits may alleviate the sting of being dehumanized, but it certainly doesn’t extinguish it. There’s nothing quite so demeaning as being valued for your butt, chest and genitals, or having someone ignore you as you’re talking to them and stare at your breasts.
Oh. I’d discovered my offense. Embarrassed, I sunk down into my chair and sat brooding for the rest of the night.
I awoke the next morning with a cleared mind and a lightened conscience. I doubt that Cassidy remembered any of this as a significant memory —I was just another customer to her. But it certainly left an impact on me, a much needed reminder of what it means to sell your sex appeal. There’s much to be gained from this game, but it comes at the cost of being painfully objectified.
Despite my anger the night before, I couldn’t help but laugh—there’s something poetic about being made to feel self-conscious about your own body by a stripper.