If you’re not too familiar with the art of burlesque, you might be forgiven for thinking that it only extends the arm of acceptance as far as one single body type. In fact, the only mainstream reference to burlesque has been Christina Aguilera and Cher’s rendition of the art of the tease in ‘Burlesque’. But, as much as this film shines a light on burlesque, it does little to celebrate a wide variety of body types – something that is not true of the wider burlesque-world.
As a body positive activist, I am always on the look-out for more things to challenge and push myself further out of my comfort zone. I have always had a love of the 1950s and as such, have been drawn to burlesque. This week, I decided to book my first course of burlesque lessons as I believe that burlesque truly is a badass body positive industry – and here’s why.
It celebrates ALL body types
Burlesque is inherently inclusive, it doesn’t judge nor does it exclude. The majority of the world only knows about burlesque via the phenomenal Dita Von Teese, who although astounding to watch perform, only represents one body type. Where in fact, there is so much more diversity in the world of burlesque. Kitty Cavalier, founder of The School of Charm and Cheek says that “when I went to my first burlesque show five years ago, what changed my life forever was seeing women who looked exactly like me, with real bodies, making the rules about what it means to be beautiful”. This idea runs through the veins of burlesque – all body types are included, accepted and empowered.
It encourages creativity
Burlesque is an ‘anything goes’ kind of industry. If you’ve got an idea, then burlesque will give you the stage to explore and expand upon it. In a society where much of our creative expression is silenced through fear of judgement, finding a way to express this is so important to many people. Amirah Counts, in her essay ‘Burlesque: Creativity Through Sexual Expression‘ cites burlesque as being “a form of creative expression that focuses on utilizing the human body as a moving work of art” – so if you can dream it, burlesque says that you can do it.
It allows all bodies to explore their sexuality
Some tend to make sweeping statements about burlesque with little basis for their comments – suggesting that burlesque is about performing rather than owning your sexuality. I disagree, in burlesque the gaze goes both ways. Performances range from parodies of society, political and sexual values to female (and male) empowerment. “Burlesque has created a context,” says Starla Haze, “in which women can be creative, performative and sexually expressive in a way determined solely by themselves, irrespective of their age, shape, size or proportions; burlesque celebrates the female – and male – form in all its variety.” You too, can explore your sexuality.
It is an all-inclusive industry
Mat Fraser, known for his role in American Horror Story: Freak Show, has thalidomide-induced phocomelia, and doesn’t let his disability affect his burlesque performances. Performing as his persona ‘Seal Boy’ he says that “as a disabled performer, I have a non-traditional body through which I’m proud to express my sexuality, my confidence, my showbiz pizzazz.” Burlesque undoubtedly provides a positive platform from which to express yourself, exactly as you are.
It accepts and encourages individuality
Burlesque does not judge. It does not exclude. It does not ignore. It does not encourage you to hide aspects of yourself that you want to celebrate. No matter the size of your body, the colour of your skin, your sexual identity, your gender identity, the marks on your skin, whether you are pierced or tattoed – no matter HOW you want to express yourself, no matter how you exist in your own skin burlesque has got your back.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously
It goes without saying that sometimes, life is hard. Such is the demand of our jobs, social life, personal needs, family life and other responsibilities, we rarely get explore the fun side of life. Burlesque allows you to have fun, free from any inhibitions you might have. Often providing a parody of sexuality, society and the political, burlesque performances are renowned for their comedic value. So whether you want to ride a giant rocking horse, dress up as a caterpillar or buzz around the stage as a bee – then burlesque can meet your every need.
It challenges ‘beauty’ stereotypes
When discussing beauty, society usually puts thin, white women on a pedestal. As a body positive activist, I promote body love for ALL bodies – and this extends to burlesque too. Burlesque overthrows all ideas about ‘conventional beauty’ and rewrites the rules to encompass all body shapes and sizes. Thus, burlesque isn’t just a more-inclusive industry, but an all-inclusive one. If you want to rock your own world, then I guarantee that burlesque will help you do it!