Sorry, this isn’t about how to give your lover the sizzling-est lap dance of all time.
It’s not how to be sexy or how to make money or how to work the pole and while I could probably give you some tips on how to win Amateur Night, I’ll refrain. The lessons I learned during the short time I worked at a strip club had little to do with twerking and everything to do with loving myself, loving others and figuring out how to be a kick-ass, confident woman.
Let me give you a little background. I was the ultimate good girl (I kind of still am). I’d never done anything even remotely wild and crazy, except maybe have one extra cookie once in a while. I’d never even so much as been drunk or even tried smoking a cigarette.
Nope, not even in high school.
I had a penchant for flowing, floral prints and Pilgrim shoes and would have been quite at home on the prairie. In the 1800s. But this was the year 2000 and I’d just suffered the worst break-up of all time. Seriously, my ex-fiancé sued me for my own house where he was living with his new girlfriend. Heartbroken and homeless, I moved back into my parents’ guest room and tried to piece my life back together. When an unusual opportunity to hostess in a local strip club arose, I took the job in an attempt to make myself a little less frumpy.
I expected to have some fun, but what I didn’t expect was that the people I met and the things I witnessed would teach me important life lessons that would stay with me forever.
Naked women changed my life.
Here’s what they taught me:
1. Beauty is ridiculously subjective.
When I first started hostessing at the strip club, I imagined I’d be surrounded by a clone army of buxom blondes, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was shocked. The women who surrounded me, women who made their living based on their appearances, defied all stereotypes.
All sizes, all shapes, all ethnicities were represented and each dancer was gorgeous and alluring in her own, unique way. Our customers appreciated them all.
I used to think that society held only one, narrow ideal for female beauty but working in a strip club I saw that this was a myth and I came to understand that I too was beautiful.
2. Rejection isn’t personal.
At a strip club, the entertainers are required not only to dance on stage for tips, but also to work the floor selling table dances, private dances in the more expensive Champagne Rooms and friction dances. They get more Nos than Yeses. The life of a stripper entails constant rejection, but these girls understand that rejection isn’t a measure of their self-worth.
There are a million reasons that people say no and none of them are personal.
When they get a “No,” they don’t sit and cry and wonder what’s wrong with them. They move on to the next table.
3. Don’t give up on what you want.
The women in the strip club are hustlers. A lot of people believe that sex workers are all victims and this is debatable, but the one thing I can tell you is that the vast majority dancers I knew were empowered women who made their own choices. They had goals and plans (even if they weren’t necessarily goals I would have chosen) and they didn’t stop until they got what they wanted.
4. Don’t Judge. Everyone has a story.
Strippers aren’t all a bunch of gold-digging tramps who peel off their clothes to buy drugs. Far from it. I’d be lying if I said I never saw anything like that. I did, but I saw a lot more women who were working hard to support their families. Many were single moms, abandoned by their kids’ dads. More were from other countries who danced to send their tips back home to impoverished relatives. A lot of the dancers were poor girls who never got a break in life who were fighting their way out of poverty the only way they knew how.
All of the women I met at the strip club had a story that I could empathize with and you know what?
Everyone does, not just in places where women dance naked for money, so don’t judge, because you never know what battles others have fought and which choices you may have made in their situations.
5. It’s all about confidence.
The most successful dancers at the club were by far not the prettiest, or the ones who did the craziest tricks on stage. They were the girls who were the most confident. Boobs and hair extensions can only get you so far. Popularity was all about personality. Same goes for life outside the club.
People are attracted to confidence above everything else.
You can be gorgeous and have a mile-long list of accomplishments, but if you don’t believe in yourself you’ll end up sabotaging your biggest opportunities to achieve your goals. No one has to be perfect. We can embrace our flaws, say “This is who I am and I’m proud!” and get up on our (hopefully metaphorical) stage and own it!
6. We are all hiding something.
Everyone has secrets, from the closeted gay celebrity to the beautiful young woman camouflaging a disfiguring birthmark with makeup. The upstanding, well respected judge is an alcoholic. The wealthy pillar of society cries to strippers each night about how his wife doesn’t love him. Working at the club, I had the epiphany that we are all broken in some way. We are all ashamed of or hiding something.
More importantly, I came to understand that no one, anywhere, is perfect. Perfect lives are an illusion. Realizing that I was ashamed of myself for bad choices I had made and that this was causing me to envy other people’s seemingly perfect lives, which really weren’t, freed me from guilt and allowed me to be proud of myself once again.
7. Compassion can be found where you least expect it.
Kindness abounds and good people are everywhere. Banish the cynicism from your life that tries to convince you otherwise. If you need proof that human beings are inherently, ultimately good, look no further than a strip club. Sometimes it takes the worst of society to show us the best of human nature.
I imagined the club would be filled with women of loose morals exploiting themselves and their customers for pay and men who objectified and abused women in return. What I found instead were people of uncommon charity—men willing to protect girls in trouble, fix their cars, take them to the doctor and pay their bills, and women who showed sincere kindness and affection to men that regular society had rejected because of their disabilities or differences.
8. Family doesn’t always mean blood.
A lot of the club employees weren’t lucky enough to come from close-knit, loving families, so guess what? They made their own and they stood by each other, offering every bit of support to one another that their blood relatives didn’t. Like all families, sometimes the club was a bit dysfunctional but ultimately, the connections these people made were inspiring.
They made sure no one ever felt alone in the world, that everyone had somewhere to turn and that no one ever spent a holiday or a birthday by themselves. The people who stick with us are our true families and we don’t always share a common gene pool.
9. Take care of one another.
The club employees were passionately loyal and enormously generous to one another. They had each other’s backs and they took care of their own. If someone was going through a hard time, having boyfriend problems, girlfriend drama, battling addiction, abusive relationships, anything, everyone rallied to help in whatever way they could. They gave money, rides, their time.
They brought food when someone was sick or couldn’t afford a meal. They donated children’s toys and clothes to the single moms, babysat on alternating nights so their friends could work a lucrative shift. These women showed me what it means to be a good friend and how to love with actions rather than words.
I am forever grateful for this lesson.
10. In order to grow, we have to step out of our comfort zone, even if it’s in five inch Lucite heels.
I was locked in a cage of my own design. I hid behind frumpiness and shyness because I was afraid of my own brilliance. A dysfunctional childhood, teenaged bullies and an abusive relationship that went on far too long conditioned me into the habit of covering up everything that was great about myself. I was afraid to stand out, afraid of not measuring up and afraid of rejection and I became trapped in a rut of fears.
Working in a strip club shook me out of my rut and it did so with dramatic flair. It flipped my world-view and my previous way of life completely upside down and forced me to step far, far out of my comfort zone.
Surrounding myself with brave, strong women who bared it all every day helped me to strip down the layers of protective defenses I’d built up and gave me the courage to finally break out and be the funny, sexy, creative, uniquely bliss-filled woman I was meant to be.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Lululemon Athletica