On December 14 of last year, I showed a room of around 300 people my tits. And my ass. And I shook my bulbous belly for them to feast their eyes on.
The song I stripped to was "Criminal" by Fiona Apple, edited down to around two and a half minutes, because it was my first time stripping and I deeply believed I wouldn't be able to last any longer than that.
I am not a woman most people look at and think, she could be a stripper. Why? Well, because I'm fat, and fat bodies are, even in 2019, excluded from being eroticized. A plus-size strip show felt like the perfect way to challenge that, because stripping is aggressively sexual, leaves very little to the imagination, and, I was told, feels very empowering. So I, along with my friends Linda Douglas and Elizabeth Flores, decided to start our own plus-size strip show called Thicc Strip.
We posted open calls, inviting anyone female-identifying in Los Angeles to take part, regardless of their experience level, then launched an Indiegogo. We didn't make our goal, but managed to find a sponsor (a hook-up app called HUD) who gave us enough money to pull it off.
We trained with a dancer and body positive life coach by the name of Cera Byer. It took some time, but we eventually found our final group of 13 women. Rather than have an audition process, we allowed anyone who showed they were dedicated to the project to take part. Some were already coming from the world of professional stripping and burlesque, while others were doing it for the very first time. Given that each one of us had a different background, personality, vibe, and attitude, I couldn't help but compare us to GLOW, but like, way sluttier. Because we were all so different, song choice, performance style, and level of nudity was left completely up to the performers. Some felt more empowered keeping their costume on while dancing, while others exposed themselves fully.
I'm someone who shows off my half-naked self pretty regularly on Instagram, so I really thought I was over feeling self-conscious about my body. But the process of forcing myself to step outside of the realm of the internet, where my exhibition is hiding behind a screen, made me realize that I still had a lot of issues to work through in regards to my body and eroticism.
Growing up heavy, I never viewed myself as sexual because I believed that my body was not capable of it. Being sexy, I thought, was something reserved for thin bodies and thin bodies only. Instead, I relied on humor. For much of my early adulthood, I engaged in sexual activities without ever truly feeling sexy. I let men fuck me, but was convinced that they didn't actually want to be there.
In my mid-twenties, I finally started to question why I felt this way. I learned more about body positivity and the radical notion that everyone has the right to love and appreciate themselves. I realized that my negative feelings toward myself and my appearance were imposed by outside forces, and not how I truly felt about how I looked. That's when I started yearning to be more overtly sexual. I wanted to stop hiding behind oversized shirts, and instead become the woman I had fantasies about being. Fantasy me showed off her body without giving a fuck, wore mini skirts and lingerie, and reveled in igniting sexual excitement in others. So, that's what I became. A proud fat slut. There was no weight loss journey, no workout program, or change in appearance of any kind. If anything, I've gained weight since then. The only change was a change in attitude.
Fast forward around two years, and exposing my thick thighs and flabby belly on the internet is second nature to me. However, I still incorporate humor as much as I can. The photos I post will be sexual, but the caption will often counteract the sexuality with a more lighthearted joke. It wasn't until the strip show that I came to realize the extent that humor is still a crutch for me.
Thicc Strip forced me to stop hiding behind jokes and take my sexual self seriously. I had to legitimately strip, without ending it on some sort of vaudevillian pratfall. Something our instructor Cera would continually tell us during practices is that it's so easy for fat, naked women to be turned into a punchline, and we have to work twice as hard in order to prove that we're not a joke. In order for this to succeed, we couldn't just pretend to be confident. We had to truly be confident. As someone who was pretty damn sure she was already there, stripping opened my eyes to how vulnerable and afraid I still was. That self-conscious girl still lived inside me, turning her exhibition into comedy in order to protect herself from being taken seriously.
I powered through the fear and the doubt as the weeks went by. The women I danced with helped immensely with this. They let me know I wasn't alone. When I asked Linda how she powered through the negative thoughts she'd told me she was having about herself, she said, "I was tired of letting these destructive thoughts stand in my way. I wouldn't let someone else put me down like this, so why was I doing it to myself?"
The overwhelming amount of positive feedback we got from people hearing about the show for the first time was also a pretty big boost for those of us who doubted ourselves. Online ticket sales sold out within a week of being posted. Once that happened, Elizabeth, Linda, and I let out a collective, oh shit this is really happening. We were relieved that the desire for something like this to happen in Los Angeles wasn't just in our heads. In the end, Thicc Strip was able to give $511.55 of our proceeds to the Downtown Women's Center, a charity which provides assistance for homeless women in Los Angeles.
Stripping forced me to step out of my comfort zone. It helped make me a woman who doesn't always feel the need to hide behind a joke in order to express her sexuality. Each person who participated in Thicc Strip had her own purpose for being there. This was mine. All of us should have something like Thicc Strip in our lives, something that challenges you to confront your insecurities and overcome them head on (and maybe even clothes off).Follow Alison Stevenson on Twitter.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.