For those who don’t know, my life partner Thomas and I spent the better part of a year designing and building our dream home, out in the country, up on “The Ridge.” We moved into this house in September of 2017. Through a comedy of errors, we did not hang a mirror in the master bathroom right away. In fact, we didn’t hang a master bathroom mirror for another fifteen months.
The truth is, I didn’t want to look at myself. Three pregnancies, their accompanying c-sections, and the inevitability of age had taken a toll on my body. It took six months for my last c-section scar to completely heal. My hair started to thin. My face broke out. My body did other gross things that I won’t detail here. In the mornings, I would shower as quickly as possible, because I just felt disgusting and wrong in my own skin. I’d throw on layers of baggy, shapeless clothes and hope that they’d swallow me whole.
Then, I took a burlesque class. Specifically, I attended the Salome Cabaret Burlesque Academy. And in the second session of that class, the amazing and powerful Rhoda Dairyheir taught me that my body was beautiful, and that I could do beautiful movements with it. She also helped me understand that I was long overdue to start loving myself, and — most importantly — I was worth it.
The very next weekend, Thomas and I took a day trip to IKEA in Atlanta, where we purchased a mirror for the master bathroom AND a full-length standing mirror for the bedroom. Suddenly, I could look at myself in the mirror again. I could love all the weird, imperfect, and changing parts of me. I could finally feel beautiful.
When I first signed up for the Salome Cabaret Burlesque Academy, I did it mostly to connect with the community I had admired from afar for so many years. I was excited to learn some things, and I figured I might perform at the graduation showcase at the end. Y’know, as part of the group number. On the back row. Hiding behind someone who obviously knew what they were doing. I never dreamed in a million years that I would fall so madly in love with this art form, that it would help me build so much confidence and so much self-love, and that I would come to see the burlesque stage as a means of self-expression and self-exploration.
I remember when I started rehearsing my solo number, John Camp mentioned how surprised he was — that I had been so shy and reserved in class, he had guessed I’d be one of the few who wouldn’t want to perform. I was surprised, too — surprised that I put together a number, surprised that I taught myself how to use a sewing machine so that I could make adjustments to costumes, surprised that I was beginning to wear makeup regularly. Burlesque had not only taught me how to enjoy being in my own body, but it had also given me a crash course in some traditionally “feminine” areas where my knowledge had been lacking. Like so many other ecdysiasts and fringe artists before me, burlesque had effectively changed my life.
This past weekend, I reconnected with the community through the Smoky Mountain Burlesque Festival. I volunteered as a “stage kitten” for one of the shows; I supported another as a loud and enthusiastic audience member. And, I took classes — classes that, once again, became powerful vehicles of self-exploration, self-love, and self-care. And I started to come out of my shell a little — started to talk to and connect with all of the amazing angels who are a part of this vibrant and beautiful “glitter family.” And the story I heard, over and over again, is that I was not alone — that burlesque changes people, and it becomes a positive and life-affirming force in their lives.
So, this is my thank you letter to all of the members of the burlesque community who have welcomed me, mentored me, and supported me on this unexpected adventure. Now, there are mirrors in my house, and you are the reason why.