We Asked Strippers and Sex Workers How to Feel Good Naked

"I do live a life where I take off my clothes, and I'm comfortable in my body, but at the same time, I still struggle with insecurities and cultural conditioning, just like anybody."

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May 21 2016, 3:05pm

Photo by David Denofreo

All of us have something about our bodies we don't like.

Maybe you grew up wearing T-shirts in the swimming pool, or you've only recently started to outgrow all your pants. Point is, body-image issues can strike at any time, and have surprisingly little to do with outward appearances.

As it turns out, even without pounding kale smoothies or working out 16 hours a day, you can still feel empowered without your clothes on. And nobody knows this better than the folks who spend a lot of time being naked themselves.

VICE reached out to a few people who get naked for fun and profit, and got their views on empowerment, flesh-cages, and how to feel comfortable in your own skin—even while showing it to a whole lot of other people.

Photo by David Denofreo

TRISTAN RISK, BURLESQUE PERFORMER

VICE: What's the key to feeling good naked?
Tristan Risk: [It] isn't so much something that comes from how many lunges you do, or how many crunches you did, or how many pole-dance classes you take. Feeling good naked is connected to a sense of self and a place of self-love and confidence. I feel confident naked, and I'm often amused that my comfort with my own nudity in turn will make other people feel awkward by comparison.

Have you always felt comfortable in your own skin? Or was that something you had to grow into?
I've always been lucky that I was raised never to be ashamed of my body. My parents took me to Wreck Beach [a Vancouver-area nude beach] at a young age, and nudity was very normalized to me. I still love walking around naked, and while it can be a point of consternation with my neighbours if I'm strolling around nude, I've not feared that someone could see me and make me feel vulnerable from my nudity alone. The first moment I ever was fully naked in front of other people was a life drawing class, and after that, knowing and feeling like people were seeing me naked and projecting their own feelings onto me with their art (and later as audiences), I felt like it was a special connection we shared. I know not everyone feels at home in this the way as I do, but I hope that being this happy and comfortable, it inspires others to feel the same.

Is there a difference to you between being naked in a public setting, and being naked privately, like at home or with a partner?
I don't think there's a difference in my mind. I hope you wouldn't divide yourself that way. In both cases you're sharing your body with other people and bringing joy to them and yourself. Whether you are doing a physical act of love or an act of art, it's still from a vulnerable, personal place. Finding rooting in that place gives spark to confidence.

As a society, are we too preoccupied with appearance?
I don't think we're too preoccupied with our bodies. While appearances aren't everything, they are a reflection of who we are on the inside.

Photo courtesy Ninedoors

CAROLE BRUNETTE, STRIPPER/BURLESQUE PERFORMER

If I was going to walk out on a stage and take my clothes off, how would I get it together first, confidence-wise?
Carole Brunette: It's funny—we sometimes assume that certain people "have it together" in that department. We tend to project that onto others, assuming they feel good about themselves. Saying, "Oh, man. I wish I felt as good about my body as that person does." It makes me laugh, because we really don't ever know that. Yeah, I do live a life where I take off my clothes, and I'm comfortable in my body, but at the same time, I still struggle with insecurities and cultural conditioning, just like anybody.

Do you have a mantra, or something you tell yourself on nights that you're not necessarily feeling your best?
I don't know if I have a mantra, but I've definitely had to go out there when I didn't feel ready or capable. I'm lucky that my job is flexible—for the record, I do private dances, not stage shows, so I don't have to adhere to a schedule. It's worth a laugh, because sometimes we have to push ourselves when we're dealing with, you know, the obvious. I've gone to work wearing small white outfits while keeping the Red Dragon at bay. Shit gets real as a woman sometimes, and you have to do what you have to do.

I feel lucky, being exposed to this much nudity. Because it's been a reminder of the types of bodies that people love. People loves all shapes. It's all normal. Everyone has cellulite somewhere. And even though I still struggle with perfectionism with myself, I look at others and see things that might culturally be perceived as flaws, and notice that everyone has something like that somewhere. It's comforting. Because it's not really a flaw, it's variety.

So it makes it easier not to idealize people, or imagine that there's some "perfect" body out there somewhere.
Yeah. And the women I work with who do private dances vary widely in age and shape. It's easy to forget what real naked people look like. That's another vote for why it's so important to have theatre, art, burlesque, strip clubs, exotic dance. Because we're interacting with real humans, seeing real human bodies. No airbrushing. When I'm going to be naked in front of someone, I try to remind myself: "Okay, this person is going to be liking what they see." They're seeing my body through their eyes, not my eyes. They're not judging me the way I am. In a way, it's sometimes easier having other people see my body than it is looking in the mirror.

VELVET STEELE, DOMINATRIX

How comfortable were you with your body before you started showing it to others?
Velvet Steele: In the beginning, it was a bit of a process. As a woman who happens to be transsexual, and having gone through all my surgical procedures to become the woman I am, I wasn't prepared to fully show myself. I kept my bottoms on, for the most part. But at one point, I was like: "What am I doing? I'm here to be loud and proud. I should show myself off."

It did take me a while to get used to being nude in front of people. But now, as a professional dominatrix, if I can't show you my body, without all the accoutrements, and have to dress it up and distract from what the natural beauty of my body's all about, then what the fuck is the point? I work hard to keep my body in shape, I exercise, I eat right, I fuck a lot. And I put a smile on my face. Being happy is really important.

Any pointers for those of us who find the idea of public nudity terrifying?
I started off in the world of bodybuilding, and in particular, figure competitions. So, as a transgender woman, standing up there with all these cisgender women, practically naked for all it's worth, in this bikini, all tits-and-glitz with a spray-on tan, it's about owning it. It's not necessarily easy. We all have shame. We all have guilt. But it depends on how you own it. And letting that go makes it a lot easier to take your clothes off. Especially if you know you're turning the right people on. Because it's a turn-on when you're turning people on. I love knowing I'm turning people on, and I love that they could be getting off looking at my body. There's a lot of power in being nude in front of people. Because you have their attention. And it's all about commanding that attention properly. I know I'm a commodity. I commodified myself. I created this product by making myself who I am.

Photo courtesy FubarFoto

LOLA FROST, BURLESQUE PERFORMER

For you, was loving your body something that just happened one day? Or was it more gradual?
Lola Frost: The personal journey of learning to accept your body, it's a daily process. It's definitely not something you can ever achieve fully. Because we have a mind that hums and gets distracted, and comes in contact with so much stimuli. My personal journey as a professional Naked Lady over the last ten years—it didn't really start out that way. I'd always been like: "Whatever. I love my body." But saying that didn't necessarily stop negative thoughts from coming up. And it still doesn't. But the image you have when you look in the mirror versus the idea someone has if they take a photo of you for example—those can be such different things. And seeing myself outside of the context of my own eyes, it was really liberating. The thoughts I have about myself are quite different from what's being reflected.

Are looking good naked and feeling good naked the same? Or are they two different things?
I think that's very personal. I'm a teacher of dance, and a teacher of movement, and sometimes self-empowerment. People come to me for coachings around that stuff, so I get to hear a lot of different perspectives—particularly around female-identified bodies. And a lot of people say, "I want to love the way I look. I eat really healthy. But I don't. Even though I'm supposed to love my body at this shape, size, ability, I don't." And that's painful for them. For me, I eat healthy because I want to be able to perform. I want to feel good more than I want to look good.

What advice would you give to those who are struggling with their own body-image?
Looking good, it's so relative. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Even in terms of my own struggles, I love the way I look. I would say 90 percent of my body I'm really happy with. But in terms of that stuff, you either get the fuck over it, or you suffer. Every day. And you suffer on such a basic level. There's so much more to worry about than just your flesh-cage. It's challenging because we're confronted so often with the idea that beauty equals value. And sure, there are different parts of my body that are disproportionate, or maybe I don't love the most, but I'm not going to get down on that. I made the decision a long time ago that I'd rather be healthy and able, than beautiful and sickly. And I hope that everybody comes back to making sure their bodies work well first. You have to come back to the nurturing, the self-love, the self-care, and it keeps those voices at bay. And that brings us back to what's most important about our body: taking care of it.