Couple of items came to my attention regarding fat women being presented as sexy and the reactions thereto.
First up: Trouble at the Lusty Lady, the country’s only unionized strip club, over an email from a male worker (who wants to see the union gone now that the club is a co-op owned by the union members) relaying complaints he allegedly heard from customers regarding a night at the Lusty Lady featuring “BBW”* performers:
Like a lot of San Francisco businesses, the Lusty Lady prides itself on diversity, offering up dancers in a variety of sizes, shapes, ethnicities, attitudes and tattoos.
But like a lot of North Beach clubs, business at the Lusty — while steady — isn’t what it was a few years back during the dot-com years, so every customer and dollar counts.
That’s why it was such a big deal in July, when someone booked an entire night of “BBW” entertainment — big, beautiful women — and the clientele reacted by walking out.
The counterman wrote up the customers’ objections — “I came for fantasies, not nightmares” being one of the more printable ones — and sent them off in what he thought was a confidential e-mail to the club’s board of directors.
However, one board member, who worked as a Lusty dancer, took offense and plastered a printout of the e-mail on the dressing room mirror for all the entertainers to see.
Talk about an ugly situation.
Now, from this account, it sounds like “the clientele” walked out en masse. Because, my God! Who would want to see fat women dancing naked?
This account provides a different spin:
The tale goes back to July, when a support staffer named Davide Cerri sent the co-op board an e-mail complaining that the peep show’s revenues were falling off. Since everybody’s pay at the Lusty is based on monthly revenues, any decline in cash flow would hit every worker’s wallet.
Cerri claimed that the Lusty’s madams were hiring “unwatchable girls” — women who were too big and not quite sexy enough — and that as a result, the club lost money.
“People comes [sic] asking for refunds, because they do not want to see girls that they would not want to have sex with even if they were completely drunk,” Cerri wrote.
“This is reality, not question of options. We sell fantasies, not nightmares.”
Looks to me like someone’s not happy with the whole financial arrangement of the co-op, where one’s personal income depends on how much revenue the revenue generators generate.** And where the market is down, and people just aren’t coming in the door like they used to, it’s time to find a scapegoat. In this guy’s case, his lower income became the fault of the fat dancers because an unspecified number of customers complained (and, looks like, what with the “nightmares” quote and the quote about fuckability, he added his own editorial comments into the mix). As a bonus, he blames the union.
[Note: I do not support at all the action that the dancer who posted the email took. That shit should have been dealt with at the board level. Moreover, while she may have had good intentions, posting that email where the dancers assessed as nightmarish unfuckable unwatchable beasts had to see it was just cruel.]
The Lusty Lady’s been struggling for quite a while, so it seems unfair to blame the entire problem on one night of BBW dancers. I don’t see any actual receipts here showing how much business actually declined, or how many people actually got refunds.
But, you know? Fat chicks are ugly — everybody knows that! — and it’s easier to blame them than it is to face the fact that the business just isn’t bringing in the customers like it used to. So you get a board member telling the Guardian:
“It’s great what we at the Lusty think the standards of beauty are, but the reality is that we’re in the adult entertainment business.”
Interesting thing about the adult entertainment business: it’s only been within the last four or five decades that the standards of beauty in the business weren’t a great deal more zaftig than what Mr. Nasty Email would like. I’ve been reading a fascinating book by Rachel Shteir about the industry’s origins, Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show. From the beginning of burlesque, which included “undressing acts” in the 1880s, and on through striptease in the 1930s, performers were a great deal heftier than you would see at a random strip club today. In fact, at the turn of the century, there was a troupe known as the Beef Trust that proclaimed that no performer weighed less than 200 pounds — and there were occasional scandals when performers were caught padding their costumes.
Thinner bodies became in vogue around the 1920s, when the Ziegfeld Follies opened on Broadway. Flo Ziegfeld used only slim, small-breasted chorines (who could appear nearly nude, but only if they remained still), which he felt gave a “classier” look to the Follies than the more full-figured burlesquers and strippers downtown, who were considered more geared to working-class and immigrant tastes. While burlesque and striptease continued to use more zaftig bodies than the “classy” joints uptown, burlesque performers did become thinner than the Beef Trust performers had been, if not quite as thin as the Ziegfeld girls. Postwar strippers like Blaze Starr and Tempest Storm were extremely busty, but burlesque and striptease were considered something of another era, a cute old-fashioned throwback. By the time topless clubs came in in the 60s, burlesque and its larger bodies were out, and strippers and topless dancers were not only smaller, they’d dispensed with the floor-show aspects of burlesque.
Which brings us to our next item. Sexy fat woman as curiosity and nod to the past:
In what seemed more of a nod to front-row guest, the burlesque artiste Dita Von Teese, Gaultier sent out the plus-sized Paris-based American model and actress Velvet d’Amour, 39, in a satin corset and negligee. The rest of his collection was on a “workout” theme, an athletic wear-inspired collection of silk track pants, hooded sweat tops and dresses.
Gaultier probably thought of himself as being daring, but what would have been really daring would have been to treat Ms. d’Amour as a regular model instead of Othering her by treating her as a throwback and an oddity. From Queerty:
He couldn’t put the fat model in track pants because overweight people never excercise. And he probably wouldn’t have gotten as much press.
I recently saw a program on Ovation called Dawn French on Big Women (which doesn’t seem to appear on her imdb listing), in which French ponders why big women are not represented in modern culture when they were previously celebrated in art. One of the most interesting things about the special, which is nearly a monologue as French alternately visits several artists and photographers to be painted or photographed and talks to a near-silent Alison Moyet over champagne and strawberries, is French’s observation that big women are, indeed, allowed to be sexy in the modern world — as long as the way they are sexy conforms to the way they were depicted as sexy in the past. So, with (IIRC) only one exception, the artists and photographers she visits all fall back on recreating famous paintings in which big women were depicted in seductive poses, rather than finding what was sexy about French herself as a modern woman.
It’s the same thing with the Gaultier show and the Lusty Lady complaints — Velvet d’Amour was allowed on the catwalk, but only because she could be shown as sexy by putting her in burlesque wear; the fat dancers at the Lusty Lady were deemed “unwatchable” because they did not refer to burlesque or some other past, acceptable, portrayal of fat women as desirable. Nope, they dared to ask to be taken on the same terms as the other dancers.
If you check out that Ovation link, you can see that Dawn French on Big Women will be shown sometime this week. Fire up your TiVos.
* Mother of God, I hate this term.
** You ever wonder why law firm associates work so many hours? Because law firms are run on this kind of model at the partnership level. Every hour an associate bills is more money in a partner’s pocket. And since lawyers are professional employees, they don’t get overtime. So the more hours worked, the higher the profit. This is why partners become screamers.
Similar Posts (automatically generated):
- Now You Too Can Avoid Pain… Just Like Men, but Smoother! by Holly April 29, 2008
- Fashion Police Question Whether Michelle Obama’s Bare Arms Are “Appropriate” by Cara March 4, 2009
- Fat and fashionable AND happy? Impossible! by Jill June 18, 2009
- Rainbow Brite Receives a Makeover by Cara January 26, 2010
- Veiled and Pissed Off by Fauzia November 5, 2007