Exotic dancing and stripping have had a negative reputation for many years, but lately the industry has boomed with more women expressing an interest on social media in the career.
Many of my Facebook friends regularly share memes of exotic dancers on their news feeds, and some have even expressed a desire to take up stripping to pay their university fees and living costs.
This image that’s been circulating recently on Facebook is typical of the trend.
The question is, why aren’t you a stripper?
In a statement for Hatch, the Melbourne strip club Opium Lounge says the career offers ‘perks’ such as “gaining strength and fitness”, and “increasing or improving self esteem”. But what do exotic dancers working in the industry actually believe?
Tilly is a dancer at another Melbourne strip club and says the job is “addictive” and the pay is helping support her while she studies.
“I just wanted a lot of money really quickly, because it is hard to get a job,” she told Hatch.
Tilly says exotic dancing and stripping are an increasingly socially acceptable way for young women to earn a living.
A 2011 book published in the US suggests the stigma around stripping is diminishing in many Western countries, as more young women take it up as a job. The book’s author, Catherine Roach, says that many strippers go on to finish college degrees.
Tilly – along with many of her colleagues – is enrolled in tertiary study, and Opium Lounge says many of its dancers also come from a wide range of career and student backgrounds – including nursing, law, banking, personal training and administration.
“These girls put money into businesses – they save money, [and] build their business like a boss,” Tilly says, adding that in the process these women help to reduce stigma traditionally associated with the career.
“The job’s not always easy,” Tilly acknowledges. She has had rude customers and been called a ‘slut’ on social media.
The most hurtful comments have focused on aspects of her body, such as her breast size – but, ironically, she says stripping has helped build her confidence.
“Ever since I started, I’m so much more comfortable with my body – I just like being naked. I don’t feel weird,” she says.
Opium Lounge also says that stripping empowers women, teaches self-love and increases self-esteem.
“We have dancers from all over the world, with varying personalities and body types,” the club’s statement says. “We do ensure they each uphold a healthy image.”
Stripping is one of few careers where men earn less than the average woman. Statistics cited by the women’s magazine Cosmopolitan suggest that men starting out as strippers can expect to make $300 to $400 a week, while women can make $400 to $500 a night.
Opium Lounge says it has seen a strong rise in the number of women interested in taking up exotic dancing. “It is still taboo to some, but it’s becoming incredibly popular,” the club says.
Tilly says she’s not tempted to give stripping up any time soon, as the money is just “way too good”.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with what I do because it’s literally owning your own body -you’re not selling your body, I’m working it,” she says.
Story and photo collage by Alanah Hallam.