As I approach my forty third year on Earth (well mostly, one could easily accuse me of mentally living on another planet half the time…) I am more impassioned about teaching and performing burlesque than ever. I am also frequently stung by jolts of fear and melancholy as the Shitty Thoughts Gremlin gleefully jabs it’s pointy spear into my brain; “People are just gonna think you’re too old.” “You’ve had a child! You have a crinkly belly! Ew, Gross!” “Have you SEEN your boobs?! After nearly three years of breastfeeding! Ugh” and “oh yeah, you’re also lame, and a crap teacher and everyone thinks you suck.” (it just has to get in there with a dose of Imposter Syndrome to boot of course) The gremlin loves to do this in my own internal voice. Because it’s a nasty little shit-stirring beast, who simply lives for the chance to kick me in the vulva when I’m at a low ebb. My response these days is an eloquent and intellectual marvel; “Just shut the fuck up.” I even say it out loud at times. The gremlin creeps away to hide in some deep recess of my brain. Probably a corner filled with other shit that makes my left eye twitch, like birkenstocks, tax returns and ads for detoxing cleanses.
When I started in burlesque I was around twenty four years old. It simultaneously feels like a lifetime ago, and also like it was all just yesterday. I was also blissfully unaffected by the prospect of ageing as I just thought, “Who gives a shit, as long as I’m still me? If I even make it that far…” At that time the gremlin had a whole other M.O. as a background in dance and theatre the expectations around being thin and looking a certain way etc etc were shovelled down our throats regularly.
Now the only mainstream example that most people are familiar with when the word “burlesque” hits the ear is Dita Von Teese. As a slim, white woman, with worldwide renown and popularity, she may hardly seem a vanguard of diversity and body positivity. That being said, let’s not get our pitchforks out just yet! She has in recent years been been including more diverse individuals in her shows and supporting this shift in the industry.
Most interestingly, for me, she is now forty eight years old. She has been talking about women, ageing, beauty standards and entertainment as of late and I find I am far more engaged by her now than fifteen years ago when I first shimmied my way on to the stage and she was at the height of her sloshing around, nearly naked in a giant martini glass heyday. This in, no doubt, is due to my crashing realisation that ageing is a thing and women get the short end of the stick, and then are beaten relentlessly over the head with that fucking stick until we acquiesce and wear our skirt hems well below the knee and/ or die. Whichever comes first.
I have never been particularly good at conforming to societal expectations and “norms”, I have tried but it all goes up in flames fairly quickly. It seems, as far as ageing is concerned at least, I’m keeping consistent in that regard. After several life changing experiences; having a baby, losing my dad to cancer, leaving an abusive relationship small child in tow, ending up in a women’s refuge while my mother battled a severe circulatory illness resulting in having a bypass on her leg and losing part of her foot, all within the space of about a year… I realised something. I mean, other than the fact life can be a big steaming pile of crap at times, I realised it’s too short to waste it giving a fuck what others think and not doing what you really love and being who you want to be, yadda yadda and all that jazz... With all the horseshit life can throw at us, getting older should not be the thing holding us back. The gained experience, skills and changes are what should propel us forward! Oh the cruel irony that men seem to be granted ever more respect and authority as they age. Although for many, a welcome regime change overseas in the U.S., President-elect Joe Biden is Seventy-eight! And the previous prez (we all know who) is seventy-four. No one bats an eye. Yet look at the endless hysteria, barbs, and general undermining of Emmanuel Macron, just because his wife is older than him. Fucking hells bells! Google “Macron”, go on, do it.
Guess what? “macron wife” is the very top search result. Tells you all you need to know.
Castigated for wearing too little, acting too young, but the real question is; “By who?” Or “By whom?” I don’t know which, I’m fairly shit at grammar...But who is really holding us down in our late, later, later-er years? Is it just the patriarchy? Let’s face it, women aren’t just submissive victims here. Women have perceptions and expectations of how and who we’re supposed to be at various stages of life, and women most certainly have created subtle and not-so-subtle pressure on one another to conform. Breaking from the accepted norm can come with a price. It’s OK to disagree, to debate, create discourse. Perhaps we sometimes have to challenge one another, in order to free each other.
Ultimately it comes to this; ask yourself, What, after all that has passed and all that is to come, do you want? To be? To have? To achieve? Even if it’s just wearing a swimsuit in public without debilitating fear or berating your body for not looking a particular way. Or having as many orgasms as possible before you cork it. Or starting a hostile takeover of a multimillion pound corporation. Fuck it. Even attempting to set a world record for most Creme Eggs consumed in 12 months. Follow your DREAMS! Or whatever. Perhaps it’s the search itself, maybe you want to do all these things and then some. Maybe you want to kick back, drink wine and just watch your favourite movies as a dedicated hobby. Fine. Fuck it. I say we must ignore, nay! Defy the Old Lady-Bell tolling on from hither and thither. Sit quiet for even a moment, and you will hear it drifting on the breeze. Or screeching at you from the interwebs, television or wherever ; “she’s a bit old to wear...”, “anti-aging formulaaaa”, “women over 40 shoul…” blahh blahh “growing old gracefully”. Just insert age related verbal diarrhoea quote here. And yes, unless you’ve been living in a bunker, we have felt the direct and indirect effects of the horrific shit pile of a pandemic sweeping the globe. Robbing us all of so much: loved ones, friends, hugs, opportunities, income, chatting to a stranger in a cafe, snogging a sexy somebody on a raucous night out, raucous nights out, lipstick ….All along, the gong ringing in the background, that by the time things really look more like “normality”, likely two years will have passed, two birthdays. And the gremlin is thrilled, of course, and it starts to whisper again. “43?44? Getting awfully close to 50. You should really be investing in bulk orders of beige slacks and loafers...” That asshole, REALLY needs to fuck off. I’ve already spent the better part of a year shut in like a mushroom! And there it is. The very reason I will dance around half naked, covered in glitter, gluing rhinestones -onto- anything -that- sits- still -too -long until the grisly end. I’m stocking up on more rhinestones and red lipstick. Because when we can go out again, I will be anything but invisible. The refraction of light from all the rhinestones will sear my image into everyone’s retinae. And I want the same for all of you, in whatever way makes you feel your most you. The ever-changing, intriguing, fighting, loving, living you. No matter if you’re twenty or one hundred and twenty. Hopefully we’ll see each other soon. I’ll be the one doing the splits on the dance floor with a bottle of fizz in hand, glitter all over my arse. And I can’t wait for you to join me.