I own a pole dancing and aerial studio. There I said it! Normally when I start off with someone new it’s always “ I own an aerial studio” because that’s safe. Aerial is cool, it’s Cirque Du Soliel and prestigious. Pole is seedy and dirty and immediately invokes a certain perception. So normally I leave it out and as I begin talking and getting to know someone I finally fess up. It’s not because I’m ashamed, it’s because people can be judgmental as all hell! But that’s not what this is about although it’s important to know.
What I do for a living can be extremely healing, empowering and therapeutic for many people, women in particular. Women come in often thinking there’s no way in hell they can do this because their not super skinny, not super fit or flexible, they don’t think their young enough or coordinated, sexy, graceful or any of the other 5 million things they focus on. This is their space to learn that they are strong, beautiful, sexy, graceful and anything else they strive to be and I’ve worked really hard to create that feeling and a space that offers this. So on a night like tonight when yet another male photographer comes in to shoot pictures for an upcoming article I immediately get tense. Why you ask? I’ll tell you why! It’s because every freakin time without fail the dude that comes in, chats with me to go over the class, lighting, etc. and I explain my vision and goal for my studio and wait.
I wait to see one thing and that is if he’ll here me and focus on capturing a bit of all the beautiful women in my studio or will he focus on the 2% that are young twenties and look like they could be a Victoria’s Secret model. I love all my students and each one deserves to shine but the problem with focusing on “the hot girls” isn’t about the girls themselves, it’s about this idea that they are the only ones worthy of being seen. That is infuriating to me as someone that constantly tells students they are amazing and sees them as the beautiful goddesses they all are. Yes the ones that look like models or professional aerialists are beautiful and should feel that way but they are not the only version of beauty in this world. Yet they are who often gets focused on and that is why so many women have issues seeing themselves as worthy and safe to hold space in our society. The ones who are showcased often are showcased in a way that makes them look like a sex doll. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a male photographer or videographer at a pole show, competition or expo and you look at pictures afterwards or video and there’s always a zoom in on their asses and pussies. God help her if she’s touching herself or making the face doing a sexy routine because that will definitely be zoomed in on.
It happens every time and while yes most of us are showing off for the performance because we can and should be able to it doesn’t mean we want to get back a bunch of crotch shots or stills that could be used for the cover of a porn. We’re expressing ourselves in a way that is for us, not for some dude to publish so other dudes can jerk off to it. But every time that is how we’re represented but that’s not the worst of it. Because for any of us that are curvy ladies, not in our 20s or even 30s, don’t look like a playmate we end up getting very little shot of us. We’ll go through pictures days after the event is over and notice that the hot girls have many frames and there will be two, maybe three of us. It’s heartbreaking because it sends a message to us immediately that we aren’t worthy of being seen. We are less than and should be hidden.
But this doesn’t just happen in my industry, it happens everywhere and it’s disgusting. How often do we see an ad campaign and there’s one token plus size model or black model or model that is alternative in some way. The way they are captured is usually all the same and it’s always done in a way that doesn’t say sexy or hot or beautiful. Then the hot girls, the conventional beauties are shown as being well…doable. Now I do understand that it is a step forward to even see a model or women pictured that does not fit the standard and for that I’m glad but we need to do better. Yes, the person or company hiring the photographer or videographer needs to do better in advocating for what they want and make sure it represents all women in a way that values them. But what about the photographers that don’t listen, like tonight.
After I explained what my studio was about and what to do and not do the photographer got to work. When he first came in he was nice enough but it immediately turned south. One of my 2% students was in. She’s a beautiful mid twenties that is a performer and has the body of one. In the hour he was taking pictures he focused 90% of his time on her. He even got in the way of another student just to shoot this one. I had to ask him to back up because my other student wasn’t speaking up and not able to enjoy the class in the way she wanted. I was livid as I started watching these women who support and cheer each other on and themselves become one by one withdrawn and insecure. These women were essentially being told by this guy that they didn’t matter, they weren’t important and had less value and it broke my heart. I wanted to scream but I kept my composure and pulled him aside to explain I wanted to see the diversity in women of my studio represented. The response I got was the typical “I’m going to go with the best shot”. That’s douche for “I’m going to submit the ones of the one I’d bang if I was younger and not married”. It left a horrible taste in my mouth and a promise to speak to the editor.
I wish I could say this isn’t the norm but it is. Women are often valued or undervalued based solely on their aesthetic. We are so conditioned to see a tall, slim, tanned blonde when we think of a bikini model because that’s typically what we’re given. The women who look like that aren’t to blame or at fault and should never be judged for the way they look. But they also shouldn’t be seen as better then simply for that. We are constantly being told who and what we are and if we matter or not based on the images we see everyday and narrative those images give us. Men, we are not a commodity and we do get to matter whether you are attracted to us or not. You make an assumption that we even want you when you decide you want us. You make an assumption that we aren’t beautiful because you have decided what beautiful is without looking at us as more then our bodies. Yes, men are visual creatures but when a photographer goes in to do a shoot for a magazine he’s assuming all men find the same aesthetic beautiful and that’s not true at all. Men, like women, can be attracted to women of all different shapes and sizes and ages but that’s not the point.
The point is we aren’t here for you to decide if we’re attractive enough to be seen or not. We’re here to be seen and when you come into a space that’s safe in a world where most of us fear being assaulted, harassed, judged please understand how special it is for women to have a space where no one is less then. So often we are pitted against each other or taught that some of us deserve to shine and some of us deserve to hide away unseen and unheard. It’s hard to find spaces where we can all belong and tampering with that can destroy hours if not years of work. I can’t wait for the day when the women we see represented daily looks like the beautiful collage that represents our society. Until then, gentlemen get your cameras out of our asses and pussies and stop giving the rest of us a pitiful two or three shots as a consolation prize for breathing.