Sick Of Stripper Chic
Let’s celebrate the end of the “fake is sexy” era
by Emily Zimmerman
Imagine that your Significant Other is cooking you a special meal. To show you just how much they care about you, how lovingly the food has been prepared, your partner dresses up in an orange polyester shirt with a nametag, asks you, “Do you want fries with that?” and listlessly mentions that smiles are free. The language of a commercial transaction has replaced human interaction. Hot, isn’t it?
During the aughts, the sexiest thing possible for a girl to do was to adopt the look and demeanor of a stripper. In other words, a girl who was genuinely attracted to a guy was encouraged (Carmen Electra will teach you how to lap dance for your man!) to act like a service worker who pretends attraction for a living. While pop singers (Britney, Miley) signaled their adulthood by trying to look naughty while flinging themselves around a pole, male singers crooned “I’m in love with a stripper,” and rapped over a female vocalist cooing “You can get this lapdance here for free.”
As Ariel Levy put it in her 2005 book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, “We need to surround ourselves with caricatures of female hotness to conjure up the image of ‘sexy’.”
The g-string clad hottie faking arousal crowded out any other image of female sexuality.
One feels the need to be clear: there’s no call to trash actual exotic dancers for presenting themselves the way that they do. They’re just working stiffs (ha!) like the rest of us. Their jobs have a dress requirement and that’s that.
But for a lot of the last decade, everyone from pop stars to mall ’tweens, girls with no experience in any aspect of the sex industry (in Saskatchewan, stripping isn’t even a career option) were wearing its uniform.
A plastic, wet-lipped, Girlicious, fake-orgasm-face version of sexy crowded out all others. Barrrrf.
And yet, look at a “sexy” video from way back in the ’90s, like Salt’n’Pepa’s “Whatta Man”. Right away it’s clear that it’s perfectly possible for women to sing about sex and be sexy — even in a slightly cheap way — without ever pretending to be a professional sex worker.
Sex, and its media portrayal, can and should be fun, funny, trashy, sleazy, or voyeuristic. Whatever floats your boat. And lately, it seems like the pop culture pendulum has been swinging back to a much more interesting, individual — and occasionally genuinely shocking — portrayal of female sexuality.
Take Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, for example. Cody is a former stripper, and most of the criticism of her films has been personally directed at her: for her appearance, her history, but mostly it’s just been snipes along the lines of “How dare that tart try to be clever?”
Yet Cody continues to write female characters with complex and assertive attitudes towards sex. The fumbling adolescents of Juno and raging monsters of Jennifer’s Body don’t fit anyone’s trite fantasy of naughty schoolgirls.
“It’s funny how something so normal and mundane that you see every day — your body — can be controversial,” said Beth Ditto in an interview with Black Book magazine back in April. Ditto, a pretty, short, fat, queer powerhouse of a singer, has straddled the worlds of punk rock and haute couture for a few years now. Her complete lack of physical shame (she’ll often end a high-energy show stripped down to her undies), and her confidence and joy in her body, are inspiring to behold. And sexy as hell.
At the recent Golden Globe awards, musician Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls and nominee-and-then-winner Mo’Nique appeared in, respectively, a vintage ’20s flapper dress and a long, shimmering ball gown. Both ladies looked stunning on the red carpet, but got most of their media attention for daring to show… body hair. Now, many women aren’t shavers, but the subversive thing was how much fun these two had with it. Palmer struck poses. Mo’Nique, grinning, hiked her skirt up to the knee to show off for the cameras.
Women in popular culture are finally moving away from the assumption that titillation is rebellious, but it isn’t anything new. When Jennifer Lopez caused a stir wearing a Versace nekkid dress to the Oscars (back in those innocent ’90s), she wasn’t shocking anyone. She was just being a starlet in tiny clothes, and the people who always get outraged did their jobs and TA DA! A star was born. But the role of the Naughty Sexy Girl has been done to death.
But right now, Lady Gaga can become a pop superstar in a bizarre robot getup and drag queen makeup. Right now, more and more women artists with bravery, humour, and talent are pushing through sexy, into the grotesque, and back to sexy again.
And that’s when things start to get interesting. That’s when it gets revolutionary.