Last fall when the entire country was caught up in a circle jerk of fiery love for Tina Fey, I read an article about her and discovered that she dislikes strippers. (Not the strippers themselves—but the institution of stripping.) Tina Fey doesn’t go to strip clubs.
I sighed as I read it. I love strippers. I love their well-fitted bikinis. I love the way the move in high heels. I love the their upper body strength and flexibility. (Oh, the flexibility.) I love the bravery and unfettered sensuality. Showmanship turns me on.
Tina Fey would never approve of me.
When I was eighteen, my older guy cousins took me to Deja Vu in San Diego for amateur night. A friend of theirs danced in a red bikini while six of us whooped and hollered loud enough for her to win third place. (Truthfully, she’d danced like a gawky, adolescent giraffe.) As we gathered around a big table to celebrate her win, the lights dimmed and the DJ started playing Rammstein.
“Uhhh,” I pointed out nervously.
My cousin shrugged. “The regular girls are gonna dance now.”
I fidgeted with my soda and watched as a tiny, pale woman walked out onto the stage. She glanced around the club viciously, tore her clothes off as if they’d offended her. She stomped to the front of the stage and ran her hands down her flat stomach. I’d never seen a woman with no pubic hair. She looked like a cat in thigh-high shit-kicking boots. Bright tattoos lined her arms and curved down her spine.
For a moment, reality cut in. She grabbed a rag and a spray bottle and cleaned the silver pole at the middle of the stage. I smiled around my straw. Even lithe, ethereal strippers had to worry about germs.
Then she wrapped her thin, boyish body around the pole and shimmied up to the ceiling of the club. As the music swelled, she began gyrating against the ceiling. She twisted and arched. Gravity meant nothing to her.
“Holy shit,” I whispered.
The rest of the dancers were more straightforward. One song for the striptease, the next for the full nude dancing. One stripper to rule to them all.
I tuned out the conversations around me and scrutinized the routines. Def Leppard and a schoolgirl costume. Destiny’s Child and red vinyl hot pants. When I hit the ladies room to pee, I found myself in the dressing room. It smelled like the Malibu Musk body spray I’d used in middle school. I sat on the toilet and eavesdropped on a cell phone conversation with a boyfriend, plans to hit a club later that night, an agreement to exchange babysitting duty.
I wanted to run back to my table to tell my cousins that strippers were actually real girls, but the next song was on. A tall redhead slowly peeled sequined pasties from her tight-skinned tits. I forgot was I was thinking about.
That year I headed to college and drove the next town over to buy sex toys with a chick friend. We pulled into a roadside strip club and parked beside a couple of semi trucks. The bouncer checked our IDs, waived the cover fee and let us through the turnstiles.
At the roadside cafe/strip joint, the girls weren’t all that pretty. But they were young. They danced on caged-off stages in front of clientele that appeared to be made up exclusively of truckers and college professors. (The mullets and broad shoulders and graying hair and sweater vests were a big clue.) I picked my way through a maze of tables and chairs, hurriedly purchased a big pink jelly vibrator, and left without a second glance at the stage.
Later, in my dorm room, with an oscillating fan turned on high to drown out the telltale buzz of my new pink friend, I thought about flimsy white panties and bare toes and bleached-blond hair and tinkling belly button chains.
College involved more than enough circumstantial nudity. It wasn’t until my mid- twenties that I found myself drawn back to another not-so-artfully named strip joint. The Velvet Underground (where the phrase ‘Peel Slowly and See’ was granted a special kind of agency) sat right between a florist and a gas station on a busy suburban intersection. My husband and I parked in the back, worried that our car might be recognized.
Inside, the girls had gotten younger. Prettier. I sat on a plush couch near the stage, leaning into my husband, feeling the heat of his body while we watched a girl dance in a bikini. Being a suburban strip joint, she never lost her top. Her bottoms, Brazilian cut, offered only a tease of the creases of her heart-shaped ass.
When they pumped Beyoncé, I sipped on a glass of white wine and wanted to dance. Not on the stage. Somewhere else. Somewhere dark. I wanted to dance in jeans and a slinky black tank top, not a stringy bikini.
Instead, I watched my husband walk away for a chaste lap dance and I developed a brief, simmering crush on a blonde girl named Tracy.
As our marriage entered the tricky realm of routine, we spoke breathlessly of indiscretions. We whispered dirty fantasies under the covers and ventured out to strip joints where the girls wore nothing but sweat and glitter.
When a girl with long hair straddled me on a red velvet couch, I kept my palms against the fabric, thinking about how typical the upholstery was. But didn’t seem as silly when she brushed her lips against my neck and her hair—soft as cotton candy—tickled my face.
“I like your top,” she whispered, touching it. The front of it. I shivered hard and laughed nervously and when we left, I sat in the passenger seat of our car and looked outside and wondered which lines, exactly, had blurred.
Older still, I found myself peering at flat stomachs and sculpted asses with jealousy burning at the corners of my vision. I didn’t care that my husband watched them dance, watched them move and stretch in ways I’d never been able to. I cared that their bodies were young, untouched—most of the time—by motherhood.
“I don’t want to go,” I sulked one night.
When my husband asked why not, a self-loathing litany poured out of me. Saggy boobs, floppy stomach, stretch marks on my ass, pubic hair unkempt. As I approached 30, the girls stayed young. (Like Menudo, I sniffled.)
I realized, starkly, that I was seeing the women as bodies now. That at some point they’d ceased to be individuals with boyfriends and girlfriends and tuition bills and car payments and favorite songs and hurried cell phone conversations in the dressing room.
Maybe Tina Fey’s onto something—maybe her distaste for strippers isn’t puritanical, but self-reflective. Either way, I’m annoyed at her and at all those wily young women for totally ruining my favorite not-really-all-that-scandalous pastime.