5 things I learned about body positivity after attending my first striptease class

The phrase “body positivity” has become almost as ubiquitous as “self-care” these days. The internet is full of countless how-to guides and essays about loving whatever body helps you move through your life. You’ll find plenty of tips explaining how to embrace a body positive philosophy, whether that’s finding one thing that you love about your body or practicing meditation more regularly. But so much of the narrative that surrounds body positivity focuses on shifting our mental triggers and learning to calm that critical voice in our head. What is often missing from the conversation is encouragement to put our bodies in spaces that challenge us — like a striptease class, full of seductive body rolling and slinky chair choreography.

I recently attended my first striptease class, where I learned a few essential things about my body and body positivity.

1Sex positivity and body positivity go hand-in-hand.

I’d like to think of myself as the unofficial resident sex positivist, having been pretty vocal about why women should attend sex positivity workshops and why men can benefit from practicing sex positivity, too. So it should come as no surprise that I picked a striptease class to not only push my body, but to push my ideas of what is sexy. While the art of striptease and slinky dancing is usually associated with being thin, “classically beautiful” (whatever that means), and devoid of lumps and bumps, the burlesque industry is actually very body positive.

After an hour of chair dancing and booty cheek-popping at a local striptease class, I realized that it is indeed an act of self-care to train your body to perform in ways that make you feel sexy — even if it’s just for yourself.

2The body positivity movement needs more diversity.

It was surprising to see that out of a class of about ten women, my best friend and I appeared to be the only women of color. It felt odd to not see any other women who looked like me in a space that full of positivity and acceptance. But it was a testament to the fact that many other body positive spaces (unlike the class I attended) solely cater to women who fit some utopian beauty ideal — which often means being white or the “right kind of fat.”  Many outlets and collectives that claim to celebrate ~all bodies~ still have a ways to go in order to make room for bodies that are typically excluded because of race or gender.

3Our bodies are capable of more than we give them credit for.

While media and society would have us believe that health and fitness is reserved for only one kind of body, sweating and body rolling with women of so many different sizes resulted in an aha moment for me: I realized that our bodies are low-key fucking amazing. The class served as a reminder that, when I am internally freaking out about my weight, my appearance, and the amount of space my body takes up, I am forgetting to actually put my body to use. Taking on new physical challenges like striptease was a wake-up call; I need to use my body in new ways while I have the chance.

4Body positivity is about more than your weight.

My first introduction to body positivity was as a peer health advisor in grad school. My work conversations about body positivity always reduced the conversation to fat vs. skinny. But there is more to living a life of body positivity than learning to embrace the parts of you that jiggle. There was no war between the thick and the slim during striptease; there was only a room full of strangers laughing at ourselves as we awkwardly imagined romantic partners in empty chairs and plotted seductive dance routines. It was a room full of all body types embracing breath and movement.

5You can’t just call yourself body positive — you have to put in actual work.

You don’t have to wear a moniker branded across your chest in order to be a body positivist, but you do need to practice what you preach. I shimmied and shook to push myself beyond my own assumptions that I was “too awkward” or “the wrong type of body” to participate in something so vulnerable and bold. I learned that the rolls on my body don’t look so bad when I’m slinking across the floor, and the arch of my back might be my new favorite thing. I learned that I have to keep purposefully making myself uncomfortable so that I can really claim that existing in my body — whatever state it’s in — is always a positive experience.