I strip for the women who hate their bodies. I strip for the women who think their thighs are too big, their asses too small, or their bellies too jiggly.
I don’t look like her:
Or her, either:
I am actually the complete opposite of these women. I’m brown, I’m thick/heavy/curvy/voluptuous/fat, and any other word that is congruous with not skinny.
I have natural hair (i.e. not relaxed) and I have a gap in between my front teeth. And this is precisely why I strip. Well, perform burlesque to be exact, but at the end of the day we both take our clothes off, so whatever—I strip.
This is me, in my full glory, as The BIG Bang McGillicuddy:
Images: Dalahawk & B.B. Rebel Photography
Let me explain.
You see, I don’t look like anything you are supposed to find conventionally beautiful, sexy, or even socially acceptable. I don’t have a thigh gap. As a matter of fact, my thighs actually clap sometimes when I dance. I love this. My body comes with a built in cheering section. Bad. Ass.
I have the telltale “anchor” scars from having breast reduction surgery 11 years ago. I know. A stripper who made her breasts smaller? What was I thinking? My ass has stretch marks. My stomach has stretch marks. LOTS of stretch marks. I have dimples on my ass cheeks, and this weird slouchy, untoned section of my inner thigh that resists muscle like Donald Trump resists basic decency. And with all of that, I am a stripper.
People ask me this all the time.
“Why would you do that? You have a daughter. Why would you put yourself in that position?”
I strip because I’m a mom. I’m a mom to a beautiful little soul that has special needs. One leg is longer than the other, and one arm is underdeveloped and thus, weaker. She currently “speaks” with a touch-pad communication device, but God willing will soon be switching to an eye-gaze device.
By society’s standards, she is “not normal.” Her body and her means of communication are not conventional, and though (luckily) we no longer live in a time where people would ask me to put her in a home because she is considered a strain on society, there are those asshats in the world who will tease her at some point in her lifetime, simply because she is different.
The world may tell her she doesn’t belong, that she shouldn’t love her body, that she’s not beautiful just the way she is, that she has nothing to say, that she shouldn’t celebrate her body, or that she cannot achieve the same/is worthy of the same accolades as “normal people,” simply because she is different.
As her mother it is my sole responsibility to repudiate every damn thing the world might tell her is wrong about her whole self, by being a model for everything right with my whole self, which includes MY BODY. I moved past the utter loathing of my body, no longer afraid to show it and share it with the world because it is beautiful and worthy of adoration and celebration just the way it is.
If she can look at me, and see a body that, despite what the world says, I still adore, well, then maybe she’ll grow up thinking her body is beautiful and cause for celebration, too. And maybe she’ll grow up adoring her body, too. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll avoid three-and-a-half decades of self-loathing and find a way to communicate her radical self-love. too.
Also, I strip for the women. Yep. You read that right. I strip for the women who hate their bodies. I strip for the women who think their thighs are too big, their asses too small, or their bellies too jiggly. The women whose breasts have all but stretched out to mimic old gym socks, and the women whose breasts are so large they could probably breastfeed all the starving babies around the world. I strip for the women whose bodies have been ravaged by disease, and have been left scarred, and for the women who have contemplated going under the knife countless times in search of “the perfect body.”
I strip for the women who have been abused by lovers and husbands and wives. Thrown across rooms, told they would never find love again, told they were nothing without their partner. For the women who feel robbed of their power, who feel weak and small and vulnerable.
I strip for all of those women, in the hope that maybe, if they see me up on that stage shaking and shimmying, strutting like a mighty peacock, they might find some inspiration, some tug at their heart, some stirring to find their strength again.
I strip in the hope that they might look at me and say “Daaaaaayyyyyyuuuuuuummmmmm…that girl has ass for days—but look at how fearless she is!” Then maybe there might be a small voice in the back of their head that says, “I wish I could be that fearless.” And then maybe after that, that voice would get louder and louder, until the spell was broken, and they found the strength to walk in their full beauty again, or for the first time.
Now, because I know how we can be Judgey McJudgerson sometimes, I know at least ONE woman reading this is going to say, “Well, that’s all fine and dandy Miss Adiba, but you can impart all those things onto your daughter and women of the world without taking your clothes off.”
And to you, lady who would rather I not take my clothes off, I say you’re right! You are absolutely, 100% right. I could impart all of these things—confidence, strength, self-love, empowerment, body acceptance—without taking my clothes off. Jes Baker does it. Virgie Tovar does it. Louise Green, Amanda Trusty, Whitney Way Thore, Joni Edelman, Amy Pence-Brown, Sonya Renee Taylor…all these amazing women do it on a daily basis.
And I love them something fierce for it, because each of these women coming into my circle in their own way, whether they knew it or not, changed my life and helped me get to where I am today. But I’m not as knowledgeable as Jes (yet), and I don’t have years of understanding and dissecting diet culture under my belt like Virgie. I’m not an athlete like Louise, and I flunked tap so I’m definitely not Amanda. I may have danced for years but I’ve never led a class in my life, so cross Whitney off the list.
I’ve never been a size 4, so I’ve never had Joni’s “a-ha!” moment of realizing I hated everything that got me there. I don’t have the balls to let people come up to me (in public) and write on me while I am blindfolded and wearing a bikini—because HELLO, PEOPLE BE CRAZY—so Amy’s out. And Sonya, well, hell, I’m convinced that woman came out the womb fierce as fuck, so I got what I got.
And what I got is confidence and a level of comfort with my body that I’ve never known before. I’ve got a love that no one can take from me, unless I give it to them, and I’m a stingy bitch. I’ve got years of self loathing and food addiction and disordered eating and mindfuckery that I have traded in for a love so strong and so fierce and so full and rich, it moves me to tears.
And it is that love that I am passing on to my daughter. And it is that love that I am spoon-feeding the crowd when I turn around to reveal my ample ass in a thong.
It’s the love I got, and it’s the reason I strip.
Adiba Nelson currently resides in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband, 6-year-old daughter, and two teenage stepsons. When she is not advocating for disability rights, body love/size acceptance, performing burlesque, or writing her face off, she is busy ironing her cape and looking for ways to fit more shoes in her closet. She is also the author of the children’s book Meet ClaraBelle Blue, and is currently working on her memoir. You can find Adiba at http://thefullnelson.net/
This originally appeared on Ravishly. Republished here with permission.