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I wrote this my freshman year at university for my Cultural Anthropology class. It’s dated December 14, 2008.

Strip Aerobics Ethnography

            The concept of stripping has always been a taboo in certain societies and cultures. And aerobics have always been great forms of exercise and ways to keep in shape to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Yet lately the two concepts have merged and are seen in gyms and practiced in homes all over the nation. Why? Is exercising supposed to be sexy? Can women benefit in their health by incorporating stripper moves in a regular workout routine? The answer to these questions is a resounding and confident, Yes! A group of girls and I asked ourselves the questions: Why do women participate in strip aerobics? What motivates them? We came up with the hypothesis that in embracing this newer style of fitness, women gain a great self-confidence and empowerment with themselves that helps with all aspects of their lives. To test this theory, we went to The Fitness Studio at the LifestyleCenter in Clayton, MO to participate in a Cardio Strip Fit and Pole Dancing class as well as another involving a chair.

Further understanding can be reached when researching the history behind the universal of the female body in addition to the history of strip aerobics. From early times, women’s bodies were considered men’s property, to be viewed, used, or shunned at their convenience. Over time, the standards for the ideal figure have gone through a massive evolution. In Austria, a 20,000 year-old figurine was found that was named the “Venus of Villendorf.” The woman had a very large body with massive breasts. It’s believed that this figurine was used in rituals concerning fertility. During the late Middle Ages, beauty was having a belly, looking pregnant. This was seen as a sign of a good healthy body that was easily capable of bearing healthy children. Being thinner was a sign of frailness and possible complications with birth. In the Baroque period, voluptuous, stout, and luxuriant bodies were valued. The 1800’s brought about “wasp waists” which quickly became popular. To gain that tiny abdominal shape, women would remove some of their ribs and wear a corset (Gillespie 203). Fast forwarding to the “Roaring Twenties,” curves were no longer the ideal, with thin, lithe bodies desired instead. This body style was also seen as acceptable throughout the Great Depression because having a larger body caused others to perceive that person as hoarding and wasteful during those difficult times.

Today, the current fashion involves a taut, small-breasted, narrow-hipped, and slim body that is near emaciation. It’s interesting how this ideal is almost like an adolescent boy or newly pubescent girl (Bartky 28)!  This is sought after by spending large amounts of time on exercise, money, cosmetic surgery, and emotional energy on diet (Weitz 9). Seen all over the fashion runways, most women can’t whittle their bodies that thin without getting into a serious medical condition like anorexia nervosa. Skin must be soft, supple, hairless and smooth with no sign of wear, experience, age or deep thought, therefore causing women to spend a ridiculous amount of money on cosmetics as well (Bartky 31).

Breasts are one of the most defining aspects of a woman’s femininity. There is “one perfect shape and proportion…round, sitting high on the chest, large but not bulbous with the look of firmness.” Yet in actuality, with the norm, if “breasts are large, their weight will tend to pull them down…floppy rather than firm” (Young 153). With such a high demand for perfect bodies, cosmetic surgery abounds. “Women’s bodies have long been considered little more than malleable clay to be reshaped to meet whatever the standard of the day, no matter what the risk, discomfort or pain” (Gillespie 203). The most common form is a liposuction with breast augmentations being the second most popular choice. There have even been at least 12 deaths reported resulting from liposuctions (Morgan 165). It’s amazing what lengths women go to attempt to have this ideal and unattainable body.

Cardio striptease was founded by American actress and producer, Shelia Kelley, calling her workout the “S Factor.” According to Kelley, “S Factor came to life after I discovered my sensual power and a fit body while researching and preparing for a role in the film Dancing at the Blue Iguana” in which she played a stripper. She would do it in her home office and then invited friends and fellow moms. When she wasn’t recognizing her visitors, she began to charge. It’s comprised of a lower body workout on the bum and thighs. The majority of the work is in a deep squat position. It builds a strong core with slow and smooth moves.  To put it simply, it can be personalized to any woman, glorifying the natural curves and moves to celebrate the beauty of the female body.

I was highly intrigued and excited when I found out that our Cultural Anthropology class would be going out in the real world with a group to study a culture different from our own, immersing ourselves in it and like Donna White said, “becoming a fly on the wall.” Hoping there would be an idea of a culture that would catch my fancy, I listened to hear ideas. The Strip Aerobics idea immediately jumped out at me! I quickly gave my name to Rebecca, and we got together as a group to plan which studio to go to that offered these classes. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t believe that I would be doing this! I’m a shy woman that isn’t quite comfortable with my body! How could I get the courage to participate in aerobics that exude sexiness? Sure, guys have called me sexy and gorgeous, but me believing that is a different matter. Yet despite my nervousness, I decided to take the plunge and step out of my comfort zone. We chose The Fitness Studio at the LifestyleCenter in Clayton, MO because it seemed like a very clean and friendly environment. On Monday evening, November 3rd we would be attending the Cardio Strip Fit and Pole Dancing class, and Wednesday evening, November 5th we would be attending another class involving the chair. The attire required were comfortable clothes we could easily move and work out in and then, of course, high heels.

Monday night, all of us met up in the Webster parking garage, our cute and sexy heels in tow. As we waited, we started to talk about how we felt about this and our expectations. Some had boyfriends that they wanted to try some of these moves on and others just wanted to have fun. I personally was in the second group since my man lives far away. Plus, I wanted to boost my self-confidence and loosen my inhibitions.

Upon entering the LifestyleCenter, I took in an impressed breath. It was such a clean and decorative environment! The first area was a spa area where women could have manicures and pedicures. I almost felt like I was being transported to an exotic environment with the attractive plants and the simple yet elegant décor. As we ventured in, we entered the gym area where there were all kinds of fitness equipment. A few women were focused, using the equipment to their fullest extent. Then we noticed the little pictures of high heels on the floor in a trail that would lead us to where the strip aerobics classes would be held. Laughing, we climbed down the steep steps and went to the bottom floor.

Enthusiastic employees excitedly greeted us and were so glad that we came. The woman in charge of the studio had even given us a discount rate since we came as a group and would be participating in several classes. We registered and filled out information while waiting to enter the main room when the class would begin. There was a big sign as well as pictures of real, confident, and sexy women. Cute little chairs lined the walls, and there was even a display shelf of various high heels! Slowly but steadily, more women came trickling in. I was happily surprised that I was wrong in my assumption that every woman there would be in fit shape with the body of a stripper already. Sure there were a few, but the majority had normal bodies of all shapes, sizes, and curves. Women of all ethnicities were there as well. Our Webster group made up the youngest girls there. One of us remarked about how we would look as we participated, and a woman told us, “Once you get into it, you won’t care at all what you’re wearing or how you look!”

Suddenly, music began to blare out of the performance room where our classes would be held, and the doors opened. The music had a very sexy beat; I immediately found myself swaying to it and loosening up. There were over 20 women in the room! It was going to be quite a hot night! Mirrors comprised the wall in the front of the room, and there were two poles in the middle, closer to the front. Figures of men from the waist up were pushed against the far right wall; I believe those were used for self defense classes, or maybe there was a sexier use for them that we didn’t participate in.

As we formed lines, our instructor moved to the front of the room and started us on a little warm-up routine. I can’t remember the song title. There were many hip rolls and dips as well as leg stretches. After a while, she began us on the main routine, dancing to “Obsession” by Shakira. We told the story of the music with our bodies. My hands roamed over my body in a seductive manner, I was so immersed in the sexy state of mind. I had unleashed a side of me I never knew existed! It really felt like, with our movements, we were making our man sorry that he had left us for another woman. A lot of footwork was involved, and I was too worried about making sure I had the steps and moves down to worry about how I was looking! That woman earlier was right! I’d never worked out in heels before and could certainly feel it in my feet! I was working up a nice sheen of sweat and felt great about it! I could feel the muscles all over my body at work, especially my thighs and abs. The lines rotated as we performed several times so each row could be in the front. To end the night, we all took out mats near the wall and performed another workout that really focused on our abs. There was even a move where we laid back, grabbed the heels of our shoes with our hands and thrusted upwards with our hips! It seemed more like a warm-up routine than a closer. Finally, the instructor taught us some moves with the pole and invited everyone to try them. I was a bit too self-conscious though and waited until most everyone left. But we all left smiling and went to bed tired!

The second class involving the chair began the same way as the cardio, with a little warm-up routine without the chair. I noticed that some of the same women from the previous class were there. The song we used for our main routine was “Buttons” by the Pussycat Dolls. Boy, did I feel like a sex kitten! I personally felt that this routine was more intense than Monday night. There were many squats, and I could feel the burn in my thighs. We got down low, kicked high over our chairs, climbed on the chairs, crawled on the floor, and spread our legs. I felt so empowered! Afterwards, my legs were sore for a couple days.

In conclusion, I had so much fun! It was such a wonderful experience, and I’m glad I participated in strip aerobics. No garments were actually taken off, but the instructors showed us how we could incorporate it into our routines. Our group was correct in our hypothesis. Women became very empowered and confident as they performed. It builds self-esteem and relieves stress. Yes, it’s used for personal gain and enjoyment, but we cannot forget the men in our lives. It helps them know how privileged they are to have women like us!

 

 

❤ Me

 

Works Cited

“About Shelia Kelley’s S Factor.” Shelia Kelley’s S Factor. 2008. 14 December 2008. <http://www.sfactor.com/movement/aboutthes.asp&gt;

Bartky, Sandra Lee. “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power.” The Politics of Women’s Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior. Ed. Rose Weitz. New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 2003. 25-45.

Gillespie, Marcia Ann. “Mirror Mirror.” The Politics of Women’s Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior. Ed. Rose Weitz. New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 2003. 201-205.

Morgan, Kathryn Pauly. “Women and the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery and the Colonization of Women’s Bodies.” The Politics of Women’s Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior. Ed. Rose Weitz. New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 2003. 164-183.

Weitz, Rose. “A History of Women’s Bodies.” The Politics of Women’s Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior. Ed. Rose Weitz. New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 2003. 3-11.

Young, Iris Marion. “Breasted Experience: The Look and Feeling.” The Politics of Women’s Bodies: Sexuality, Appearance, and Behavior. Ed. Rose Weitz. New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 2003. 152-163.

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