Original post: August 7, 2012
There came a day during my recovery when I could NOT pull my ass off my sofa. I felt sorry for myself. I ached. My scars still hurt, even after my formal recovery. They hurt physically and emotionally. I was mad. I was embarrassed. I felt that people were sick of hearing about my cancer. Your cervix is gone. Blah, blah, blah. I was motivated for very little. Extremely unlike me.
Yet, the tiniest of voices came daily from deep within. “Shut up, you. Get your butt off this sofa and go do something. Anything.” I answered it month after month with a firm “fuck off” and went back to my box sets of The Golden Girls. I had no time for my normal, positive, cheery voice. Any positivity that I displayed publicly was a lie. At least to me. I put on a brave face so that no other woman would get discouraged. And then I cried myself to sleep at night.
One miserable day when Sofia and Rose and Dorothy and Blanche were starting to influence my wardrobe choices, I was listening to NPR and there it was…the answer to all of my woes. So, you have a bad body image right now, Lori? Can’t imagine ever being sexy again without your cervix, Lori? Scared of people seeing your scars, Lori?
The answer: GET THEE NAKED AND ON A STAGE.
A radio interview came on about Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque in Seattle. I’d known one other friend who had graduated from the ranks and remember being in AWE of her bravery and cool factor (Jo Jo Stilleto, that’s you darlin’). And I needed to be brave around something that scared the bejeezus out of me. AND because it scared me so much, I knew I had to do it. I signed up that night for one of the last remaining spots in the Burlesque 101 class.
Over the course of six weeks, I learned about the history of burlesque and the art of burlesque and how to create a new persona. From this, Miss Hot Tin Ruth was born and she was the antithesis of my cancer. Brazen, bold, sassy, curvy, real–and yes, naked (albeit with pasties and panties to adhere to local laws…heh). I could touch her and connect with her. I could touch my body again. I was gaining back confidence that I didn’t know I had BEFORE “The Big C.”
And then came time for our recital for friends and family. Every ounce of courage and strength melted in a heap backstage in the greenroom of The Rendevous. Wait, what am I doing? I am going to take my clothes off in front of strangers…with my 40 extra pounds of cancer weight and these scars and…oh, shit, no! What have I done? After several trips to the bathroom and the loss of any remaining meal, I stepped onto the small stage, shaking.
(Ruth’s inaugural performance in “The Silencer” April 2008)
I forgot several important music cues. I stepped on my costuming with my heel. I turned the wrong direction. I flung a prop accidentally at the photographer. I missed beats. But in that space of 3+ minutes, I pushed past whatever fear was there and kicked my horrible post-cancer self image to the curb. It was gone the minute the first person clapped at my mediocre performance. I was gone the minute I stepped back into my own pleasure and all the external pressure of my cancer drifted away. No one pointed and laughed. In fact, they were celebrating me.
Today, Hot Tin Ruth is more than just a stage persona. She saved me. We saved each other. I regained “my sexy” because I dove pastie-first into the unknown. And, it turns out that Ruth can twirl her pasties and shimmy that ass with the best of them. Dang, girl!
While burlesque might not be the exact medium for another’s recovery, my message from it is simple…you can read books and sit in group meetings and hear from your doctors and get the support of everyone around you, but the hurdles are within and the external voices don’t always help. WE DO have the strength to pull ourselves out of our funk. It may take prodding and it may not happen overnight and there may be cursing at our inner voices, but the power is within us to heal, whether it’s cancer or another form of struggle, loss, or challenge.
And then sometimes, you really DO just need to get naked. Go ahead…strip away whatever is holding you back and fling it off stage.
Oh, and Hot Tin Ruth ended up doing her own NPR interview after the second round of classes she took at the academy. Full circle, friends. Full, twirly, naked circle, scars and all.