I recently came across a great article on the Bad Kitty Blog written by Katie Johnson - a Los Angeles based Fine Art Model, Actress, Writer -- and most importantly - Pole Fitness Devotee. She's been called everything from “magic” and “fearless” to “dependable, bendable” and even “the balliest f***ing model I’ve ever worked with!”
In this article she asks the question - Are You Strong Enough to be Vulnerable? Read on to see what she has to say. I'm pretty sure a lot of you will relate ;-)
Let’s be honest. As much as pole dancing has evolved into a more culturally acceptable pastime, there’s still a stigma attached. When people outside the community hear someone is is a pole dancer, they most likely still think of this:
When the truth looks more like this: Strong male and female aerialists from all different walks of life, who have found fitness and self-expression in this beautiful art form.
Still, to be a pole dancer and then put yourself out there as one takes great strength and vulnerability.
Other contact sports allow/require athletes to wear protective gear, but pole dancers must have exposed skin in order to stick to the pole. Also most of our poses and positions( such as leg splays, splits and inversions) make us extremely physically vulnerable. The exposed human body can seem like an attempt at seduction, but it’s actually just what this particular movement requires. Some artists build off of that, and do play up their sexuality. But that’s their choice, and it is amplified by costume, music, and tone of the piece. And it’s a choice that is just as strong and valid as any other artistic expression. But to assume that pole dancing is all about seduction because of the amount of skin exposed is misguided.
Working as a fine art model, I spend a lot of time de-sexualizing the human body when explaining what I do. “It’s not about sex” is practically my mantra with fine art nudes. Translation: Please don’t devalue this. But why is it that sexuality/sensuality in expression is something we feel the need to explain, defend, or otherwise apologize away? And why do we automatically devalue artistic expressions of nudity and sexuality? My personal journey into pole fitness has forced me to confront that question time and again. Is it a man/woman thing? A good girl/bad girl thing? A religious upbringing hangover? The truth is probably yes and no to all of the above.
What I do know is that shooting a fine art nude photo is not a big deal for me. It feels natural, effortless, and oddly enough – pure. As if to say, “This is me, just as I am.” But putting myself out there to the world/internet as a pole dancer can be utterly terrifying at times. For example, I was more nervous shooting this photo than any of my nudes.
Ironically, emotionally, shooting this feels very innocent and wholesome. This is me, just as I am. But I know that’s not what it looks like. This is undeniably sexual, or sensual at the least. I mean, I’ve got my legs propped up on a pole while wearing Bad Kitty and BodyBinds, for goodness sake. If someone wants to slut shame me for taking this photo, part of me feels they have every right to do so. I know that’s not healthy, or feminist, but it’s my vulnerable truth. I grew-up in Christian sub-culture where women where given full responsibility for men’s sexual desires. All of which, outside of marriage, were bad. No, “bad” doesn’t cover it. They were sinful, taking away a man’s potential to love both God and his wife.
I clearly remember whatrefers to as my body’s “First Offense” when I was a pre-teen. Spending the night at my best friend’s borrowed one of her shirts we both agreed looked pretty on me. It was a lavender halter-top. Her mother took one look at me and said, “Oh no, Katie can’t wear that. Katie has a sexy body and when men look at her they will get erections. Katie, is that what you want?” I was twelve. Oh the pressure, oh horror, oh the shame… To this day, if I take my sexuality outside of my dance studio’s safe walls I still sometimes feel like, either via lust or offense, I’ve become someone else’s problem.
Lately, I’ve really been working on overcoming this. I’ve done pole arts photoshoots, watched my amazing friends dance in pole showcase, I write for Bad Kitty, and put myself out there as a part of the Pole Dance Bloggers community. But even participating in one of the weekly photo challenges I had one of my pole photos anonymously flagged as “inappropriate/pornography” – to FaceBook’s credit they ignored the shaming jab. But I didn’t. I felt it. But then I felt something else… Indifference. Someone was offended by my pole photo. Okay. Just as a slut is subjectively defined as “someone who has more sex than you,” perhaps an inappropriate picture is just one that’s out of your comfort-zone. Their label only has the power which you allow it.
So I’m still daily pushing past my nerves, not only doing the shoots, but then putting it out there for the world to see (and probably judge). And that takes strength. And vulnerability. It’s a tricky balancing act, but one that certainly keeps things interesting. As difficult as it can be sometimes, I actually like that my emotional journey in pole dance mirrors my physical one. Sure, it’s scary, but that’s how you learn and grow.