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I Took My Clothes Off For An Audience As A Plus-Size Woman And It Ruled

In 30 days, I needed to go from burlesque newbie to performing burlesque onstage. In the words of Tina Belcher: UUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

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Hi. My name is Kristin. Like many of you, I am a hot fried basket of fears, insecurities, and anxieties, particularly when it comes to my body.

Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed Kristin Chirico/Thinkstock

This is because I have spent a lot of my life, regardless of how big I am, being told (explicitly or implicitly) what I'm not allowed to do or be because of how I look.

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But one of the things I have been told I DEFINITELY can't be is sexy -- especially in a plus-size body.

So -- because I love making rule-makers unhappy -- I decided to try the sexiest body-related thing that I could think of: BURLESQUE DANCING.

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Burlesque dancing, in case you don't know, is a big sexy creative celebration of the body.

It involves artfully and teasingly performing sensual (and sometimes humorous!) dance routines, often while removing your clothes in a slow and enticing way. But there are lots of way to ~remove your clothes~, and performing burlesque does not necessarily mean getting naked, if that's not your jam!

HERE WAS MY CHALLENGE: I would enlist burlesque performer and teacher Natasha Vee of Hells Belles BurIesque for four lessons over the course of a month, and then I would do a performance. Live. In front of actual, real humans.

Helles Bells

After which I would presumably retreat to the far mountains, never to be heard from again.

Could I do it? Or would I embarrass myself so badly that I would need to change my name and grow a witness protection mustache? BUCKLE UP AND LET'S FIND OUT.

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Look, burlesque is a beautifully sensual dance form, and I'm about as graceful as a paper doll that a witch cursed into being alive.

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On top of this, performing in front of other people literally makes me feel like I am drowning, and I avoid it whenever possible.

But to my surprise, my teacher Natasha told me right off the bat that she had never, ever seen a burlesque performance go wrong. EVER!

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"Trust me," she said. "No matter what happens, everyone is going to love it." I told her, half jokingly, that I assumed this was because people are so excited about the possibility of nudity that they're grateful for whatever they can get.

(I was more than a little afraid that I would be the first person to prove Natasha wrong.)

At the end, Natasha told me (believe it or not) that I had a natural ability to pick up choreography, which is a fact I listened to and then immediately flushed down the toilet of my brain, because there was just no way that was true.

Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

Like, seriously, I did not feel sexy here. I felt like I was trying to smugly shave my legs.

But I am a naturally competitive person, and so I resolved to be the best at this that I could possibly be. I even thought about maybe asking her for a MORE difficult routine, because learning how to do something in 30 days wasn't hard enough.

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For my performance, we decided that I was going to take on the identity of a ~sexy housewife~.

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I told two people that I was going to be a sexy housewife. One of them said, "That is literally the opposite of your personality," and the other one shrugged uncomfortably into an awkward hole, so I was feeling pretty good about this decision.

For my costume, I would strip off some gloves and an apron, and I would end the show in a corset, underwear, and fishnets, much like I do in most nightmares.

Instagram: @itskristinchirico

To my relief, Natasha let me know that I do not actually have to get naked. Burlesque dancers are actualIy very good at coming up with creative ways that you can strip clothes off your body without actually ending up naked. I didn't realize that a person could wear two bras at the same time until I saw some other girls perform later on.

We also wanted to make the corset really special-looking, and that meant sticking rhinestones on it until it could be seen from space.

Kristin Chirico/BuzzFeed

"Yay!" I said about hot-gluing rhinestones to my corset, because I had forgotten literally everything I ever learned about hot glue.

I asked the entire BuzzFeed L.A. office for suggestions on what my ~burlesque~ name should be, and they had simply incredible suggestions:

I ended up going with "Cherry Ontop" because it's a pun on my name and it can double as my Bond girl name if my life ever takes a really drastic left turn.

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Next, we choreographed the first half of my performance, which would be a ~sexy baking routine~ -- complete with a wooden spoon and bowl -- to go with my housewife persona.

Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

Also: Learning choreography is NO JOKE. I spent so much time trying to remember all my steps that I almost didn't have time to focus on how ridiculous I felt.

We also included many hair flips, which, uh:

Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

Natasha said that she could never imagine doing burlesque without having her hair out of a ponytail. "It makes you feel so free!" she said.

It actually made me feel like I was caught in an old sweater, but I kept trying.

The other thing about flipping your hair is that it basically turns your glasses into little projectile weapons.

Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

Natasha insisted that I find a way to strap my glasses to my head, which I didn't do...until basically three days before my performance. Whoops.

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In burlesque, you can't just remove your clothes — that's for normals. You go slow. You make the audience work for it. You use your teeth! And once an article of clothing comes off, it becomes a sexy prop that you can run all over your body.

Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

Eventually the idea was for me to make it look sexy, but slowly taking my clothes off just felt to me like I was screaming, "LOOK OUT, HERE COMES MY BODY!" like a very artistic emergency warning system.

I tried sensually removing my apron, but as it turns out, real aprons are not designed to be easily removed from your body, and I got tangled in the ties no fewer than 3 billion times.

Macey J. Foronda/Buzzfeed

I felt like a fish who just got caught in a net, plus I was a fish with opposable thumbs, so I really had no excuse.

To make matters worse: After this lesson, I would be going on vacation for a week, and I wouldn't have another lesson until the technical rehearsal -- where I'd need to be able to do the routine on my own.

To keep me from getting rusty while I was on vacay, Natasha recorded herself doing my routine and told me to watch the video every day. "I WILL DEFINITELY PRACTICE!" I said, lyingly.

When I got back, I did my first full practice of my performance on a stage without Natasha's help.

Here's a pretty good summary of how it went:

As it turns out, you can't go on vacation for a week without practicing and then just roll back in like you're the lord of the dance or even something more reasonable like assistant regional manager of the dance.

But here's the funny thing: You totally can't tell how much of a mess this was from the photos!

Like this photo, which was taken while I was desperately trying to escape from my apron prison.

Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

And this was after I forgot to bring up literally all my props to the stage with me. ALL TWO OF THEM.

Or this photo, from my second run-through (with PROPS this time!), when I suddenly realized that I had no idea how to bend over in a corset.

Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

In my defense, this is because I am a turd who doesn't practice.

Or these photos, from when I am internally screaming because I forgot my choreography and I'm thinking about maybe just walking off the stage and changing my name and leaving my life behind.

Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

I realized then why I don't like practicing things, and it's because practice is a reminder that you are not good at something yet, and sometimes it's painful to be faced with that, especially when there is good stuff on Netflix.

So even though I was messing up left and right, the photos provided a different perspective and were a gentle reminder that maybe I should lay off myself.

And that being ~*~*bad~*~* while practicing is never as bad as I think it is.

After the disaster that was my technical rehearsal, I was determined to not suck during my last lesson with Natasha, and I practiced my bejeweled butt off beforehand.

Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

This is my impression of a person who doesn't suck. I'm getting better at it!

And then I suddenly realized, oh, right! I was a theater major, but I stopped performing a long time ago. And in that moment, I felt more than a little bit of regret that I did.

Macey J. Foronda/BuzzFeed

When I was in college -- and had boundless energy and time -- I noticed pretty quickly that I wasn't going to be given opportunities to perform unless I made those opportunities myself. I spent a lot of time writing and acting in my own shows alongside all my friends who also couldn't get roles. But constantly having to fight to make sure you are heard takes a toll. And by the end of college, the message had been pretty firmly drilled into my head: Lady, no one wants to see you on a stage.

I wish I hadn't listened. I wish I had known what I know now, which is that sometimes people don't want to see or hear you for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

But I know that now, and that's a start.

Natasha told me -- aside from telling to me please for the love of god cut my apron ties shorter -- that I was ready. I tried very, very hard to believe her.

So, you're probably wondering how it all went.

The night didn't start out great. I lost my gloves twice, and I nearly died of anticipation beforehand.

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You know that moment when you can't get to the bathroom because the club you are performing in is too packed, so now there are 40 billion people watching you AND you have to pee? Yeah.

But I accepted that like it or not this is happening, so when they announced me and I walked up onstage, I just decided, right then and there: I am welcome here because I have decided that I am welcome here.

And the biggest surprise: The crowd was SO LOUD AND INTO IT. Like, disproportionately into it for how skilled I actually was, tbqh.

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I think this was because they announced that I was a rando from BuzzFeed who was attempting to perform burlesque after basically no lessons, and so expectations were probably not super high.

BUT WHATEVER I WILL TAKE IT!

And I managed to flip my hair without my glasses rocketing into someone's beer AND I escaped from my apron!

And while I don't know if I ever managed to feel sexy while performing, I did feel powerful, which is good enough to be starting with.

Natasha was so happy afterwards. "Kristin was able to do this after only FOUR LESSONS," she was bragging to everyone. I was so relieved that I completely forgot everyone had seen my underwear.

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Afterwards, I felt electric. I did it! And it was fun! Like, bounce house levels of fun! I literally experienced nothing but love and excitement from people -- for doing something so vulnerable, I felt strangely very safe!

And after all this, do I think I'd do it again? YUP. YUP YUP YUP.

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I'd do it again because it was fun. Because it was great exercise. Because it gave me perspective on all the amazing things my body can do. Because I got to learn that I have powers I never thought I did, and because I can enjoy doing things even if I am not an expert at them.

Because nobody should spend a decade being terrified to perform for some reason as trivial as "someone might not like it." Because that "someone" is usually a big whiny complainer who is mad for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

And also because rhinestones are totally boss.

For more Hells Belles Burlesque, check out their Instagram and their website!

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