23 May 2012, 12:59
Photo by Amanda Pratt.
My favourite childhood book was definitely The Witches. I dreamed of one day growing up to be The Grand High Witch, & how I would spend my days thinking of ways to squelch children. I wanted to wear a wig & gloves, & be able to use my own spit for ink!
“The eyes,” my grandmother said. “Look carefully at the eyes, because the eyes of a REAL WITCH are different from yours and mine. Look in the middle of each eye where there is normally a little black dot. If she is a witch, the black dot will keep changing colour, and you will see fire and you will see ice dancing right in the very centre of the coloured dot. It will send shivers running all over your skin.” (The Witches)
“Witch” is one of the most evocative words in the English language. Whenever we read it or hear it, some kind of image is immediately brought to mind — & it’s not necessarily very positive. When someone says it, you think of Fairuza Balk floating on her toes in The Craft... You think of striped stockings & The Wizard Of Oz.
But the place our mind goes & the truth about witches are often two entirely different things.
History lesson time! Before Christianity, people celebrated the seasons in their own way, with rituals & rites that they felt brought them luck. When Christianity started to spread, “pagan” became a blanket term for anyone who didn’t show an interest in organised religion. While people previously lived in harmony with people they called witches, believing them simply to be people who possessed magical powers, that began to change.
What had previously been a belief that some people possessed supernatural abilities (which were sometimes used to protect the people) now became a sign of a pact between the people with supernatural abilities and the devil. To justify the killings, Christianity and its proxy secular institutions deemed witchcraft as being associated to wild Satanic ritual parties in which there was much naked dancing, orgy sex, and cannibalistic infanticide. (Source)
Hysteria swept the world, & an estimated 40,000-60,000 people were burned at the stake. Witch-hunts still happen today in some parts of Africa, India, Papua New Guinea & Saudi Arabia. (Also, did you know there’s a lot of logic to support the idea that most of the Christian holidays we celebrate today were totally co-opted from the early Pagan festivals? More info here & here & here — thanks, Jennifer!)
So it’s sad but no huge surprise that even today, the word “witch” is still somewhat loaded.
All of this feels very far removed from what I understand of modern witchcraft, but that’s not something I feel I have the authority to talk about. Instead, I went straight to the source!
When I put out the call for witches to interview, I was thrilled when two women, Kristy & Grace, responded eagerly. Kristy has been practicing & investigating paganism for about a year, while Grace has been involved in it for as long as she can remember. I wanted to get their perspective on what they do, & think what they said was wonderfully illuminating. Their answers are also quite different! I think you’ll adore learning about their world.
Who are you & what do you do?
Kristy: My name is Kristy and on the weekends I moonlight as a masked vigilante dressed as a platypus. Now that you know my darkest secret, you should also know that I’m a 26 year old who moved from Buffalo, NY to Albuquerque, NM about 6 months ago. I’m still on the road to getting to know myself and discover my passions but in the meantime I work as an administrative assistant at the University of New Mexico because I like to eat. I recently adopted a corgi-chihuahua-basenji mix whom I named Basil because in my mind he’s British. I’ve recently discovered that sunshine and fresh air are good things, as everything in Albuquerque revolves around the outdoors. I’m learning to enjoy hiking with my boyfriend although the topic of camping is still up for debate. I absolutely love anything animated and I’m a solid gamer girl. I recently started a blog because like so many, I enjoy writing and wanted a place to archive of my thoughts and ideas. I am also Pagan.
Grace: My name is Grace Quantock and I am a wellness provocateur, writer and Soul Detox energy therapist. I practice the traditional Celtic ways of my Welsh/Irish family in the Welsh mountains where I live.
When, how & why did you convert to paganism? Did you have an epiphany moment or was it a conclusion you came to slowly, over time?
Kristy: I sat on this question forever, revisiting all my past experiences and trying to think of the best answer. I could probably write a dissertation cataloguing every detail on my encounters with different religions, my trip to Salem and how I finally got to where I am spiritually. It was a slow process but I think the fact that it was slow led me to the right place.
My parents were never particularly religious. I can’t recall anything religious associated with my dad although I think his family would call themselves Christians. My mom has a Jewish background and was always spiritual but I think she struggled with her own feelings of religion for many years before she made her own religious commitment to Judaism once more.
I became interested in Polytheism when I was very young. My parents took me to see Disney’s Hercules and while I can’t remember actually watching the film, I remember that being the catalyst and being very struck with the idea of multiple gods. I remember thinking, “If I was God, I’d be really lonely without others to hang out with”.
When I was in my teens I always felt as though I was searching for something to believe in. But I could never really make the commitment to a specific religion because I never felt fully comfortable. I had dabbled here and there but lost interest in it quickly, partially because I have the attention span of a goldfish. I also had a lot of questions that I could never seem to find answers to. The teenage years are the time when you’re fighting to be an adult and railing against it at the same time. Blind faith in an authority figure and being told how to practice, when to practice and who I should and shouldn’t love and accept just wasn’t sitting well with me so I went without.
Last year I met a co-worker who was pagan and so I attached myself to her underbelly like a baby monkey. It was the perfect opportunity to learn more about paganism and what it meant. It was a really inspirational and life changing. I started to get more information, meet people and take a class. It was then I decided that I wanted to be pagan.
Grace: It is what I was brought up with. I know nothing else. I am Welsh with Irish grandparents, we celebrate the traditional Celtic holidays. My mother always says that this is part of our heritage and that we cannot lose or break it. We are the result, the celebration and the hope for generations before us and for those who come after. Keeping the practices is a way of preserving our own living history and all they lived through for us.
There is a museum here with a recreated Celtic village in it (that I, as a school girl, helped to build). Every Gwyl Galan Gaeaf (Yule/Midwinter) my mother says, ‘Imagine 2000 years ago, we would all be living in the Celtic village and here we are celebrating the same rites on the same days’. We remember our history and the old magics. I pray as my ancestors prayed. We have a line, bent and scarred but unbroken, that traces back to when this land was new and we kept to our wisdom.
Magic is all around us, next to our skin, closer than our breath but we close our eyes to it. The Celts would have looked out of their roundhouses and seen the spirits in the trees and the Goddess flowing through the streams as clearly as they saw their fire pit or the trees themselves.
What would they think of us, all running around unseeing, with power that could move mountains just a fingers breadth from us? Or would they pity all we have lost and thrown away, the lands unseen but so real. In the Celtic traditions Annwyn, the Otherworld, the Summerlands where we go after death, is not in the sky, it is sometimes said to be in the sea between Wales and Ireland and sometimes to be all around us, just beyond the veil.
But there are special times and special places where the veil between the worlds is thin, and on these nights the old Gods walk again.
What does being pagan mean to you?
Kristy: Freedom and creativity! There is so much expression and creativity that it’s almost tangible. You can prepare your rituals in any way you want and it never has to be the same. It gives you a fantastic opportunity to use your imagination in celebratory way and when you’re in a group it gives everyone a chance to share their ideas and experiences. You can work as a team and come together to make this beautiful, exciting, magical outing.
Grace: It is connection, community, roots and living.
Connection to the Divine and the divine spark within my own soul.
Connection to the land I live in, the land I was born to.
Connection to community around me, family is a massively important part of my life.
Connection to the community of my coven.
Connection with compassion to the community of my country, the earth and it’s creatures. I have been veggie all my life and live vegan and ethically now.
Connection to the Divine, through prayer, through magic, through rites and celebrations, through kissing my husband, stroking our rescue dog… We honour the Divine in the mountains, in the heavens, in the wild and secret places, in the ocean, in a beautiful morning, in our own hearts.
How big a part does paganism play in your daily life?
Kristy: I don’t get the opportunity to do rituals or meditate as often as I like but I’m hoping when I move into a bigger place I will be able to create a space dedicated specifically to the practice so I can deepen my connections. I try to remember to say something to the Goddess every day so I can just check in and remain connected. I feel this is really important as it provides a deeper connection and I just don’t want to be buzzing in when I need something. On the days that are more stressful, I may need to create a shield or pull more energy from around me so I can make it through the day.
Grace: This is a difficult question as I don’t know any other way to live. I pray everyday, I speak to my guides, I plant by the moon, I plan my meetings and product launches taking into account astrological aspects, I read cards, take clients for Soul Detox sessions, I do readings, dowse daily, practice Reiki, pray in the garden. I lean on the Divine, I work to be of service to the world.
I think it is a big part of my life.
I pray that my faith deepens and that I may be guided, follow my path, be of service and live well.
Photo by Emily Soto.
Are you part of a community of like-minded people? Who do you turn to when you need advice or guidance?
Kristy: When I made the move to Albuquerque one of the first things I did was research local shops. Having access to resources such as supplies and books are so helpful. Sure, you can order the stuff online but I also like being able to go and explore. There is a fairly large and active community in the area which is fantastic but I haven’t felt confident or secure enough to join them. There are still a lot of things I want to learn and study on my own first and that’s simply because there are so many different ideals and paths you can explore that I want to get a better sense of what works for me so I don’t wind up “going with the flow” just to feel included.
Grace: I am very blessed to be part of a coven who support, advise, help and celebrate with us. I turn to my family and to my friend Callie Broussard Wheeler who is an Urban Minister with a doctorate in divinity, we often pray together and do moon rites long distance. Dyana Valentine is also a wonderful spiritual support and a well of deeper dreaming information.
Are you “openly” pagan? Why or why not?
Kristy: I wish I was more open about it. I had a co-worker that was openly pagan and open gay. She was the embodiment of the “Loud and Proud” mentality which is very inspirational and I am striving towards that. But she had her fair share of hardships with it. A co-worker once threw holy water at her and called her a witch. Unfortunately there are still many ideas about paganism that are just archaic. People hear “pagan” and just shut off their minds. They are uncomfortable with what they can’t understand. Even my boyfriend has a hard time with it. He’s a scientist and because he can’t understand the ideas or the practices, he’s uncomfortable. My dad and his side of the family don’t know and may never know. Much like being gay they wouldn’t be able to understand and would be too uncomfortable to try. My mom knows and she’s totally cool with it. She understands that spirituality is all about what feels right to you as an individual and she’s open minded enough to let me explore, let me believe and even share in some of it with me.
Grace: Yes… But I don’t call myself pagan very often. It would probably be the most easily recognised word associated with me, but when asked I tend to say I practice the traditional Celtic beliefs. Pagans don’t prothletise, or at least, none that I know, so I don’t tend to bring it up unless asked directly.
Why? My work involves magic and so it is not detrimental to that, my family support my beliefs and I have been blessed to build a community around me that celebrates such joy and connection.
Why not? Because I don’t feel the need for a label or a category. I’m not Alexandrian or Dianic, although I am trained to first degree.
My connection is more part of my identity than what that connection happens to be called.
What is the best thing about being pagan? What is the worst thing?
Kristy: I love the freedom that comes along with being pagan and the variety. As I learn more I can feel comfortable taking bits and pieces from others and using them how I want. I also really feel comforted by the idea of a Matron or Patron god or goddess and that you can have more than one, it’s very freeing and I don’t have to feel so completely tied down.
There are a lot of ridiculous misconceptions and people are judgmental. That can make it really difficult and that’s one of the reason I have to be really mindful of who I share my beliefs with.
Grace: The best thing is that it is my path to the Divine and that I have found it and can live it. The best thing is feeling the magic flow, the moon come down, the spell fly, the Lord and Lady move in your heart.
Are there any general misconceptions about your beliefs?
Kristy: There are an insane amount of misconceptions. A lot of people think we run naked into fields and slaughter small animals in order to cast dark spells on people who wronged us. And you know what? There may be groups that do that but their beliefs and practices don’t represent the whole. They may call themselves pagans but I would not. Obviously everyone practices a little differently and is taught differently, follow different gods, have different rules. But Harm None was the absolute law and one of the first things you learn. I’ve met several people, all with different ways of practicing and that law was universal. We don’t cast spells to bend anyone’s will (love spells) or use magic to harm any living thing. Casting a spell is no different from praying, it’s just a physical manifestation. It’s a way to draw power from the energies around and give your prayer more oomph!
Grace: Yes, but the more confident I get in expressing my beliefs the less negativity I receive. I have written about spirituality for everyone from generational witches to traditional Christians.
The Divine is the Divine, after a certain point the rest is just details.
What books or websites would you recommend to anyone interested in learning more about paganism?
Kristy: If you’re interested in paganism I want to first say that is fantastic and welcome! It’s an incredible experience and I hope you are able to find what you are seeking and if you find that it’s not for you then I hope that Goddess will illuminate your way to wherever you end up. I also want people to be aware that paganism is a path with many divergences. Most people hear pagan and they think wiccan but not all pagans are wiccans. I feel that being pagan is a much broader term and it incorporates many spiritual paths and Wicca is one of those paths that you may opt to take.
You also have to do what is right for you. You may find you this idea from this source and this idea from that source but not necessarily agree with every idea. Take what you want and make it your own. I took classes with a group that wanted me to purchase all sorts of tools in order to perform rituals. I didn’t really care for that idea and tools can get very expensive. Instead I started paying attention to how certain items made me feel and would use those instead. The central power is going to come from you and what you draw into yourself, not the tools you use.
With that being said, everyone needs to start somewhere. I absolutely recommend looking for shops in your area. I love having the chance to speak with someone and get a sense of what their ideas and practices are. See if they have classes that you can take, it’s a great opportunity to meet other people with the same interests and get all your questions answered.
Silver Ravenwolf is no doubt going to be a name you’ll hear at one point or another. She is a very well-known practitioner and many many people choose to follow her. She’s also the founder of The Black Forest Clan one of the largest and most well-known organizations in the pagan and wiccan community. They have clans all across the states and provide a very thorough training program for those interested in following. She is wiccan but her books are very informative and easy to read. They provide a lot of information that are useful to beginners regardless even if you aren’t following the path of Wicca.
Christopher Penczak was the very first recommendation I received when I was looking for information. He is the founder of The Temple of Witchcraft which is a series of training books and/or classes. I find Christopher Penczak’s work really interesting because he didn’t start exploring witchcraft until college and then he began to explore it as a science. He studied a lot of different forms and tried several different things. I think his work is a little broader than Silver Ravenwolf’s as he seems to draw from a lot of different concepts and sources such as the Qabalah and the Tree of Life. His lessons are broken down and easy to understand and it allows for you to move at your pace.
Grace: I would recommend that you connect to your own Divine spark through sitting and going within.
We are of the earth and we can return to it. You may live in a city, you may not think you can know this. We can all know this. Listen to the old songs and stories told around the fires, they are inside you. We just need to quiet ourselves and listen.
If you are connecting to the traditional aspects of paganism I have written of here then do connect to your own roots, or to where you are now building your own traditions. Please don’t lift other people’s cultural practices wholesale. I know they might look gorgeous but your own will be better as they will be yours. Unless you are Welsh/speak Welsh it makes no sense for you to pray in that language. For example many people lift Native American traditions when they are not Native American. I feel strongly about this. Don’t, they are living through genocide, don’t force cultural imperialism. Furthermore other people’s practices are just that, part of a practice. If you pick and choose you miss the safeguards and the deeper meanings. If you are really connected to eagles, then why go for the totem? Find if there are eagles near you, or if there is something from your own lineage which vibes.
Books which I would recommend are The Red Book: A Deliciously Unorthodox Approach to Igniting Your Divine Spark by Sera Beak and Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham.
Thank you so, so much to both Grace & Kristy for sharing their stories with us! I loved doing these interviews, & feel so inspired by hearing about their lives.
7 February 2012, 21:48
My interview with an escort last month caused a bit of an uproar. The majority of women were supportive of Alexis’ choice, while at the same time mentioning that she didn’t sound very happy. On the flip-side, some women were appalled. I received a few emails from people asking, “How is this radical self love?”, & I’d like to address that.
Radical self love is not just about ourselves & our own interests, passions or values. It is the OPPOSITE of selfishness. It is about supporting ALL women, no matter whether we agree with their lifestyles or not. Radical self love encourages us to EDUCATE ourselves about other peoples’ way of life, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. It is not about being judgmental, or writing people off because of the decisions they’ve made.
I got the wagging finger from a few people. I was accused of “glamorizing prostitution”, which is a bit of a stretch. An interview is not an endorsement. I think some of those people wanted me to put a big warning sticker on the article. I didn’t need to write a damning introduction or a reproachful conclusion, though — Alexis, in her own words, told us everything we needed to know.
I’m going to continue to address topics that may make you feel uncomfortable. If that drives you away, then so be it. It’s important to me that people are able to tell their stories, & I have a platform that allows me to help them do that, without slapping my morals all over the top. I’m going to continue down that road.
Sex work is part of life, & whether you like it or not, it’s never going to go away. All we can hope is that the people involved in the industry are healthy & happy.
With that being said… Here is Anneliese’s story about working at a non-profit during the day, & as a stripper at night!
Who are you & what do you do?
I am a full time writer for a non-profit organization by day, creating marketing and promotional materials, writing grants and reporting documents, cover letters, anything the organization might need. I am also a contract freelance writer in my spare time, mostly writing SEO content and press materials for local businesses, and then at night, I’m a stripper. I have a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in literature along with my teaching license for grades 7-12. I taught high school for four years before moving over to the world of non-profits.
I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have my night job now if I was still teaching, and I definitely make more per hour dancing than I ever did teaching! I sometimes wonder how shocked my students would be if they ever found out…
What does an average day look like for you?
On a day when I’m planning to work at the club, I try to get a little extra sleep the night before, so I’ll skip a shower to sleep in an extra hour, and make it to my office by 9 AM. I’ll work at my computer through lunch so I can leave early, about 4 PM, to go home and start getting ready to go be “Annaliese.”
I try to eat light on dance days, sticking to soups and drinking lots of water. When I get home I’ll use my juicer to make fresh green juice, usually with an apple and a combination of kale, spinach and parsley; this helps me feel like my immune system is nice and boosted before going to work and being in close contact with strangers. I’ll shower, shave, and set my hair in curlers, then try to relax for an hour or two by reading a book or watching a couple of episodes of 30 Rock on Netflix.
My boyfriend usually gets home about 7, and by then I’ll have started packing my bag with my outfits and snacks (almonds and raisins), and make sure I have enough cash on hand to pay my house fees and tip-out just in case I don’t earn any money (always a scary possibility). I’ll put on my makeup and tediously apply individual false lashes, then finally do my hair, which I’m not very good at, so really that just means taking it down and blow drying it.
I like to do everything at home so I’m not vying for space in the dressing room. I’ll try to leave no later than 8 PM so I can make the 30 minute drive to the club and pay the cheaper house fee that’s in place before 9 PM (house fees can be very expensive, more so the later you arrive).
Once at the club, I check in with the host at the front door, get changed in the dressing room, check in with the DJ so he puts me on stage rotation, and then survey the club. It’s usually slow going for the first two hours, but once it picks up I stay fairly busy talking to customers, selling dances, and going on stage. I try to only go in on weeknights because the club closes at 2 AM vs. 3:30 AM on Fridays and Saturdays (too late for me!).
Once the lights come on it’s time to change back into jeans, count my money, tip out the managers and the DJ, text my boyfriend to tell him I’m headed home, and then drive the 30 minutes back to our apartment to shower again (very necessary – customers love to try and lick me or kiss me, which is gross, plus stage dancing makes me very sweaty) and go to bed. The next day I’ll sleep in an extra few hours and start my office hours late, staying later in the evening to make up for it. Even with the extra sleep I’m always exhausted and sore after a dance night.
On a normal night, I simply come home, try to make it to the gym for an hour, play with my dogs, start dinner for my boyfriend and I, then cuddle with him on the couch while we watch episodes of Dr. Who till it’s time to curl up in bed with a book.
What motivated you to start stripping in the first place?
I’ve always been curious about sex workers – I think it’s the writer in me that wants to experience every type of life a person can live. That’s probably why I’ve had so many jobs and can’t stick to one field – then go home and take notes about everything I’ve done and everyone I’ve met.
The tipping point was when I realized it was going to take me years to pay off all of my debts – car, credit cards, some extra post-graduate classes in English that I took in preparation for a hypothetical future PhD in English program – and I wanted to hurry up and pay those off so I can have a positive net worth sooner rather than later. It was also motivating when I figured up that the amount of interest I’m going to have to pay is over $15,000 if I don’t pay everything off earlier than the initial time frame.
Also, my day job is great, but it is for a non-profit, not very lucrative, and doesn’t pay enough to cover bills and expenses, make debt payments, and save up money for a rainy day or emergency. Between freelance writing and stripping once or twice a week, I can make, at the very least, an extra $1000 a month, which means I make as much as my supervisors at the office, which is kind of a good feeling, and I smile to myself when I think about it!
I can’t wait until I am debt free, I have a mental picture of myself doing Julie Andrew twirls in an open, sunlit field on the day it’s all finally gone.
What’s it like to work as a stripper? Have you formed friendships with the other girls you work with?
Working as a stripper has been the best professional development I have ever experienced. I am naturally introverted, so it has forced me to learn to be more outgoing, fearless, and pushy in terms of business transactions, (not pushy in an obnoxious way, but I’ve learned that I am worth a lot and I shouldn’t ever accept less than what I know my time is worth – in any facet of life).
I’m also becoming an excellent sales person, which I never thought possible, because I am so shy. It helps that I’m naturally diplomatic and a people pleaser, because some customers will be rude, or try to tell you that they paid you already when they didn’t, or other difficult scenarios that have to be dealt with, preferably without making a scene.
One of my biggest fears going into stripping was the rumors that strippers are mean and catty. I’m sure plenty of them are, but the ones I’ve interacted with have been sweet and polite. The girls who seem like they may be mean I just avoid. I haven’t been doing it long enough to make solid friendships, but I was already friends with a stripper who gave me the run down on how to get hired and what to expect – but she’s at a different club so I don’t get to work with her. When I started I just tried to keep to myself and be polite to everyone without asking for help (too often) or getting in anyone’s way. The girls who are nice started coming up to me and making conversation, and getting to know them has made working so much more enjoyable. Most of them are much younger than me (I’m 28) so I don’t pursue friendships outside the club, simply because we are at such different places I our lives.
But, it always makes me feel good when they guess my age around 23. My mother always told me, at 14 when I looked 12, that I’d appreciate looking younger when I got older. She was right, as usual. I tell all my customers that I’m 24 and working on a master’s degree, and no one’s ever questioned it – but they do insist on weeding out my “real name.” Good luck, guys.
What’s the best thing about what you do for work? What’s the worst thing?
The best thing about my day job is getting to raise money and support for charity. The worst thing is that a lot of the writing I have to do is repetitive, and I don’t really like being holed up in a cubicle all day. The best thing about freelance writing is getting to do lots of fun assignments about local businesses, events, and note worthy people. The worst thing is trying to keep my deadlines when I get overwhelmed with office work and need a break – breaks are rare when you have three jobs.
The best thing about stripping is the money, and being told I’m beautiful about fifty times a night, it never gets old. I had an awkward stage that lasted from about age 11 to 23 – I have always felt dorky and weird. I had to learn to tell myself that I am gorgeous just as I am, and that the healthier I am and the better I take care of myself, the longer I’ll stay gorgeous. Sometimes I still can’t believe, when I see my reflection, for example, in the glass doors of a grocery store, and I’m wearing baggy jeans and Sperry’s, that people pay money to get to spend time with me in a nylon bikini.
I’ve always been body insecure until the recent years of my late twenties, I’m not sure how my insecurities evaporated, but they did, with lots of self-pep-talks and positive programming, and now I don’t feel worried at all when I’m half naked in front of strangers. It’s incredibly liberating; I literally throw off any body self-doubt or care when my top gets flung across the stage during my second song.
I’ve also noticed that my insecurities in public in general have slowly been evaporating. For example – I don’t feel weird sitting alone at restaurants anymore, or anything that used to make me feel socially inept – it’s amazing to live without fear. I still get nervous, especially in the club when I have to approach strangers, I’m not sure that will ever go away, but getting older, thanks to stripping or not, has brought about a confidence in myself and a contentment that I wish I could go back in time and instill in my teenage self. This feeling makes growing older wonderful.
But there is a negative to stripping – since you asked – gross men groping me! A lot of the guys in strip clubs who actually spend money on dances are not men you’d willingly want to be close to, but you have to get over it. They get erections you can feel through their pants, they try to stick fingers places that they shouldn’t, they slobber on your neck… it can be really vile and you have to deal with it. You can either tell them to get a dance with someone else, or you can try to pin their hands down and put up with it to get their money. Sometimes they are really terrible and you have to get a manager, because it starts to encroach on assault. Other times you have customers who keep their hands to their sides, are engaging in conversation, tip well, and are fantastic. But for every charmer, there’s a groper, and knowing your own boundaries is the only way to get through it.
You mentioned that you keep your late-night life & your day-time life separate — why is that?
I’m not sure if I could get fired from my full time job for my part-time job, but I don’t want to find out. I’ve also learned that it’s surprising who holds stigmas about strippers/sex workers in general. I’ve told some friends and they don’t care, or they think it’s cool to have a “stripper friend.” Others, though, had odd reactions that involved bugged out eyes and questions about my motives, drugs, if anything was going on with me, etc. I learned it was best not to discuss it with them any further. I’m also not sure how my family would take it. I think they should be proud that I’m taking control of my finances and working to secure independence and financial security, but they may not see it that way.
Are there any major misconceptions about your job or industry?
There are lots of stigmas and stereotypes, but the three biggest that I’ve had to deal with are that I’m on drugs, that I want your boyfriend, and that I’m irresponsible.
The drugs one amuses me, because I’ve never done drugs, and I’m far too much of a purist to ever try them. I’ve never even had a cigarette, and I hate the smoke in the club. Yet somehow, stripping = coke user and/or pot head.
The second stigma is that I, or any stripper, truly are hitting on a boyfriend or husband and want to sleep with him. Stripping is about acting, and hustling, and trying to sell a dance and get tips. Most of the girls I work with are in relationships or married. After a guy pays me, other than having respect for him as a human being, I’m finished and ready to move on, no second glance back. I appreciate guys who make genuinely interesting conversation, but my girlfriends do that too, as does my boyfriend.
I used to get jealous at the thought of my boyfriend getting dances from strippers at clubs because I didn’t like that he was aroused by it, not because I thought the stripper’s ploys or intense stares meant anything. But, nature is nature, and lots of men are aroused by all women, not just their significant other. As long as a man isn’t actually cheating, touching, or trying to meet other girls in social settings, there is no real cause for concern.
The final stigma, that stripping is equal to being irresponsible, is almost laughable. It’s a job, and you have to show up on time, prepared, and keep track of all of your earnings, what you will owe, and how much you need to save for taxes. Plus, if you’re like lots of girls, you’re doing it on top of other jobs, school, or supporting a family. The image of a stripper is that of a party girl, but that’s the image that’s necessary to make a sale. Everything is acting, at least for the majority of the girls. Back in the dressing room, most girls look tired. It’s “game face” when you go out on the floor.
Other common stigmas involve having daddy issues, (I have a great relationship with my parents), that strippers are stupid, (there are people with a lack of intelligence in every profession, sex or being sexy does not negate a brain), and that strippers have no moral compass. No moral compass, to me, is trying to be everyone else’s moral compass. The only thing we should strive to be is compassionate, and too many people miss that mark, especially when judging sex workers.
What motivates you to keep going?
Paying off that debt, baby! And building up a solid little savings account. Also, this is cheesy, but I love the outfits and the shoes. The work is hard, and I’m not always crazy about going in to the club, but getting made up and cute is always fun; plus, high heels make everyone look good.
What are you most passionate about?
Writing – all I want to do is publish a novel and quit working for other people. Right now I’m so busy working for other people that I only work on my current novel about once a week. I’m hoping I can eventually save enough that I can take a hiatus from working and finish this book.
If I wanted to ice that cake, I’d get my PhD and teach literature. I love books and I loved teaching high school English, but I hated the hours – stuck in a classroom all day with no room to breathe – and I wasn’t too fond of the parents who all seemed to think their child deserved an “A” for existing. I often think about renewing my teaching license, I should probably research if my current employment will show up on a background check. I don’t think it should matter, but it seems my opinion on that is in the minority.
I also love cooking and working to keep myself and my boyfriend healthy – My New Roots and Bonzai Aphrodite are two of my internet food heroes. Cancer runs in my family, so I’m an extreme health nut, and pole dancing has been a fantastic way to stay in shape and build muscle.
Where would you like to be in 5 years?
In five years I’d like to be married to my sweet heart – he is the most wonderful boyfriend I could imagine – he’s not always very good at being romantic, but there’s nothing we can’t communicate about, and he brought flowers home for me yesterday just because, so he has his sweet moments, and we always, always have fun together. He also takes care of me, so I try to do the same for him, even if he doesn’t always like all the vegetables I make him eat!
In five years I’d like to have all of my debts paid off and no new ones incurred. I’d like to have my first book either published or at least finished and in the works of being shopped to editors and agents. I’d like the topic of kids to be on the table (I’ll be 33 then), hopefully in our own house with a yard for the dog, and I if I get my way, we’ll add a potbelly pig and a Chihuahua to our menagerie. Thirty-three also seems like a good time to finally get that PhD if I don’t already have it – no debts will make it much easier to quit working so I can go back to school full time.
No matter what happens – married, single, book published or not, I’m counting on it being fantastic, because I know it will be.
30 January 2012, 09:52
Have you ever considered sex work? Alexis (not her real name!) — like many of us — came of age at the peak of the sex-workers-as-bloggers phenomenon. She didn’t just read with idle interest, however; when she met a friend who had recently started working as an escort, she decided to give it a go herself.
I interviewed her via email, & think her responses are fascinating. Have a read!
Who are you & what do you do?
I am a twenty-two year old English undergraduate student moonlighting as an escort. By day, I’m a backpack-lugging, Doc-Martens-wearing slob, indistinguishable from the hordes of like-minded peers on campus. By night, I am dressed up and seasoned like somebody’s very expensive meal.
How long have you been working as an escort?
I officially started a month ago––right after Christmas––though it feels a lot longer.
How did you begin doing this kind of work, & what drove you to begin?
I’ve been interested in this kind of sex work for years. As a teenager, I was fascinated by sex––well, at that age, who isn’t––but it wasn’t the carnal, sensation-driven frenzies I was curious about, but the psychological and social mechanics behind it. Why would somebody want to sleep with this particular ideal? What kind of images does one need to project in order to get the other person off? I wasn’t interested in sensation at all; I didn’t enjoy the actual act of sex for years. It all seemed incredibly barbaric and primal to me, though I now appreciate that aspect of it.
This curiosity grew as the wave of erudite sex-workers hit the blogosphere, right when I was about sixteen. There were many, but most memorable to me were Belle from Belle de Jour (now revealed as Brooke Magnanti) and Alexa from NY Hotties (sadly disappeared). I also read the Nancy Chan column on Salon.com (written by Tracy Quan). Prior to discovering these blogs I didn’t have any perceived notions of what escort work is like; I’d brushed off the sex trafficking shown in films as blown out of proportion, though I’m obviously aware now that those are very serious issues. I may have been naive, but I’m almost glad that I was. It gave me an open mind about this kind of work.
Years went by; I moved out to a new country for university, lived alone, had complete freedom from both family and friends. I had a lot of casual sex, though I was never paid for it. It was a serious education in both sex itself and learning about the utter disposability of having multiple partners. I learned that I didn’t matter as much to people as I thought, and that I shouldn’t be obligated to allow people to matter to me. An armour was built, so to speak.
What eventually cinched my decision to email the agency I’m with now was finding a friend who is just as fascinated by this kind of work as I am––throughout the years I’d never kept my interest hidden from friends, though it was always met with incredulity, even disdain. She had a few stripper friends in the city, who pointed her in the direction of a woman-run agency. She started first and her enthusiasm drove me to finally see it for myself.
Are you open about being an escort? Why or why not?
I am open with two friends: the one who also works at the agency, and another friend who isn’t in the industry but has proven to be a stable source of support throughout the years.
Being closed about my job is a choice, not a necessity. The friends who don’t know I’m certain will accept it; they are creative and liberal in their views. The decision to keep mum has more to do with sustaining this duality––keeping my job and life separate. I’m not a big fan of talking about the people I meet or the the things I do with them; it feels like a violation of what they’ve been promised in the exchange, which is discretion.
Did you come from a religious background? How do you think your family would react if they knew?
I’m totally non-religious. My father, bless his argyle socks, put a lot of emphasis on education. If it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be such a skeptic. He taught me to question everything––including authority, which has led me to become a lot more independent, which is a huge part of why sex work appeals to me. My mother was raised Catholic and doesn’t quite get my disdain for blind faith, but she is a lovely woman; she supports me in my desire to write for a living, along with almost all the other bad decisions I’ve made. My stepfather is a champ. He’s made quite a name for himself in computer engineering, politics, investment banking, you name it––and probably the one family member I’m the most honest with. He inspires me.
All that said, I would never tell them, for mainly the same reasons I don’t tell my friends. Keeping work and life separate, and all that. Also it’s one thing to have a peer know that I take money for sex, and another for a parent––who’s cleaned the poo off my bum, seen me twirl round in a tiny tutu, and read the birthday cards written in a child’s wobbly cursive––to know.
What does an “average” day look like for you?
It’s Wednesday. I get up and go to school. I’m in my last year of university and I do have at least two hours of class every day of the week except Friday. I annoy fellow subway-riders with my bag, swinging with the combined weight of laptop and novels. I shuffle into the lecture halls, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible if I’m late. My professor waxes lyrical about Pablo Neruda. I giggle at the irony of my romantic education, standing in such sharp contrast to my work.
I go home. My shifts begin at six and end at twelve; this means the earliest possible appointment can start at six and the latest start at twelve. That is why most nights I don’t get home until one or two, depending on where the client lives and what he likes. I like working the nights I have school; this de-clutters my weekend plans. The client tonight proposes dinner at seven, which means I am picked up by the agency’s driver at six thirty. I’m in a clingy grey wool maxi-skirt, black tank top, and leather jacket. With most clients you are allowed to dress the way you like, which is great; the agency encourages this in order for us to feel as comfortable in our own skin as possible, thus supposedly providing a better experience. Obviously this excludes anything unflattering to the silhouette or too casual; there are girls who’ve been forced to change because they’re wearing jeans, even if they’re skintight and designer. I’m just happy I get to wear my own clothes.
I get to the client’s apartment, kiss him hello, excuse myself to the loo, surreptitiously pick up the envelope full of cash on the hallway table. I call the driver, which allows him to know that I’m a) safe and b) done exactly five hours after we hang up, so he knows when to call back.
We go out to dinner. Despite my insistence on the separation of work and play, the woman I am now is not too different from the woman I am in any other context––I’m still twenty two, still a student, still adore sushi, which is why he takes me to the Japanese restaurant rather than the Italian. It’s easy to have conversation, laugh, joke, even seriously discuss politics and religion––though that is not encouraged with clients you don’t know in fear of offending them. Let them talk; get to know them first. They will ask about you, in which I give half-honest answers. I lie about specifics, like location. I’m truthful about opinions. We don’t touch each other in public. To everyone else, it probably looks like he’s catching up with the daughter of an old friend.
In his apartment we have a glass of wine. I let clients initiate the first touch––most of them like to know they’re in control of this experience, and I’m petite enough to play submissive convincingly. Most of them enjoy simple pleasures––a naked woman, an attractive one, is often enough. Those who are kinky will say so––I’ve peed on clients, whipped them, been slapped and choked by phalluses of both fleshy and plastic construct, but they have always asked me first. In this context, one has to be vocal about his wants as it’s a matter of consent. There’s not much mind-reading to do.
We shower after, separately. We lounge around on the bed, discussing his work week. This is usually an introduction to a stress-induced knot on his back, his shoulders. I straddle him and pummel those spots in an attempt at massage, though his soft snoring indicates satisfaction.
The driver calls at exactly 12:03am. We kiss goodbye; I promise to let him pick the restaurant next week.
What’s the best thing about the work you do? What’s the worst thing?
Best thing? Instant gratification. This includes the pay, which is given in cash; it includes the compliments, which are lavishly given without question as these men are old-school gentlemen; it includes the sex, which is conducted without the awkward conversation or attachment or emotional baggage.
Worst thing? The juggling. Moonlighting is exhausting in any context and both this work and my education require a decent amount of mental stimulation.
Is there much of a community around working as an escort? Have you formed friendships with other women at your agency? Who do you look to for guidance or help?
It depends. The agency I work with doesn’t allow much room for a community––occasionally I’ll meet the other girls in the car if they’re being driven to a similar area at a similar time, and we’ll exchange hello’s and useful information about clients, but that’s it. The older ones aren’t interested in establishing friendships with a younger girl like me. Those in my peer group are more competitive, hence they’re a little more standoffish. There are agencies that will have the girls meet at a house and they’re sent on out-calls depending on who’s present at the time; those places are probably tighter-knit.
The agency I’m with is run by a woman who’s been in the industry for more than a decade. She’s lovely and unpretentious, and I felt comfortable with her right away. She’s been really helpful in terms of security and dealing with the duality of work and life. (“I’m a soccer mom, not a pimp!” she’s exclaimed to me more than once.) She is open about her life and experiences, so I’m open with her in return. The girl I’m friends with who introduced me to the agency has also been helpful in terms of the clients themselves––she’s had more experience with certain kinks, such as dominating. Other than that, I’m pretty much an island; it’s the way I want this phase of my life to be.
What are your relationships like with the men you see? Are they ongoing or once-off situations?
All of them are ongoing, which makes for a much better relationship. Getting to know a client is just like getting to know anybody else––a potential friend or lover, and in this case both. They range from their thirties to mid-fifties, and are all very successful at what they do, though not always socially adept.
For every single one of them I’m a vacation. They’re all world-weary to a certain degree, which makes sense as they are seeing an escort––it’s either jadedness, or disappointment with themselves, or dissatisfaction with other women that drives them to the agency. With me they are open-faced sandwiches, though I’m almost positive they are bound like clams to everyone else in their lives. None of them are currently married; a couple are divorced. There are hardly ever any awkward silences––if they’re quiet at first, I will either babble on or ask a question that I know they’d have an opinion on. It’s a little like being a therapist, or being a priest at confession, and they’re aware of this aspect, hence why it isn’t hard to get them to open up. They want to get all that they can out of the experience.
How often do you feel attracted to the men you’re seeing? Does that affect the quality of your work?
I’m never attracted. I make sure of it––it’d be unprofessional otherwise. The sex is good for them because I’m aware than it’s a job, hence a certain amount of diligence goes into it. If they were men I’d normally want to have sex with, it’d become selfish.
Also, like any other girl, I become a bit of a tongue-tied idiot around an attractive man. So it’s definitely a good thing that these men don’t fall into my usual bracket.
Have you established many boundaries around what you are & are not comfortable doing?
As sexual kinks go I am fairly open-minded––I’ve dominated, been dominated. Bodily fluids are not a problem to me outside of the scatological, though I would probably do number two on somebody if the price was right. (Standards!) I do draw the line at anything that would leave a mark, which includes heavier torture (no burns, bruises or whip-marks). I am fine with kissing and having orgasms, however. I’m in this to enjoy myself somewhat, no?
A lot of them offer drugs. I’m okay with alcohol––nobody else I know is going to opt for the three-hundred-dollar scotch, a definite perk of my job––but cocaine, ecstasy or marijuana I will say no to. Some girls at the agency do say yes, and their answers range from boredom, to a need for distraction (so he was that awful), to a means of transcending the experience (some people are better partners when inhibited). For me personally, I need a clear head.
If a client asks to forgo the condom, I leave. Simple as that.
Who sets those guidelines — you or an agency?
I do. The agency is concerned with safe sex, but I feel that should be a concern of everyone involved, most of all the client. The agency is quite relaxed as to what we do with our time with the clients––they were the ones who interviewed us and trust to have the skills, which is something I appreciate.
What are the misconceptions about the work you do?
That I’m a victim of sexual assault; that I’m a junkie; that I’m really, really good in bed. I am none of those things. I got into this job because of a curiosity––a curiosity that some might find strange, even morbid, but if there was ever a wholesome motive to get into this profession it would be this. I am not looking for validation in regards to my self-esteem.
Regarding drugs: I don’t. I’ve seen too many friends lose their heads to get into it myself.
Regarding being good in bed: there’s a favourite quotation by Martha Gelhorn, famous partner of Hemingway.
“If I practised sex, out of moral conviction, that was one thing; but to enjoy it seemed a defeat. I accompanied men and was accompanied in action, in the extrovert part of life; I plunged into that but not sex; that seemed to be their delight and all I got was a pleasure of being wanted, I suppose, and the tenderness (not nearly enough) that a man gives when he is satisfied. I daresay I was the worst bed partner in five continents.”
Similar principles. In some ways I am still the same teenager fascinated by sex and the idea of being wanted––not loved, or even liked. There’s an extreme objectivity in what I do; a need to be a blank enough (not entirely blank) slate for men to express themselves, to relieve themselves, to enjoy. That does not always mean my enjoyment. But to be able to provide what I do in such morally questionable contexts all the while keeping my own personality and life separate from it––this is a privilege, to me. I am not the queen of blow-jobs, nor a woman kept afloat by double-Ds. It’s a cliché for the prostitute to use “listening” as a euphemism for her job, but it couldn’t be more true.
How do you ensure your safety while working? (Condoms, phonecalls, etc.)
Like I said, I always stay relatively sober and have zero toleration for things I do not want done to me. To be handily within reach of a naked pair of testicles takes care of the safety aspect for the most part. I’ve been quite lucky––all my clients are extremely respectful, and the prices of the agency rule out sketchy characters.
My driver did tell me once he carries around a gun. Being simultaneously scared and relieved is a very funny feeling.
Do you have a partner or significant other? If so, how does your work fit in around that? If not, are you interested in dating? Do you have a contingency plan for when this happens?
My boyfriend doesn’t know. He does know about my interest in it––that I’ve never hidden from him; the books and articles remain littered in the apartment we share. But he doesn’t know I’ve actually gone and done it.
This is the biggest issue I’m having personally with the job. Well. I say it’s a job, but there’s no getting around the fact that I am sharing my body––a sacred thing to some in a committed relationship––with other men. There are clients who have referred to our sessions as making love; an assumption they’re free to make, of course, but definitely not one I agree with (though I’d never disagree to their face). There are still tokens of affection exchanged. There’s still another penis going into my vagina. My boyfriend would definitely have a problem with it, which is something I completely understand.
Hiding it from him involves a fair amount of sneaking around. I do have another job, one that I’ve been using as an excuse for leaving the house. It’s part of the reason why I don’t allow clients to leave marks. It’s difficult to explain the phone calls, which is why I rely mainly on text messaging in arranging my work schedule with my manager. Is the guilt an aphrodisiac? No. I despise it. However it has made me a much better girlfriend, as perverse as this sounds. I’m more attuned to my boyfriend’s needs, and am much more selfless, partly due to the guilt, partly due to the similar role I play in my job.
It’s a matter of how long I plan on doing this. It’s only been a month, and if I decide to continue after graduation, I’ll tell him. We still use condoms so he’s not exposed to anything, which is something I make sure of. Do I feel like a shit? Yes. Enough to do something about it right now? No. Perhaps I’m morally decrepit, but I agreed to a relationship, not a lease on my body. Some may argue that this logic means I should break it off. I don’t disagree. If it ever came down to one or the other, I’d choose my partner. Easily.
Is working as an escort helping you to achieve an ultimate goal — like for example, saving a certain amount of money? Or do you stay on because you’re interested & enjoying the work?
I’d say the latter. I’m not in need of cash, though it’s certainly an advantage. I am saving the money, though I’m not sure towards what exactly––though as a soon-to-be graduate, I’m sure I’ll make use of it soon.
Regarding the money: this is something my manager (the woman who runs the agency) and I have discussed at length. It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending it just as quickly as you’ve earned it, as you are paid in cash. But save it. Use it for something useful. There aren’t any other jobs that provide this kind of payment for this kind of work, and if one was to waste it entirely on shoes, it’d make the experience such a waste of time. (Obviously the occasional splurge is necessary, though. You do want to remind yourself why you do this on a deliciously shallow level every once in a while.)
What would you say to your best friend if she expressed interest in getting into sex work?
It depends on the friend. I don’t know many people personally who’d be able to do this. You need a talent for compartmentalising your entire brain, let alone just the emotions––the multitasking, the keeping track of different clients’ likes and dislikes, the various personas you may have depending on who you’re with. An active imagination is useful, both for the conversation and sex. Tact and sympathy for the men who are insecure in some way and are wanting validation. Confidence is definitely key; this is not a job that would improve self-esteem, so you’d need ample amounts of that going in. Despite the relationship you may establish with regulars, in the end you are being paid to be there––you are disposable.
Then again, it’s the kind of profession you really need to experience in order to fully grasp. I could ramble on and on, but my words would mean nothing compared to actually doing it; much like post-secondary education. Go forth and spread those legs if you feel so inclined, and have fun! You’re getting paid to do something that most people in the world are gagging for.
Do you think you’ll do this for a long time?
No. I don’t need this job. I’m fairly good at it, but there are other things I’m good at that I enjoy so much more. I’m a writer, and would like to actually do that for a living someday. The curiosity I had will soon run out, and I’ll likely tire of the men eventually, as they will tire of me. When I’m done I’ll be done for good.
It’ll be a nice memory to have. Remember that Sex and the City episode when Sam got naked portraits of herself done? This is a more lucrative version of it.
How do you feel reading Alexis’ story? Would you ever consider sex work? Have you experimented with it in the past? Let us know what you think!
Love & false lashes,
5 April 2011, 11:46
What really goes on in the world of beauty pageantry? Backstage, surrounded by miles of hair extensions, industrial-sized cans of hairspray & gallons of butt glue, who are these girls & why do they do what they do?
While it would be easy to make assumptions about these women based on external appearances — big shiny teeth, massive hair, & the quest for a crown — isn’t it anti-feminist to judge women for pursuing their dreams? While not all of us go to sleep dreaming of a sash & a bouquet of flowers, that doesn’t make someone else’s goals any less real.
“My idea of feminism is self-determination, & it’s very open-ended: every woman has the right to become herself, & do whatever she needs to do.” (Ani DiFranco)
Plus, I always had a sneaking suspicion that there must be more to pageantry than vaseline on the gnashers & an airbrush tan. I like to think there is always more going on under the surface of any given situation.
When I put out the call for pageant participants on Twitter & Facebook, I could not have possibly dreamed that I would hear from Miss New Mexico USA!
Brittany Toll is a radical self love warrior, multiple title winner (Miss New Mexico USA, Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2005 & was a top 10 finalist at Miss Teen USA), & she is participating in Miss USA in June! (I will be glued to NBC, cheering her on!) Hailing from New Mexico, Brittany works as a pre-kindergarten teacher through Teach For America, & is an avid blogger over at Happy Brittany. Her blog is wonderful, & a perfect reflection of who she is: caring, optimistic & upbeat.
I was so excited to interview her & get the inside scoop on what it really means to be a “beauty queen”. I think you’ll find her just as thoughtful, articulate & charming as I did — yes, she definitely has my vote for Miss USA!
First of all, tell us who you are & what you do.
I’m Brittany Toll, and I am the current Miss New Mexico USA and a pre-kindergarten teacher in Gallup, NM with the non-profit organization Teach For America. I am also the former Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2005 and top 10 finalist at the 2005 Miss Teen USA pageant. I’m also a blogger!
When did you first get into pageantry & what motivated you to begin?
I first got involved when I was in high school. It all started when our choir’s sign language choreographer approached me and suggested I compete for Miss New Mexico Teen USA. Growing up my family had never watched pageants. The entire world of pageantry was very new to me. I figured I would give it a shot.
I began my preparations and in a few short months I was ready to compete, and then what would you know I was crowned Miss New Mexico Teen USA 2005.
While holding the title I began to understand what I could actually do with it. As I prepared for the 2005 Miss Teen USA pageant, I also devoted myself entirely to my state. I traveled all across New Mexico speaking at events and contributing my efforts towards making an impact. I was humbled by the people I met and the relationships I formed. I couldn’t believe that an 18-year-old could make such an impact, even in the smallest ways. I learned so much about myself and about the world around me. I was truly inspired by the many experiences I had.
When I gave up my title and crowned the next Miss New Mexico Teen USA, I knew that this could not be the end. After the incredible experiences being a teen brought, I wanted to seize the opportunity to further represent the state and make a positive change. Thus I began my preparations towards becoming Miss New Mexico USA.
Do you have a trainer or coach who helps you get ready for pageants?
Well, I have a wonderful fitness trainer (who’s amazingly positive and motivational!) who is helping me tone my body and increase my strength.
In addition to that, I believe the best advice comes from people who have had similar experiences. I have been picking the brains of former Miss New Mexico USAs and former Miss USAs. These women know so much, and I’ve gained so much insight from what they share with me about their experiences as titleholders. I can use their knowledge to refine and compose my preparations while still keeping the elements of myself that make me unique and different.
What kind of preparation do you go through in the lead-up to a pageant? Do you eat or exercise in a specific way? Do you have a wacky spray-tanning routine?
Oh my gosh! There are so many things to do in order to prepare for a national competition, even when preparing for the state competition I prepared in a manner that would fortify me for Miss USA (the ultimate goal, so it made sense!).
Preparations vary from girl to girl, but what I really work on most is my mentality. I have been reading countless books on a variety of subjects. Mental conditioning and positivity is what fuels my preparations and motivation most. I’ve also been reading texts and news magazines about politics, government, and world issues.
In addition to being a book-worm I watch lots of YouTube make-up tutorial videos and spend hours perfecting my runway walk. I’m also putting together a fashionable and glamorous wardrobe for the entire two-week period that I will be in Las Vegas for the Miss USA pageant. There is so much more that goes into preparing for a pageant, but I know we don’t have all day….
Since I am a cardio-addict and a vegetarian I am constantly trying to fill my body with lean and healthy protein. I also have the biggest sweet tooth on Earth, (I dare anyone to challenge me to this statement) so I have to practice self-control on a minute-by-minute basis. In addition, I mentioned that I have a physical trainer who helps guide me through the appropriate muscle training exercises. Ultimately, when I step on stage in my teeny bikini I want my body to represent a natural, health conscious, and self-loving woman.
As for spray tanning, oh boy… I have had too many ill-resulted situations with that endeavor, so I stick with slathering an equal combination of self-tanning lotion combined and regular lotion. Self-tanning lotion on it’s own is too dramatic for me, that’s why I prefer to mix it with a basic lotion. I have a natural olive tone so I just want a slight kiss of tan. It’s a tricky situation because once you are on stage and the lights are beating down on you, your color washes away faster than Justin Bieber’s newly released single reaching the #1 position on iTunes.
How tricky is it to pick the right swimsuit & gown? Do most contestants have them custom-made? Do you have three million fittings?!
I’ve always been the type of girl who doesn’t stress about these things, especially the gown. Fortunately my swimsuit was provided for me for Miss New Mexico USA and will also be provided for me at Miss USA.
As for the gown it’s all about the neck up. Yes, you must pick a gown that flatters you and makes you feel powerful, graceful and beautiful, but you must also recognize that the judges are not choosing the gown to be the next Miss USA (they did that once, and she fell flat bu dom bum, ch!).
The dress I wore for the Miss New Mexico USA pageant I had picked out less than a week before the actual competition. In fact, it even cost me less than the new set of tires I had installed on my CR-V that same weekend!
For Miss USA the stakes are a little higher so yes, my dress is being custom made and from my understanding a lot of girls choose to have theirs custom made as well. When I won Miss New Mexico USA I already had the vision in my mind of what my dress would be for Miss USA. I am really excited about my gown because it’s very original, gorgeous and truly reflective of my personality and style. Oh, and to give it even more meaning I had my students choose what color it would be! I can’t even articulate how excited they were to have been a part of my preparations in such a significant way.
Once the dress is complete I’ll have a couple of fittings and while I’m at the Miss USA competition stylists are on hand for any additional tweaks and adjustments that may be needed.
When I was researching pageants, I found websites which sell booklets of sample interview questions, & was totally fascinated! Do most contestants use these?
Oh yes these are very helpful! It’s just good to open your mind to new thoughts and take the time to reflect on your opinions and beliefs and how you would react to certain situations. I think these booklets are helpful for anyone in any situation, not just pageant girls.
To prepare for Miss New Mexico USA I recorded over 200 questions onto my iPod, and I would answer them by myself in my car while driving long distances. It was so helpful, and I learned to control my tone and pace as well. Wonder what the family in the station wagon thought as they passed me while I was engaged in an intense conversation with my steering wheel…
Other than butt glue, are there any other secret tricks of the trade that you would be willing to give away?
Ah, butt glue is magic, although not so fun when your toosh is sticking to your flirty floral skirt three days later. Truthfully, that’s the only trick I know. I would just say it’s always a good idea to have safety pins and double-stick tape on hand at all times.
Oh, and I once heard of a girl who put black electrical tape around the base of her shoe so that it blended in with the stage since they were extreme platform heels. Clever!
Is the world of pageantry as wild & dramatic as people think? Do girls really cut up each others’ dresses & all that stuff?!
I’m happy to report that from my experiences in the Miss Universe Organization it is not like that at all. Most of the girls who I have met and competed with were there for the same reasons as I was. They believed that they were qualified and enthusiastic about being a role model and positively impacting and empowering others.
I have heard of a few events that have happened to others (never to me) but most seem to be petty and silly and typically a girl with that type of attitude never wins.
Is there an official stance on cosmetic surgery or enhancement? How do you view it? How common is it for contestants to have work done? Do you think it increases the chances of winning?
There is no official stance on this within the Miss Universe Organization. I personally prefer the more natural look, which is why I have not had any cosmetic surgery done. I have known many women who have gone under a knife and have very much enjoyed the results; on the reverse I have also seen the opposite.
I think it depends on the girl and her judgment. If she feels it will help her confidence then it may be a decision that she is willing to make.
I would say these days it’s more common than it use to be, but I also think we are starting to see a decline in how common it really is. I think a lot of women, particularly those striving to be role models, are choosing to support the position that beauty is not perfection. I do not think it increases the chances of winning.
Do you ever watch Toddlers & Tiaras? Do you think it is an accurate depiction of what goes on behind the scenes?
I have seen one episode of that show, and all I can attest to is my own experiences as a pageant girl.
What I have learned is that the older the girls in the competition are, the more independent and free-thinking they become. In the Miss New Mexico USA competitions so many girls work hard by their own initiatives. They truly depicted empowered women who are incredible role models in their communities. In the pageants that I have been involved in no one else is allowed backstage other than the contestants and the pageant staff. This eliminates a lot of unnecessary stress and conflict for the constants and perhaps that may be where a lot of the drama derives from on that show.
After watching that one episode all I can say is that I am fortunate to have had nothing but extremely pleasant and positive pageant experiences. Oh, and I’m also fortunate to have a “non-pageant” mom who stands by my side rather than in front of me cementing my bangs with Aqua Net!
In your initial email, you said that you are “not a typical pageant girl”. Other than being a radical self love warrior (HIGH-FIVE!), what makes you different from the girls you compete against?
Often times what can tend to see happen in pageants are girls reconfiguring who they are to fit a certain mold, or, crown if you will. Some women believe that they must act, dress, or look a specific way to fit the role. I have embraced all of the quirky and unique qualities about myself, and I am not afraid to display them. I’ll even dress them up in hearts and glitter!
On top of that, pageants are a rather “new” endeavor for me. I mentioned that I had never even watched a pageant until I was in one and that’s the complete truth.
I also actually despise the word “pageant.” For me, I see a pageant as a flourishing opportunity, an opportunity that will allow me to discover my strengths and strive to refine them while showcasing my personal style and attitude. I look at “pageants” as more of a job application. I compete in pageants so that I can use the position of a titleholder to helps others and reach out to new audiences, not just to earn a sparkly crown.
It’s also rare to find a titleholder who is preparing for a national competition while teaching pre-kindergarten all day long. I spend 8 hours a day engaging with four-year-olds, and it’s preparing me for this competition in such a unique way!
Many girls take the semester off from school, but I see it as this: Miss USA is a full time job; very similar to the lifestyle I’m currently leading. Miss USA must balance her full-time job to service with her exercise needs, red-carpet events, and personal life. I’m practicing the life-style of Miss USA.
A few confessions of Miss New Mexico USA:
1. I LOVE to pull pranks on people.
2. I don’t have cable, just an extensive library of books and eBooks for my Kindle.
3. I’m a self-taught artist.
4. I once wore pink gemstones around my eye to an event as Miss NM USA.
5. I live in a rural area, which is considered the heart of the Navajo Nation, a place most people only read about in books.
6. I own 3 GameBoys.
7. I’m a recovering cupcake addict.
8. I am fascinated with serial killers (I’m so interested in learning about criminal minds).
9. I have freckles on my face that parallel the Little Dipper.
10. I’m a huge Greek Mythology nerd. In college I took a Mythology course, and my team won the Mythology Bowl Championship back-to-back times.
Congratulations on being crowned Miss New Mexico last October! How did it feel to win? What do you think gave you the edge over your fellow competitors?
Why thank you! It felt incredibly unreal. I had visualized the moment in my head over and over again so many times, but I was still completely shocked and ridiculously humbled. The best part was having every single incredible person in my life there to enjoy the moment with me.
I think one of the biggest things that gave me an edge were my life experiences. To compete for a Miss USA state pageant you must be between the ages of 19 to 26, and I waited until I was 24 to compete for the title. The longer a girl waits to compete, the fewer opportunities she has to actually obtain the title. I wanted to wait until it was the right moment and until when I completely understood who I was and what I was capable of.
Five years prior to competing I set my mind on the goal of being Miss New Mexico USA. In those five years every one of my actions and choices were made with that goal in mind. I was involved in several on-campus organizations at my university in order to further my leadership skills and create relationships with people who shared my same interests. I even held the position of president in my sorority Zeta Tau Alpha I worked hard to obtain my marketing degree and graduated in the spring of 2009 with honors from New Mexico State University, knowing that with a degree behind me I could focus even more on being Miss New Mexico USA/Miss USA. I applied for Teach For America and after being accepted to the organization I immediately began my two-year commitment with the teaching corps in Gallup, NM in order to broaden my understanding of the world beyond my comfortable little bubble.
After my first year of teaching I had learned so much about working with children and some of the realities of living in a low-income rural community. I have challenged myself in new ways and discovered new skills that I never knew I had. All of these experiences gave me the confidence I needed and a greater understanding of myself. At that point I knew I was ready to take on the role of Miss New Mexico USA.
I just spent an hour reading your blog, I absolutely love it! Your positivity is contagious & outrageous! Have you always been optimistic or is it something you have learned?
Oh my, I’m incredibly flattered by your comments! Optimism is something that I think has always been dwelling inside of me, but there is always room for more. Since I was young I have chosen to surround myself with the most optimistic people, and I have found that to make a significant impact on my outlook towards life.
I also love reading books (Love & Sequins HOLLA!!) and listening to music that lifts my mood and enlightens my perspectives. I strive to look for the good in all people and situations, and I hope that through my blog I can encourage others to do the same.
I have discovered that positive thoughts generate positive realities, which create more positive thoughts and thus even more positive realities. It’s a win/win situation that I have chosen to invest all of my energy in.
In addition to being Miss New Mexico, you’re also a pre-kindergarten teacher through Teach For America! Have you always wanted to teach?
I love spending my day with quirky, amusing and brilliant four-year-olds. When it came to deciding my major in college I had no clue what I wanted to do. I did however know that I was not destined for one specific role. I decided then that marketing and advertising would be the most applicable area of study to all the jobs that interested me. Yes, I certainly had a lot of interest in the education field.
Thankfully, I was accepted into Teach For America and immediately began teaching after my graduation. After working as an educator for the past two years I certainly see this as a field that I would like to stay with for a while. I plan on earning a masters degree in early childhood development.
I would also like to apply the knowledge I have learned about young minds and my talent for painting to writing and illustrating children’s books. As a matter of fact, I am working on my first book right now!
What have you learned or gained most from participating in pageants?
I have learned a lot about who I am. It sounds cheesy, but when you are in a pageant you are putting yourself in a situation where you are basically screaming, “Judge me!! Judge me!!” Before you can be comfortable with that you absolutely need to know and understand who you are, what you are capable of, and what you represent.
I’ve put myself under a microscope and delved into all of the things that make me, ME. I’ve taken the courage to look within myself and discover what I truly love and what I want to change.
Without the skill to do this I wouldn’t have been nearly as successful in my career, education, relationships or community involvement.
I know that you’ve been competing in pageants for a while — have there ever been times when you felt discouraged or wanted to quit? What kept you going?
The one and only time I ever felt somewhat discouraged was at Miss Teen USA 2005. It was my second pageant, and I came from a very small state with few resources to prepare for nationals. Plus, back then; I still didn’t have the clearest understanding of what I had gotten myself into. I showed up for the competition (we had to be there for two weeks) and immediately began to doubt my abilities.
Fortunately, I knew enough then to stay positive and true to myself. I listened to inspirational music, journaled about my adventures, reflected on all of my preparations, focused on the exact vision of what I wanted, and worked on building meaningful relationships with the other girls. I began having fun and let the stress of the competition fizzle away.
It must have worked somehow because I landed in the top 15 on the night of the telecast and even advanced all the way to the top 10! I was so proud of myself for sticking to what I believed in and not allowing the stress of the competition bog me down.
Okay, since this is about beauty pageants, what are your favourite beauty products?
I love beauty products!!!!! I’m currently obsessed with:
Duo Eyelash Adhesive in black: I don’t know how I functioned before this.
Ardell False Eyelashes: I have tried every type of false eyelash under the sun and these little drugstore wonders take the cake hands down!
Fresh Umbrian Clay Treatment Bar: If you have any sort of skin problem on your face (blemish, dryness, shine) this baby will nip it in the butt.
Sultra Bombshell Curling Iron: This magic wand creates perfect, shiny curls in a flash. Plus you get to sport a super cute glove (MJ!).
MAC Cosmetics lipstick: “Shy Girl,” “Chatterbox” & “Myth” are my ultimate Mac fetishes.
Sevin Nyne Self-Tanning Lotion: I mix it with regular moisturizer & it’s flawless! It also has an addicting smell!
Any ole natural bristle body brush: detox, soften & firm in a matter of 5 minutes a day.
Pureology Pure Volume Shampoo & Conditioner: I simply love all Pureology products.
Clarisonic Skincare Brush: The perfect way to rid my face of all the gooey make-up. (Gala says: I LOVE THIS TOO & use it EVERY DAY!)
Korres Quercetin & Oak Antiwrinkle Night Cream: I love the smell & the magical powers.
Lush Ocean Salt Face & Body Scrub: Best scrub on Earth! An “at home” alternative would be organic sugar & lemon. Not many things are better than a freshly scrubbed face!
If/when (!) you win Miss USA (& we will all be cheering you on!), how will that change your life?
Oh thank you! Eek!
I will (!!) immediately fly off to New York City and begin my duties. It will be exciting to see myself thrive in an urban environment. I will move from my little rural New Mexican community to New York City (in a divine little apartment at Trump Tower!!) and travel the country and world advocating and educating on issues that are incredibly important, like breast and ovarian cancer, the achievement gap, and radical self-love.
A year as Miss USA will teach me incredible lessons, connect me with remarkable individuals, and empower me to continue my efforts to impact others and serve. I predict that after a year of acquiring valuable relationships and challenging myself to learn new skills, I will be able to take on the tasks that I have been working towards in stride. I will attend graduate school, write my children’s books, and establish an after school community center in high need areas that emphasize on art and music creativity and development.
On top of all this magic I would also have the opportunity to represent the USA (!!!!) at the Miss Universe competition. Since they’ve removed Pluto, the competition is not nearly as fierce!
Aside from meeting incredible women from across the globe, I would have such a sublime opportunity to showcase this marvelous country and vie for a title that will allow me to impact an even larger audience… The Universe!
...Loving people, all people. I am finally at a point in my life where I feel no ill feelings for anyone. I have worked so hard to get here and to choose other emotions over anger, jealousy or aggravation. I feel so free. So happy. So powerful. So blessed. So lucky. You can choose your emotions. You can choose peace and love in all situations. Wow. “I tell you, the more I think, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” ~Vincent van Gogh. (Happy Brittany)
I have all my fingers & toes crossed for Brittany’s quest to become Miss USA (&, of course, Miss Universe)! CONGRATULATIONS on all the wonderful, positive things you have done for your community so far, & here’s to many more years!
8 March 2011, 12:57
Making movies is glamorous, fun & easy… right?! Well, that’s what people would have you believe, but it’s not necessarily the truth!
I recently spoke to Ashley about her experiences as a background actor, & thought her answers were so interesting! I never knew you could earn a living as a background actor, & though I knew the days were long, I didn’t know they were quite this long!
Hopefully if any of you have similar desires to go into movies, this interview will help give you little push you need!
Tell us about what you do.
I work as a background actor (extra, stand in, photo double) for TV and movies. My job means I could be an extra pushing a plastic doll in a stroller around the mall one day and photo doubling for an 11-year-old boy in a wheelchair the next.
What does an average day at work look like for you?
Every day is different since what I’m doing depends on the scene being filmed. Typically, the day starts with a call time between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. (although there is the occasional night shoot, which might go from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.), and I usually have an hour commute to set. I plan on filming lasting at least 12 hours with plenty of downtime. As an extra, I wait in holding until it is time to rehearse a shot and stay on set until the shot is completed. As a stand in, I keep close to set and take the place of the actor while the crew sets up the lights and cameras. As a photo double, I am made up to look like the actor and take the actor’s place on camera for a shot where the actor’s face is not needed. When I’m not needed on set, I read books and talk to the other extras or stand ins. After six hours, filming breaks for lunch, and everyone tries to relax before filming starts up again. My day ends between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., and I rush home to catch up on email before going to sleep.
Do you work alone or with other people?
Movies are a collaborative process. As an extra, I work with the other background actors and take directions from various production assistants. As a stand in or photo double, I work with more of the crew such as the camera and assistant director departments.
Is this what you wanted to do as a child? Did you end up in this job by “accident” or was it a planned career choice?
Growing up, I always enjoyed performing. I was a dancer and figure skater and acted in the occasional children’s production at church. I did not seriously consider a career in movies until college. After I graduated, I had no clear career path, so I moved to L.A. to work as an extra and to learn what I could about how movies are made.
How long ago did you start on this path?
I started working as a background actor in 2008, and before that I acted in plays in college.
How long were you doing it before you made it into your career or primary form of income?
A week after I moved to L.A, I started working full time as an extra. Basically, I had moved across the country with my cat and a handful of credit cards, so I had to start making a living right away. Even though I am no longer living in L.A., my primary form of income still comes from background work.
Did anything significant happen to get you to that point, or was it a series of small steps?
I attended a talent conference in L.A. and decided that I had to move there and work in movies in any capacity I could. Not quite two months later, my bags were packed and I was moving to L.A.!
What kind of education do you have?
Going into college, I wanted to be either an embedded reporter or Indiana Jones, so I studied a broad range of subjects – journalism, anthropology, literature – and changed my major several times. I discovered that I watched a lot of TV while I “studied” and thought that it would be fun to work in TV and movies, so I started taking film and acting classes, too. I received my Bachelor’s from a state university and now like to describe my field of study as “Performance and Cultural Studies”.
Do you think official qualifications are important for someone entering your industry?
The great thing about being a background actor is that you don’t need any prior acting or movie experience in order to work on set. Extras aren’t just actors and film students but, also, realtors, optometrists, and teachers. The film industry revolves around who you know, so I think going to school for acting or film can be helpful for making connections and thus getting work. However, I, also, know people who spent a small fortune to attend acting schools and now work as extras. I believe the best qualification is experience, and working as a stand in is like being paid to go to film school.
If you went to school, did you enjoy studying? Could you see where it might lead you at the time? What advice would you give to someone else who might be studying to get into your industry?
I enjoyed studying in school and liked researching different topics for class. Going into college, I was interested in journalism and anthropology. If you had told me during my freshman year that I would work on movies, I never would have believed you. My junior and senior years of college I became more involved in theatre, and by the time I graduated, I knew that I had to work in the film industry. I think the most important part of working as a performer is gaining experience and meeting people who share your interests.
What do you think is the best thing about what you do?
There are so many things I love about what I do! I meet so many interesting people on set, and occasionally, I even get to meet a celebrity, like Hugh Jackman (who was so cool to everyone on set). I, also, get to work in interesting locations such as the Warner Bros. Studio, a stadium turned into a Styrofoam version of Vatican City, and quaint, little towns. Another thing I love is dressing up in costume, especially for period films, and pretending I live in a different time for the day.
What’s the worst thing?
The early mornings! I am not a morning person, but I often find myself waking up between 4:30-6:30 a.m. in order to make my call time.
Would you call yourself a workaholic, & if so, are you alright with that? Do you think that’s normal for your industry?
When I am working I have no life outside of the set – I’m too tired to do anything. The film industry feeds on workaholics, but for me at least, I’ll work like crazy for a month and then the next couple of months will be slow, so I don’t see myself as a true workaholic.
What would your number one suggestion be for someone who wants to do what you do?
If you want to work in movies, you don’t need to live in L.A. or New York. Many states are now offering film incentives, so contact your state’s film commission to find out what movies are being made in your area and ask for a list of reputable acting agencies. Working as a background actor is a great way to learn about the business for free.
...How about number two?
Make your own movies. The more I work on set the more I realize I want to be a director and producer because they control the working conditions on set. By making your own movies, you can set your own schedule and be free to experiment and learn about the process.
What do you wish you had known when you first started out?
Movie making is not glamorous. Working on set can be emotionally grueling and set conditions can be pretty bad at times – no bathrooms, awful weather conditions, yelling. Also, do not underestimate the power of boredom. Although life on set isn’t glamorous, just being a part of something bigger than yourself can be an amazing feeling.
Are there any major misconceptions about your job or industry?
People have this misconception that being an extra is an easy job where you chill out and talk to celebrities all day. Background actors get little respect for a job that is very necessary to creating the look of the film.
Do you ever have any ethical dilemmas with the work you do?
It’s important to remain true to who you are and not conform to someone else’s standard of beauty or behavior. There is always the possibility that someone is going to ask you to compromise, but so far, I have been able to avoid any ethical dilemmas.
What is the best thing that’s happened to you as a consequence of the work you do?
I’ve learned a lot about myself since I started working as a background actor, and I’ve met a lot of great people. I really think meeting interesting people is the best part about being a background actor because you never know whom you are sitting next to. One afternoon, I met a lady in the background who had had a role on Lost, and it was so interesting hearing her talk about her experiences.
What motivates you to keep doing what you’re doing?
Even on bad days, my love of the filming process makes me want to keep working. When I work on an awful set, I think of ways to do it better so that when I’m the director or producer people will have a good time working.
Who do you look up to within your industry & why?
I admire Sophia Coppola, who is a brilliant writer and director and who, also, was a background actor, and Emma Thompson, who is a wonderful actress and writer as well. They inspire me to explore different facets of filmmaking and to not be afraid to make my own movies.
Rate how happy you are with what you do out of 100 (100 being the best, 0 being devastatingly awful) on an average day.
My happiness on an average day is probably in the 90’s. I like to think my best day hasn’t happened yet, and I hope my worst day is in the past.
Is there much career progression available to you? What would you like to do next?
There isn’t a traditional career ladder for me. If you want a role in a movie you need to audition for it; very rarely does a director give a line to an extra. I am interested in acting, writing, directing, and producing my own films, so I am working on filming some short films
Do you think you’ll continue doing this for the rest of your life?
I don’t see myself working as a background actor forever, but I definitely want to keep working in the film industry!
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