“Gentlemen! Put your hands together and welcome Cassidy to the stage!”
I take a deep breath as the pumping beat of Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious” pours through the speakers.
Wearing a black, lace teddy that fits my body perfectly, I strut onto the stage. My curls are wild, my lips cherry red. I start dancing and immediately find myself agreeing with Beyonce and the girls: “I don’t think they are ready for this jelly.”
I’m surprisingly good at this, considering how new I am. I’ve always loved dancing and have never been shy about moving my body in front of an audience. Of course, this is a far cry from dance recitals at summer camp.
I run my hands along my hips until the tips of my fingers grasp the bottom of my teddy and slowly slip it over my head, exposing the red bra and thong. I tilt my head to the side and bite my lower lip while I unhook my bra, never losing eye contact with the fortyish-looking gentleman sitting alone to the side of the stage.
He likes me, I can tell.
I like to make a connection with one man in the audience. It’s my hook. I make him feel special
so that when I get off stage, I can approach him more easily for private dances. That was the part I hated the most, selling myself. Stripping in public? That was easy; even exhilarating! But having to sit with some guy and try to convince him to pay me to get naked was humiliating. But I needed the money to pay the personal trainer who had promised to give me the body I’d always dreamed of.
I met my trainer, Buff Bobby, at the twenty-four-hour gym I joined a month ago. My eating disorder is in high gear right now, which means I’m under-eating, over-training and barely sleeping. Which also means I’m easy pickings for a money-hungry trainer. He warned me that it involved extreme dieting and hardcore training.
Extreme dieting was hardly a deterrent for me, and I so badly wanted the improvements. Never mind that I had almost died just four years earlier, and it had taken months for me to learn how to eat, walk, and even breathe again on my own, my eating disorder made sure I cared more about looking fit than being healthy.
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” I assured him.
What it took, it turned out, was money. My boys were aged two and five, and I was a stay-at-home mom. It always felt wrong to take money from my family when I wasn’t contributing financially. I needed to find a job that would allow me to be at home with my kids all day, tuck them into bed at night, and be there when they wake up in the morning. That is where Cassidy came in.
I’m pretty sure the average soccer mom would not have come up with stripping as a solution but, let’s face it, I’m not the average soccer mom. At the point Buff Bobby approached me, my husband had long since convinced me that I serve only two purposes: homemaker and sex toy.
I was never enough for my husband, even after all of the physical and emotional trauma I had experienced up to that point, he kept wanting more from me, and always on his terms. First by repeatedly asking me to have sex with a buddy of his, then wanting me to sleep with strangers at swinger clubs and parties. Don’t get me wrong, I was hardly a prude; he and I enjoyed an active sex life, but I was not emotionally stable enough to be put in these types of situations. What I needed was to be loved, not shared.
It took years of his subtle manipulation, plus a near death experience, the deaths of my mother, father, brother, and multiple miscarriages to bring me to the double life I’m leading today: Marci, thirty-four-year-old, housewife by day, and Cassidy, twenty-eight-year-old stripper by night.
I was barely eating and hardly sleeping.
That was the treadmill I was on, my double life, flitting between two worlds and telling myself it was normal. Part of me was fine with my stripper life: having fun and taking pleasure in the empowerment it brought me, and I definitely needed the money. That part of me had been more or less created by the traumatic overload. It had taken a lot of bad shit to bring me to a place where I could find refuge in being a stripper. Where being on stage as Cassidy was about the only place I felt strong and protected. Where sexual adventures, even if harmful or degrading, were the only ways for me to experience self-worth.
Another part of me knew I was out of control, that my lifestyle wasn’t what I wanted for myself, or needed for myself. In my less manic hours, I knew it was unsustainable. The lines between naughty vixen and suburban housewife were starting to blur. It couldn’t end well.
Cassidy was telling me it would all somehow work out, and she was in charge most of the time. She could rationalize my bad decisions. She convinced me she was my best option or, at least, that I had no other options. So I stayed there, managing as best I could. I was stuck. Whoever I used to think I was, or had ever dreamed of becoming, was gone, and barely remembered.
As it turned out, I couldn’t make it all work. It wasn’t long before the euphoria I had once felt in this double life evaporated and I was fantasizing about driving my car into a concrete abutment after dropping the kids at school. It was the only escape I could imagine.
It hadn’t started out this way.
As a little girl, I was fearless, feisty and full of spirit! I had no problem standing up for myself and anybody else who needed my help. In the third grade, I wrote a petition about my French teacher, who was being aggressive and even violent with the boys in my class. That petition resulted in me receiving an apologetic phone call from the teacher and the principal of the school. Most importantly, the teacher changed his ways and softened his attitude.
I knew I had a feisty streak from that moment in school. I had proven to myself that I could be strong and willful, ready to take on the world. I had no idea of the challenges that lay ahead, and how my headstrong ways could also contribute to the downward spiral of my life. I could not imagine, back then, that some of my assertiveness, some of my rebellions, would be misguided, or misdirected. Nor did I expect that life would sometimes hit back at me, and hard, slowly turning the fearless little girl I used to be into the fragile woman I became.
A wife, a mom, a stripper, a slut, a motherless daughter, an abandoned sister, a bereaved parent, a victim, a jezebel, a fighter, a failure, and a survivor. I saw them all staring back at me in the bathroom mirror, all of the women I am and used to be.
For years, my reflection had been unfamiliar to me. I’d look at myself and wonder what I was seeing. I knew what was supposed to be, but I had become so detached from that person that my reflection was unrecognizable.
In that moment, however, through blood shot eyes and tear-stained cheeks, I saw myself again. I saw all of the good, the bad, and the very ugly parts I’d loved and loathed for almost forty-five years. A strange feeling of peace came over me, washing away some of the critical voices in my head, replacing them with hints of compassion and forgiveness.
“Enough,” said the voice in my head, and with that the tears stopped flowing and the pain in my head started to ease.
At that moment, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I knew things were about to change. I put away the binge food, went into my basement, blared 80s music through my headphones and danced. Years before, dancing to Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor on the shag rug in my family’s living room had helped me escape the tension I felt between my parents. It had been awhile since I had danced that way, and it felt amazing.
I spent the hours before school pick-up trying to figure out my next move. I found one of my old journals and started writing down questions:
What do I want?
What do I need?
What’s holding me back from being happy?
What can I do today to set change in motion?
I didn’t have the answers, but just asking the questions felt hopeful. Before I knew it, it was time to pick my kids up from school. I drove past that familiar underpass, smiled, and thought, “Not today.”
More Inspiration: Check out this great article by Dr. Jessica O’Reilly on the path to a strong relationship.
Author: Marci Warhaft is a body image advocate, speaker and author of “The Body Image Survival Guide for Parents: Helping Toddlers, Tweens and Teens Thrive.” Marci created her Fit vs Fiction workshops to tear down the myths related to beauty and fitness and empower people of all ages to appreciate who they are. Her new book, The Good Stripper; A memoir of lies, loss and lap dances can be found on Amazon.