Alison Stevenson’s social media presence is what corporate brands that have hopped on the body positivity train to earn profit wish it could be ― authentic. The comedian and performer, regularly pictured in her underwear, started posting sexy photos of herself about two years ago. It’s an effort, she told HuffPost, to “not sexualize myself in a fetishy way ― but to say ‘here’s my big belly, but I’m still trying to be sexual.’”
Body positivity ― real body positivity ― like Stevenson’s has found a home for itself in online communities such as Instagram and Tumblr. These sites serve as sanctuary for people to feel empowered and less alone. But Stevenson wondered what bringing that powerful notion into the real world might look like. Something like, say, a strip show featuring women with all different body types?
Stevenson knew fat strippers existed, but realized she never saw them in the clubs she visits in Los Angeles, and as an enthusiast of stripping who has always had an interest in trying it herself, she said she never felt comfortable to partake as a person living in a larger body. “That’s where the inspiration came from,” she said. “From being kind of an Instagram slut [Laughs] and feeling like I would have to create the space to strip for myself and others who feel the same as me.”
She connected with co-founders Linda Douglas and Elizabeth Flores and Douglas named the show “Thicc Strip,” noting that unapologetic body positivity and self-love would be its core theme.
“I wanted to do something that was very in your face,” she said. “‘Check us out, we’re naked, we love being naked, we love our bodies and we don’t feel bad about our bodies.’ I thought stripping would be a perfect way to do that.”
The trio posted a photo inviting dancers, both professional and amateur to join in the event. They ended up with a solid group of women, Stevenson included, who spent months taking dance lessons in preparation. Thicc Strip came to life on Dec. 14 in Los Angeles and from the photos alone (some of them NSFW), it was a huge success.
Vanessa Gritton, a comedian, writer and one of the event’s dancers, told HuffPost that holding the event in the city of angels added to its significance.
“In a city where everyone looks like they are crafted by the hands of gods, people get excited about seeing some deeply excluded body types in a sexy way,” she said.
And excited they got. Stevenson, Douglas and Flores expected the event to be positive and successful ― but they never imagined the size and universal desire for an event like this. They predicted 100 people would show, and ended up hosting more than 300, even having to turn some people away.
“I almost cried when I saw there was a line down the block,” Stevenson recalled. “For so long I was like, ‘Is this just me who wants to see something like this?’”
That feeling subsided as soon as she heard what Jasmine Newkirk, one of the dancers, called “deafening” cheers. “I’ve never felt so confident in myself than when I took my robe off to reveal my plus-size body in lingerie,” Newkirk said. “Ever.”
And it wasn’t just powerful for the dancers. Flores, who was in charge of running logistics for the event, said the impact the show had on participants was major. “I had people coming up to me in tears saying it was the most inspiring thing they’d ever seen,” she said.
Dancer Seraphina Rose called the reaction one of the most empowering parts of the experience. “It was hearing from the audience that watching all of us perform and take ownership of our bodies made them go home and dance naked in their bedroom mirror and/or cry in happiness,” she said.
Thicc Strips’ dancers all echoed a similar, sweeping message for media and the way it pushes society’s narrow view of beauty: Simply, that the media is wrong, that it’s time to see more realistic bodies, that there is an audience for them and that it’s time to stop putting people ― namely women ― in boxes.
“You can’t tell me what I am and what I’m not,” Flores said. “I am fat AND beautiful, and if I want to jump on stage and show the world what my body is capable of, no one can stop me.”
Stevenson said the group has already started talking about the next event and its hopes to include anyone who wants to experience something like this. “It’s such a challenge, but once you accept and conquer it you feel ten times better,” she said. “It’s hard to explain, but it really feels like you’ve grown so much just showing people your tits [laughs].”
This piece has been updated to include additional information about the event’s planning.