This Burlesque Dancer Is Literally Stripping Away Negative Body Image

By Kristi DiLallo


“I am fat,” says badass burlesque performer Lillian Bustle at the start of her recent TEDx Talk, “Stripping Away Negative Body Image,” which focuses on how she uses the art of burlesque dancing as a way to celebrate her body. She describes her journey to self-acceptance after years of having a negative body image, explaining that once she got on stage and started performing strip teases, she was able to strip away her shame, too.

She found that burlesque was a world where all body types, shapes, sizes, and colors were loved and appreciated by the audience, and more importantly, by the performers themselves. Bustle’s talk explores how the media has influenced the perception of “fat” bodies, making opinions toward plus-size bodies overly negative. “Society has turned the word ‘fat’ into a synonym for ‘ugly,’” Bustle says, speaking against the idea that “fat” is a “dirty word.”

If you have ever been to a burlesque show, you know that the stage is home to all sorts of diverse and talented people whose confidence is louder than the music they dance to.  The beauty of burlesque is that the dancers can’t be cropped or photoshopped or retouched. The extravagant lace, corsets, and garter belts are all part of a costume they wear because it makes them feel beautiful, not because they have to hide parts of their bodies that aren’t considered socially acceptable.

This talk is inspiring enough to make viewers want to cover their own bodies in glitter and feathers and find a burlesque stage where they can finally be themselves, but of course, it has received negative attention, too. The comments section of Bustle’s video is a dark place: it’s filled with trolls calling her fat and ugly and unhealthy, hoping they can tear down the very message she is trying to deliver. But aren’t those comments sort of the whole point of what Bustle wants to say to us? 

Her talk is not just about burlesque dancing or how it has finally shed light on the importance of body diversity. It is about the importance of loving and accepting ourselves. If we can learn to love ourselves enough, negative comments can’t change the message we tell ourselves. Bustle says, “Being beautiful is a decision that you make.” Performing on stage at burlesque clubs helped her make that decision, and her story can help us decide that we are beautiful, too.

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