It began when she was a teenager with an awareness of her body and the reaction other people had to it. It continued with the realization that women's bodies often gave them a strange power over men. As an adult, it became a fascination with professional sex workers, leading to a plunge into their world. And when Elisabeth Eaves left the world of peep shows and private dancers for the more socially acceptable career of international journalism, she found she could not put that fascination behind her. Her experiences had left her with too many questions and too few answers. So she returned to the world she had left behind. Now, in this candid and insightful book, she recounts her firsthand experience of stripping and gives us a new understanding of women's sexuality and contemporary sexual mores.
Bare follows the author and her fellow dancers through Seattle strip clubs and bachelor parties, exploring in riveting detail Eaves's own motivations and behavior, as well as those of her coworkers, as they make their way through the sometimes exhilarating, often disturbing world of stripping. Grounded in an understanding of the intricate dynamics of exchanging sexual services for money, Eaves's narrative examines the ways in which the work affects the women: how they negotiate the slippery boundaries between their jobs and their "real" lives; how their personal relationships are altered; how they reconcile themselves--or don't--to the stereotypes that surround their profession; whether the work is exploitative or empowering or both.
In its unstinting honesty, Bare demands that we take a closer look at the way sexuality is viewed in our culture; what, if anything, constitutes "normal" desire; the ethics of swapping money--or anything else--for sex; and how women and men navigate the perilous contradictions and double standards that make up today's socio-sexual conventions. The stories Eaves tells--outrageous, funny, sad, and deeply affecting--provide an engrossing and unforgettable look at a group of women who have a lot to reveal, not only about one of America's largest and most taboo industries, but about the restrictions, joys, and hypocrisies of the world in which we all live.
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December 14, 2011
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Excerpt from Bare by Elisabeth Eaves
I was naked.
I looked at my reflection in the dressing room mirror. At five minutes to the hour, I noticed faint sweat beads on my forehead. At four minutes to, I patted my face with flesh-colored powder. With three minutes to go, I remembered that I was supposed to punch in. I slipped my time card into the clock, which gripped it for a second, made a loud clunk, and let it go. At two minutes to the hour, I brushed my hair for the fifth time and stepped back into the black shoes that I had kicked aside.
When the clock ticked over to seven p.m., I was supposed to climb the three steps through the narrow bottleneck between the dressing room and the stage. I hesitated, and April, who had been having a smoke down the hall, materialized in the dressing room, liberated herself from a sarong and jean jacket, then strode past me and up the stairs without so much as a glance in the mirror. Venus came the other way, out of the bottleneck, and paused on the landing to punch out. Clunk! Even in my apprehension I admired the efficiency. Then Georgia came down the steps, a leggy brunette in a pearl necklace. She didn't punch out; it was her turn to take a break.
The clock was "on the zero," as the managers said, so with one last breath I mounted the stairs and entered a dazzling scarlet and silver womb. The stage was a rectangular room about the size and shape of a hallway in a modest suburban home. The floor was carpeted with red velvet, and every other surface, including the ceiling, was mirrored. The space was lit by hot theatrical lights covered with pink and red gels, giving the three women who were already in it a rosy glow. I joined them with the sense that I was stepping into a well-oiled machine.
Onstage were Sasha, a creamy-skinned redhead in black gloves and thigh-high boots; Satin, a tall, caramel-colored woman in a curly bobbed wig; and April, whose wavy blond hair cascaded to her thighs. And then there was me, Leila, five feet seven inches tall, in black knee-high stockings, my lips painted "plum wine" according to the label on the tube, my body pale, my blond hair shiny from multiple brushings. I was surprised to realize that I didn't look out of place. From a quick, sidelong glance at the mirror I could barely pick myself out of the group. I was just one of the naked women, and the anonymity was reassuring.
While the stage had only one entrance and exit, which I had just come through, it had twelve windows. Each window was covered with a mirrored screen when it was not in use. I heard the clink of coins hitting coins and then the low whirring sound of a lifting screen. I turned my head to where the sound was coming from and saw a man appearing on the other side of a pane of glass. First his waist, then his chest, and finally his face appeared as the mirror lifted away. He was white and middle-aged and wore a beige jacket. If he had disappeared a second later, I wouldn't have recalled a single detail of his appearance. He stared at me expectantly. I glanced around at the other dancers for guidance, but they were all looking elsewhere, so I approached the man, trying to exude confidence that I didn't feel.
I needn't have worried. I watched his eyes follow my different body parts as he decided where he wanted to settle them. He seemed to be a breast man. Closer to the window now, I looked down as he undid his pants. I danced for about two minutes, he came, the screen went down over the glass. Whirrr.
That was how my hours on the red stage began. It wasn't my very first time onstage; I had danced for about eight minutes during my audition. The only difference now was that I would do this for the next three hours. The strangest thing about it was that it wasn't very strange. I had never done this work before, but it felt like a fragment of a dream coming back to me. There was the music, and I was dancing to it; that wasn't new. There were the mirrored walls, much like a dance studio or a health club. And there were men watching me. Always, it seemed, men had been watching me, assessing, surmising, deciding. Even the masturbating strangers weren't without precedent--I had run across public masturbators before. Once a taxi driver had done it in front of a friend and me, and we had yelled at him and made him stop. I felt onstage as though a combination of different experiences had been scrambled in a machine and come out as something familiar but new. My only fear was that three hours of this would make my legs ache.