How strippers are telling their own stories on YouTube
A new community of vlogging strippers are helping normalise their industry, humanise themselves and their fellow dancers, and show the truth about everyday life when you happen to take your clothes off for a living.
Image from Cristina Villegas YouTube channel
“Some people started to find out about where I was working and they started to form their own opinions about it," Cristina Villegas begins. "I wanted to take control of my own narrative so I decided to start vlogging my work experiences to show what it is really like and to set the record straight on assumptions that were made about me." Cristina started stripping at 18, and making videos about it a year later in 2018. She now has over one million subscribers, and she's a veritable trailblazer in a growing community of strippers on YouTube.
Videos showing what’s in their stripping bags, vlogging their night at the club, and filming Q&As on stripper hygiene are absolutely raking in views on the video sharing platform. A ‘day in the life of a stripper’ video can sometimes expect to get them in the millions. And while this is obviously not the first time audiences have been granted access into the world of strippers, this time things are different. Unlike documentaries like HBO’s G String Divas, this is the first time the girls are in control and showing their job without anyone else’s filters. “I felt like I could be a role model for girls who know that being a stripper is just a job and there is so much more to you than your job. I wanted to show them my world and my life from my own lens,” says YouTuber Sarah Kamilla, a Miami based dancer with over 200,000 subscribers.
The videos Sarah and Cristina make give audiences an explicit insight into life as a stripper, even at times counting their nightly intake of money on camera. These money counts are not boastful but honest in portraying the precarious nature of the job -- in one of Cristina’s latest videos she counts $7 one night, $1183 the next. Sarah however tells me that she chooses not to count on camera, as she feels it’s not safe to put online. Instead, she shows it on the club floor before it gets counted.
But how do online audiences compare to real life ones? “I feel like the media and society pegs strippers as scammers, or people who have failed at getting a job so they had to resort to ‘selling their bodies’," Cristina says of the difference in traditional opinions of strippers. "Our image has not been a positive one, but it’s never an accurate description. Strippers are much more than that.”
In mainstream TV media strippers are usually presented as a victim of their own circumstances, a modern day Rapunzel in a mesh two piece, ready to be saved from her workplace. It's the Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman effect. “It seems to be that there’s a fixed agenda and they’ve got a set of characters that they want to portray, so they look for people that fit into their pre-existing agenda," stripper activist and founder of the East London Strippers Collective, Stacey Clare explains. In January, Louis Theroux’s Selling Sex received mass backlash from sex workers for its presentation of sex work as a result of trauma, ‘daddy issues’, and insecurity.
It’s these age old stereotypes and stigma, dubbed whorephobia, Stacey tells me, that makes it hard for strippers to talk about industry issues like worker’s rights without everyone freaking out: “Coverage like that feeds people’s negative belief systems, then we’re stuck at the beginning which is ‘oh well you’re victims, we better just shut clubs down then’”.
But without the filters of production and editing, on YouTube portrayals of life in the strip club are democratised and accurate. Without censorship or angled interviewing, the audience is wider -- with vlogs on stripper clothing hauls even making it to YouTube's front recommended page. “I get comments from other dancers every now and then," says Tiffany B a YouTuber with 125,000 subscribers. "I also get comments from people who used to dance when they were younger as well, but most of my audience consists of people who are just curious."
Last year, Hustlers, which retells a story from a New York magazine article about strippers who stole from men, made $33 million in its opening weekend. The film gave an unseen look into the backroom of a strip club: cutting tampon strings to hide them, the house ‘mom’, and discussions of dating as a stripper. The success of Hustlers proves that spark of interest in the reality of life in the strip club does exist. Platforms like YouTube capitalise on that interest and reshape it as a learning tool. “I believe that people are becoming more open to the strip club industry," says Tiffany. "I actually think people are becoming more open to the sex working industry overall. I have many people who comment saying that my videos helped change their views from negative to positive ones."
Cast in point: Instagram comedian, artist and stripper Jacq The Stripper. "There’s just a shift in the sex positive culture and strippers are able to be more open," Jacq, who has nearly 200,000 Instagram followers, explains. "Sex workers have always been working really hard at demystifying and destigmatizing the industry and I think people are finally starting to listen. Because everybody is trying to be sexy on the internet, sex work doesn’t seem like this far away thing anymore. Sex work is something that everybody could potentially do.”
Jacqueline has a point. Thanks to the availability of social media and our increasingly online world, we can see more of every industry and every way of life. With their new platform, dancers are no longer just seen as far off fantasies of a ‘sad stripper’ or as eroticised video vixens -- they’re normal girls. In Sarah Kamilla’s most popular video she does morning meditation, goes to the gym, and then heads to work at the club. "I absolutely feel that my videos are removing the stigma. All I’m doing is being myself, showing my beauty routines, cooking on camera, vlogging my day to day and giving a positive outlook on life. And I’m doing all that while being a stripper," she says.
"We forget that someone’s a whole human when we’re busy consuming the objectified version of them,” Stacey adds. And thats exactly what YouTube's stripper community is addressing -- it's not just building an audience but also humanising strippers and showing that they have lives that extend beyond performance in the club. The videos are not just made for others’ entertainment: the protagonists have backgrounds, stories, they get their nails done, go out for food (and now they even have merch).
In the real world, things are murkier. It was just earlier this month that dancers at a London strip club finally received legal recognition as workers, and the job continues to be maligned and stigmatised in traditional media. But online, the small movement is growing. And even though these channels might not be literal protest banners in the fight for strippers’ rights and acceptance, they are normalising stripping to the mainstream audiences, one 'day in the life of a stripper' video at a time.