As an alternative exhibitionist, Dita Von Teese has always inspired me with her beautiful burlesque performances and unapologetic personal brand of sexuality. Considering her position as a powerful role model, Dita Von Teese's empowering quotes pop up on my social media feeds often. In most interviews, the burlesque star recognizes the importance of feminism and body positivity for everyone — not just those who perform on stage in expensive lingerie. Her inclusivity is nothing short of inspiring.
From marrying Marilyn Manson to appearing as a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race to slamming the Kardashians for promoting waist training, Dita Von Teese's career has been about a hell of a lot more than her infamous martini glass routine. Although I'm far from discrediting Von Teese's long and illustrious life as a performer — and now as a lingerie designer, too — I think her empowering words and social statements deserve our attention as well.
Her personal stance on feminism and self love might just feel revolutionary to any of her fans (and even those who aren't). Dita Von Teese proves time and time again that she is so much more than just a pretty face. She's a role model as well.
1. On Her Own Performances
This burlesque star acknowledges that the root of her performance style comes from pleasing men, but in the 21st century, "80 percent of the people going to a burlesque show [...] [are] women," she told Huffington Post. Von Teese is disdainful of anyone who tries to prescribe negativity or misogyny to her work.
"I think it's [...] kind of turning the old-fashioned ideas of feminism upside down," she said. "You can't decide for someone what is degrading or empowering, because some people could look at my show and say, 'Oh that's so degrading to women,' but then you're thinking, 'How is that degrading to women when there's all the women who are supporting it and they're getting inspiration from it and they're happy to see a different version of sensuality?'"
Understanding and respecting other people's self expression and sexuality is so important in the feminist debate. Just because you may not feel comfortable in a situation doesn't mean other women can't find it empowering.
2. On Makeup
Von Teese is so well known for her signature red lip that MAC Cosmetics launched an exclusive Dita Von Teese red lipstick to coincide with her latest book Your Beauty Mark. She's collaborated with the makeup brand previously for its AIDS charity collection VIVA GLAM, for which 100 percent of the proceeds of any VIVA GLAM product go toward the MAC AIDS Fund. Her dedication to red lipstick is perfection, but the star doesn't pretend that she's always dolled up wherever she goes.
"I like makeup, but I don't always wear red lips. I'm not wearing red lips to go to my yoga class," she told Harper's Bazaar in 2007, thus combatting the idea that she's an impenetrable image of perfection. The idea of Von Teese getting sweaty while sans makeup at a gym class definitely makes me feel more confident. She's only human, and that doesn't have to be such a bad thing.
3. On Being "Beach Body Ready"
The controversy surrounding the body shaming "beach body ready" advertisement by Protein World in summer 2015 is still fresh in the minds of many. Von Teese isn't having any of the BS.
"Forget that stuff; find role models that you can actually aspire to look like instead and appreciate different types of beauty. I'm somebody who has never had the typical beach bod. I could never relate to the [...] supermodels or the Sports Illustrated models — I could never be like that," she told Hello! in 2015.
"Instead, I looked at other idols — Rita Hayworth, Hedy Lamarr... I looked at these totally beautiful women and thought, 'I can aspire to that.' Look for role models with similar features to yourself — if you have small lips, don't try to be Angelina Jolie."
Her words feel startlingly accurate. If you look up to those who seem similar to you, then you'll likely appreciate your own beauty way more easily.
4. On Lacking Confidence
I always find it incredibly admirable when celebrities are honest about their insecurities. Doing so takes them off the pedestal that many put them on and helps make them seem way more relatable. Although it's unfortunate that Von Teese considers herself to be lacking in confidence, I personally feel comforted by her honesty.
"Growing up I was mediocre looking. Even now, I see a photo of myself taken in bad lighting and think I should quit what I do immediately. There is so much of it now. I feel bad sometimes when I say no to a fan who wants an iPhone picture but we'll be in the worst lighting possible and I think, 'I don't want this to be my legacy," she told Britain's Hello! Magazine, as reported by MusicNews.com.
By being blunt about her appearance and how she wants to be represented in the media and in photographs, it may seem to some that Von Teese is alienating her fans. But in reality, she's relating to them on a much larger scale. Have you ever refused to get in on the group selfie because of a bad self esteem day? Celebrities are allowed to do that, too.
5. On Growing After Failure
Von Teese told The Guardian that she failed as a ballerina, but that without doing so she would never have found success as a burlesque artist. She commented on finding liberation through this performance style:
"I was a failed ballerina, so I found a way to satisfy my dreams and to be a performer. One of the great things about burlesque in the old days is that a lot of the major stars were like me — maybe they weren't Ginger Rogers, but they could dance and they wanted it really bad, so they found a way to adapt accordingly. The combination of my love of glamour, my love of dance, my love of theater, my love of style and fashion — it all sort of came together."
6. On Performing Taboos
Refusing to back down on her stance that burlesque can be liberating for women, Von Teese spoke to the Broward Palm Beach New Times about the personal nature of her performances.
"One of the last taboos to be liberated is to revel in being objectified, and I feel like indulging in taboos sometimes is a way to liberate them," she said. "What you're watching are my obsessions come alive on stage, my sexual fantasies, and in my sexual fantasies, things are not politically correct. I'm super grateful to the women that paved the way and made this burlesque movement even possible, because it was much different for them... A lot of them were looked down upon. But I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't wandered into a strip club in 1991."
By performing her sexuality on her own terms, Von Teese helps remove the stigma behind female sexuality and the expression of female sexuality. It's obvious that she isn't performing for men, but for herself — and any women who can find inspiration in her liberal attitude towards sexuality.
7. On Being Called "Anti-Feminist"
It must be difficult for Von Teese, who inspires so many people to express themselves authentically, to always have to face the "anti-feminist" label and inquiry in interviews. Speaking to Glamour in 2012, she addressed the issue head on. "You'd be hard pressed to find many straight men that are on there on their own or in a group of guys," she told the publication. "Recently, someone that I know came to my show, and she said she couldn't find one group of straight men that were there."
She later added, "So, you know, when people say what I do is anti-feminist, it's not fair to place a blanket statement over what I do. It's more complicated when the people enjoying the show are women."
8. On Plastic Surgery
The debate surrounding plastic surgery has long been discussed within the body positive community, but Von Teese firmly places herself on the side of plastic surgery. Talking to Hello! Magazine in 2015, she spoke out against the vilification those who choose to go under the knife have to suffer. "I think it's an evolution of beauty and what I hate about it is that people are so vilified for it," she said. I've seen people use Botox and fillers in great ways and it's a little bit sad that celebrities can't talk about it because you get killed for it in the press [...] I love what Madonna said: 'I'm not against plastic surgery, I'm just against talking about it.'"
9. On Being Glamorous
It's undeniable that Von Teese is glamorous, but she doesn't believe glamour comes naturally, or that glamour only has one definition. "Being fascinating doesn't depend on what you're born with — it's what you make," she told Pop Sugar. "Glamour is not about how young you are, or how rich you are, how pretty you are, what size you are, what ethnicity you are. Everyone can become glamorous if they choose to, put the time into it, and devote part of their selves to it." What a brilliantly body positive stance.
10. On Having Confidence
Finding confidence in yourself and your looks is undoubtedly a crucial but difficult thing to master. For Von Teese, the value of confidence is that it's completely personal. We need to discover and create our own ways of building our self-worth. For her, it's all about getting dolled up.
"Confidence is the important thing with beauty, mostly. It’s really about doing what you believe is beautiful. I feel most beautiful when I have my red lips on and when I have my cat eyeliner on and my hair curled — that’s what I feel good in, even though lots of people will see me with straight hair and no makeup on, and they’ll say I look so much younger," she told Into The Gloss in 2012. "I don’t really care, though. I don’t care if they think I look prettier without the makeup and hair — it’s about what makes you feel good about yourself."
11. On Aging
As Von Teese pointed out in an interview for Britain's The Lady, her timeless style will carry her well into old age. She doesn't have to worry about not "wearing miniskirts, because I never wear them." She's honest about the reality of growing older, which is admirable coming from any woman living in our ageist and sexist society.
"I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t afraid of getting old. But am I really going to miss my bum when I’m 70?" she told the publication. "I don’t have any plans to retire yet. I didn’t know when I was 21 that I’d be in better shape at nearly 40 than I was then."
Embracing and enjoying her 40s more than her 20s is a proud political statement against a society and media that arguably value youth in women above all else.
It's obvious from almost every interview that Dita Von Teese has ever done that she holds herself and her career in high regard. But at the same time, she is openly vulnerable about her insecurities and faults. She won't let them be used against her in any way, though, and will continue to fight for the liberation of women and female expression.
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