You can't strip forever. Even in Florida. And while you can make more money dancing than you can with an MBA, at some point it's time to call it quits.
The problem is, there will always be a stigma attached to being a stripper, even if the strip club life isn't what most people imagine. And that stigma creates all kinds of interesting issues when you start applying for new, non-naked work.
So how do former strippers handle going back to the world of "vanilla" jobs? We talked to one former dancer (who, as you can imagine, prefers to remain anonymous) and learned what life is like when the neon lights go out for good.
Before we even talk about why you quit, how'd you get into stripping in the first place?
I was 27 and neck deep in grad school for archeology, with $10-12k in credit card debt. During a road trip with a friend who was a stripper, I was bemoaning the fact that we were putting everything on credit cards. She suggested dancing, and I scoffed at the idea. She wouldn't let up though until I finally agreed to "come in and at least see." That visit turned into my first-ever stage set, and by the following week, I was on the schedule and checking out other clubs to work in. Not only did I pay off nearly all my credit card debt, but it was perfect for my archeology schedule too -- I was able to work over the summers in the field and then pick up back at the clubs in the winter, when other archeologists were unemployed.
Why did you get out of it?
I was offered a (non-stripping) job in a beautiful part of the country. And 10 years later, at 37, I was exhausted with the working conditions; couldn't wait for a slower-paced life with normal hours again. It was a welcome change. That said, a sneaky part of me doesn't want to let go of the idea that if I needed to go back, I could.
What was the hardest transition to make?
Hands down, the money. I made a lot more stripping. When I had a "bad" night at the club financially, I would remind myself that my bad night was someone else's... entire weekly salary. Now, I'm that someone else, and it can be tough. Also, stripping is performance work, and anyone who is a performer will tell you that being on stage is addictive. When one of my old stage songs comes on, I absolutely ache to be floating in the limelight. There just isn't a substitute for that feeling in everyday life, at least not one that I've found.
What’s the best part about not stripping?
Normal working hours. I worked abroad for the last three years of my stripping career and the clubs overseas would stay open all night. I would often walk home at 8 or 9am, sleep all day, and be back to work by 10pm. It's nice being a functioning part of society, seeing daylight, and not constantly being ill due to fatigue and your body breaking down.
Do you mention your old line of work to new acquaintances?
God, I always want to. In a perfect world, when someone asks me about my life, I would be able to say, "I worked as a stripper for nearly 10 years, and they were some of the best times of my life." And then minds would be blown, and horizons broadened, and stereotypes/judgments shattered. But I tend to keep it under wraps because once people know, I am treated differently.
When it comes to coworkers, I want to avoid being put in that box where they think: "She's not serious about her career, she's not serious about anything, she's a promiscuous party girl and good at it!" Not that there’s anything wrong with being a promiscuous party girl, but other women will make your life miserable if/when they decide you can out-whore them.
What’s the worst experience you’ve had when someone found out?
The one that stands out involved new coworkers at a cafe. After a few glasses of wine one night, I told one of the ladies that I used to strip. By the time I got to work the next day, word had gotten around and no one would speak to/look me in the eye -- it was like I’d made some horrific mistake. Finally, one of them came up behind me and whispered, "You know what they say, once a stripper, always a stripper." The funny part, I laughed and said, "Damn straight!" I honestly thought for a second that she was being supportive. I mean, I always felt good at heart about being a stripper.
What skills did you learn stripping that you use in your current profession?
People skills, probably the most. Stripping was all about charm for me, and not being afraid to approach people. Also, I can read a room like nobody's business.
How has stripping changed the way you view people in the everyday world?
It's given me a better sense of humor about them; I try not to take anyone too seriously anymore. I also have an easier time not caring if people judge me. That doesn't mean I give them a reason to view me negatively, but if they do, it doesn't impact me as much.
How did you manage the drop in income?
Stripping helped me pay off my loans, and it put me in a good position financially so that I didn't have to stress about taking a lower-paying job. I also had some savings when I left. That said, the first year out was a little tough. I never went back into debt, but my saving grace was really my husband -- he helped support me until I got settled.
Now, I have a "real" job that uses my education and it pays quite well, so I am not as dependent on him as I once was. But going from being wildly financially independent to being grossly dependent can break a person psychologically. I am lucky to have someone so generous in my life, but it was a serious internal struggle.