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  • Valerie Stunning

Overhyping The Hustle, Are We Caught Up? (Part 1)

I took a break at work recently and was bombarded with a Tik Tok that gave me, what I can only describe in my best Jersey I-talian accent as the agita. I didn’t intend to watch it. I don’t even have an active Tik Tok account. But it was a sneak attack, reposted by a popular IG stripper account that I follow. And as I scrolled my feed it came into frame and immediately started playing. Got em.

The reel’s content was in line with the trend of strippers / swers on social media dishing what I believe is intended to be well-meaning advice. The woman delivering it was direct and her tone matter of fact. The bulk of the message was crystal clear: Do stripping right. Go to work, live below your means, save your money, and don’t get stuck working as a stripper in your 40’s and 50’s, or even worse at Panera Bread, when you could have done better.

More and more strippers are taking to the internet in search of community and information and I have scrolled many posts akin to this one. I’ve even preached similar sentiments about saving and preparing in past posts. So why did this Tik Tok agitate the hell out of me?

I sat with my discomfort for a few more minutes in an impossibly small dressing room on an impossibly slow night, and promised myself I’d continue to examine this feeling later. Because as Brené Brown would say, this was information. But as my mother would say, this rent wasn’t going to pay itself.

Since that night I thought about that Tik Tok a lot. I rewatched it, I talked about with others, I weighed it against other stripper / swer PSA’s and even my own past rhetoric. Then eventually I realized. The reason this video hit different is because I no longer relate to or agree with a lot of what is being touted as industry insight.

I’ll bet my ass it’s an unpopular opinion, but what I currently glean from most stripper /swer PSA’s flushes into a repetitive cycle and becomes this sort of self licking ice cream cone. For example, I see our society mine the culture of strippers / swers for inspiration yet continue to stigmatize and marginalize us. I see us as workers attempt to reject this stigma by being out about our jobs yet internalize it by overhyping the hustle and buying into the very class drag we perform to earn our living. I see us as content creators glamorizing this as the “key to success” and “right way” to do this work, then formatting it within the constraints and limitations of algorithms and word counts. And I see how this leads us as viewers to absorbing half baked ideas as scripture then modifying our behavior accordingly. Thus becoming our reality, which then influences our culture, and repeat.

You know, when I first began soap boxing on the internet I wanted to believe that a lot of us in the industry who flex on social media, regardless of pomp and circumstance, aimed to encourage a more informed worker. Because a more informed worker is a more empowered worker. It was this belief that led me to pursuing an active role in my community as a fellow organizer. For over five years I collaborated with folks from different factions of sex work in multiple sex worker led organizations to advocate for humanizing the worker, de-stigmatizing the work, and securing labor rights and protections. I learned that the issues we as sex workers face are really fucking complex and often require multi-pronged solutions. And in the midst of it all I doubled down in my belief that sex work is valid work and can be a sustainable career for whomever chooses to pursue it.

It’s a hill I will absolutely die on. Though as I wave this flag I also wonder:

Are we individually and collectively perpetuating a feedback loop that overhypes the hustle and leads us to getting caught up which then reenforces the stigma we face?

Have we bought into the cult of #hustleharder culture as the sole means of validating our line of work? And / or our right to work?

By glamorizing, dramatizing, and proselytizing partial truths in exchange for viewership and validation, are we just cosplaying ourselves? Is this harmful?

Over the next couple of posts I’ll dive deeper into these questions, give detailed examples from my own experience of getting caught up and believing my own hype, and wax poetically about why I now believe there is no winning this game.

Next Post: 9/6

BTS Photo: Valerie Stunning


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