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  • Valerie Stunning

Overhyping The Hustle, Are We Caught Up? (Part 2)

If you haven’t read Part 1, I recommend doing so before continuing. Cheers!

When I first started writing this piece I thought it was only about how #striptok participants (and the like) overhype hustle culture and glamorize partial truths in exchange for viewership and validation, and how this in turn oversimplifies strippers’ circumstances and contributes to the stigma we face. I’ve since realized it is also about how using our work persona and the tactics we use with clients at work when addressing fellow strippers online can become cannibalistic. The more I think about it, the more I realize there’s a lot to this theory and I aim to explore it thoroughly. But I also don’t want to squeeze too much in a single blog post. So let's begin with how I got caught up.

The very first day I arrived in Las Vegas I had one suitcase and enough money to stay a single night at Motel 6. Since February 2011 I had been shaking my ass from city to city earning just enough to make a few memories and then move on. After an adventurous two plus years of living without a home base to say I was road weary was an understatement. But I had just put my last cent toward lodging, so after check-in and a quick refresh I took off in my jalopy of a 97’ Subaru Outback to audition at a club I’d read about on (rest in peace). I returned later that night with a lot more cash than I had left with and an inflated sense of confidence that I was going to make Vegas my bitch. Ahhhh, twenties…

One of the things stripping eventually provided me with is access to an earning potential that I otherwise could have never sat in the same room with. I come from generations of poor working class people. In terms of “formal” education I have only a high school diploma. And my pre-stripper resume flaunts a slew of fast food joints, highway side diners, and chain restaurants that I worked back breaking hours at from the age of 15.

One of the things stripping eventually taught me is how to impersonate a socioeconomic class I did not come from so I could appear more relatable and therefore more valuable to prospective clients in that tax bracket. This is known as class drag.

*Lawyers, Realtors, and Strippers are a few examples of the professionals that regularly employ class drag to signal relatability in hopes of closing a sale. Perhaps it’s also why a significant amount of lawyers and realtors are also former strippers ;)

But it was when I began building a social media presence as a Stripper living in a fabulous city doing fabulous things, that’s when I was able to curate the version of myself I wished to see in the world. And at some point, I can’t remember when, the line between me and my work persona began to disappear.

I lived and stripped in Las Vegas from May 2013 to December 2022. And while no one makes Las Vegas their bitch, I did spend several of those years hustling with zero chill and flexing on the internet that I was that bitch. There’s a weird thing that happens when constantly viewing yourself through the lens of a constructed persona who performs on social media. (Yes, performs. What else would you call the act of curating a post that takes into consideration any of the following: lighting, setting, makeup, wardrobe, angles, and diction?) Especially if you work a job that is heavily stigmatized and the internet feels like a safe place to publicly exist and celebrate this aspect of what you do. Especially if you grew up without means in a tough environment with very little guidance. *Waves hand emphatically

The thing that happened to me, despite it’s superficiality and parasocial nature, is that I started to internalize the the social media attention I was receiving for the persona I was promoting as personally validating. I saw that the more I adopted my internet persona as my actual personality the more the world seemed to reward me with access to spaces and social spheres that were once considered above my pedigree. And while this was a slippery slope to conflating my self image with my self, I’m not sure that I would consider the entirety of the years I spent caught up a problem. I think the problem specifically is when I stopped being able to separate the person I was on the internet for work purposes from the person I was on the internet for community purposes.

It’s an easy trap to fall into and because I've been there I now see the signs of buying into one’s own internet hype reflected back at me in many of the people who PSA on #striptok and other forums like it. In fact there seems to be a general disconnect that we Strippers are collectively ignoring when it comes to which audience is the appropriate audience to direct one’s work persona and/or class drag at when flexing on the internet.

I didn’t make the rules. But I can tell you after dancing naked for money for over twelve years throughout sixteen cities in four countries and on three continents (fakes humility, flips hair) being a Stripper is so much more than the hustle hard/right/smart, look expensive, rack out and go home messaging of social media lore. I believe when targeting prospective clients, yee-fucking-haw, this is explicitly work. But when we are sharing insights, stories, and advice with fellow Strippers, we owe each other the aggressive overhead white lights no bullshit truth. And we owe it to each other because when it comes to navigating the full spectrum of hard realities that doing this job safely and sustainably requires, we are all we’ve got. This is evident in the very act of us coming to the internet and looking to each other for guidance.

In Part 3. I’ll share how I got real with myself, and will explore the ways we can practice holding ourselves and each other accountable when creating and consuming content made for Strippers by Strippers.

Next Post: 9/20

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Photo: Valerie Stunning by Sophia Phan


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