Dita von Teese, for those of you who don't know, is an actress, model, and performer, who in recent years has emerged as the icon of new burlesque. She has become synonymous with the genre. Although her philosophy is certainly empowering, endorsing unconventional beauty; the defiance of conformity to superficial ideals in favor of expressing one's personal conception of sensuality and attractiveness. However, her own appearance, (a 5'2", 105 lb. white woman with a 22" waist), beggars the question: does she practice what she preaches?
What makes burlesque feminist; what elevates it beyond what some critics say is just a vintage form of stripping, is it's unapologetic essence of rebellion. Burlesque does flaunt the body and sexuality, yes, but in a much different context and spirit than in carnal, animalistic pornography or stripping. Whereas they focus on a very narrow, andocentric conception of beauty, representing only objectified bodies that conform almost exclusively to westernized ideals of sexuality, burlesque endorses a sexuality that comes form within. Burlesque evokes the mind and humor of the woman, her personality and sexuality conveyed through her body. It rejects the notion that sexuality can only be found within the limited scope of these western male ideals, and instead recognizes the unique allure of every woman. Regardless of age, race, body type, or anything else physical, new burlesque recognizes what's interesting and enticing in all of it.However, although Dita Von Teese advocates these liberating, feminist ideas, she herself is not a very good testament to them. Please don't get the wrong impression, this posting isn't meant to slander, vilify or attack Dita Von Teese. Burlesque celebrates all bodies, including those that do typify conventional standards of beauty. Dita Von Teese isn't necessarily any less true to the essence of burlesque because she epitomizes westernized physical ideals. She can certainly, and publicly does, endorse the burlesque ideas of flaunting natural beauty and rejecting superficial, even surgical, conformity, "Being different is good. It is so scary at first, but it is good. There are so many different ways of getting glamorous, it doesn’t have to be painful . . . Try a nice new lipstick, a red or a burgundy or a plum, not your usual beige-brown." (Dita von Teese, cited in Hughes, 2007). Rather, we, and many others, question the authenticity of a culture that endorses burlesque ideals of unconventional beauty, but only select women who epitomize conventional beauty to serve as spokes models. It is the height of irony that the icon for burlesque, the woman who made it mainstream and a national sensation, embodies the very thin, white, physical standards of beauty that burlesque rejects. Perhaps Dita von Teese is forced to conform to these traditional standards to be heard and popular, knowing that she wouldn't find public fame and success if she truly rejected conventional physical standards. Dita von Teese isn't the offender here, merely the product of a hypocritical and superficial society. While the very existence and popularity of new burlesque reflects an empowering, positive change, until we see women who truly challenge superficiality; who embody the unconventional beauty so marginalized in society, attain the same success that Dita von Teese has, we'll still have a long way to go.