IF YOU had told me a few years ago that I would be willingly preparing to stand on stage in front of a paying audience and experienced judges, and gradually strip off my clothing to a choreographed routine I would have thought you were nuts.
I've struggled with my weight since high school. After moving back to Burnie following two years in London I ballooned out to more than 130kg and was crippled by a lack of self-confidence. I couldn't bring myself to look in mirrors, hated having my photo taken and once ended up in tears when asked during a Zumba class to simply walk and strike a pose for the group.
I had one pair of 'smart' black trousers I could wear to work or the rare occasions I went out, and one pair of black trackpants to wear at home. Seats with arms in waiting rooms or flimsy plastic chairs at barbecues filled me with terror.
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As odd as it may sound, making myself bigger was also a way of making myself disappear. Saving myself from more heartbreak and rejection by not getting close to anyone in the first place.
Food became a coping mechanism, a comfort, an addiction.
Of course losing weight doesn't fix those problems but it does make life so much better - not just physically but mentally.
I had tried nearly every 'quick fix' in the past but of course healthy eating and exercise is the only answer - however you have to be in the right head space to commit to it. For me it was the birth of my niece Violet, on my birthday three years ago that was my 'aha' moment. I didn't want to share our special day together into the future feeling like the fat auntie, I wanted her to be proud of me and be a good role model for her.
Although whether my family feels my new interest in burlesque makes me a good role model or not, I'm not too sure! I think they have mixed feelings about it - proud of my new-found confidence but a bit confused about what it's really all about. Let's be honest - burlesque won't be for everyone.
So what actually is burlesque? According to the Australian Burlesque Festival, it is a sexy and seductive pantomime for grown ups. The captivating stage show was popularised in the 1800s, and has evolved over time to be the luxurious, quirky, sparkly and theatrical form of entertainment it is today.
At its core, burlesque means to mock or parody. Clubs and vaudeville theatres in the 1800s through to the 1940s often had raunchy variety shows where performers would parody political personalities and stereotypical characters.
In the Golden Era of burlesque (1930s-1960s) women in stunning costumes and beautiful props would elegantly use striptease as their mode of entertainment. Neo-burlesque came along in the 1990s, evolving to include slapstick comedy, circus, cabaret, queer performance art, political satire, boylesque, social commentary and more.
For me, I had gradually increased my fitness and confidence by transitioning from the back corner of my dance fit class to taking over as the instructor! I went from taking 40 minutes to walk the 5km parkrun course in baggy trackpants to wearing tights and hitting a PB of under 25 minutes.
But while I felt physically better about my body, my head had a lot of catching up to do - and that's where burlesque came in. I want to be clear that I didn't feel like I had to lose weight in order to take part - it's such a supportive, encouraging environment for women of all sizes, shapes and ages.
And starting out with the Devils Burlesque Academy classes in Devonport, there was never any pressure to perform publicly and our fun routines didn't involve removing anything beyond scarves and gloves.
We all have insecurities - lumps, scars and wobbly bits we dislike no matter how much we know we should just love our bodies. So often we see perfect airbrushed images of women and we form an unhealthy concept of what the 'ideal' is - but through burlesque you see 'real' women not being afraid to reveal (nearly) everything and that is so empowering.
I'm also aware I had started to go a bit too far the other way, at my peak having lost 62kg and running the Burnie Ten in 52 minutes. But I've relaxed lately, slowed down a bit, put some weight back on and I'm fine with it - I have curves back and don't obsess over that number on the scale as much.
It's also so important to have a creative outlet, to meet new people, get dressed up and express yourself through a stage persona (after much deliberation over my burlesque identity I ended up coming full circle to a version of my own name, with a salty cocktail twist - Clara Margarita.)
For me, burlesque is a natural progression of my love for vintage pin-up art - it's sexy but in a cute and fun way. And I don't do it to please anyone but myself.
I still have a lot to learn, having only performed in group routines in three student showcases, so competing in Apprentease will definitely be pushing me out of my comfort zone. But I've wasted too many years - it's time to be the star of my own show!
This is what some of my fellow Apprentease contestants had to say:
Harley Rumlicious, 38, of Launceston: I started burlesque to make new friends and to learn the art of tease. I'm competing in Apprentease because I enjoy being on stage and showcasing all that I've learnt, as well as gaining more confidence as a woman.
Miss Billie Rocka, 35, of New Norfolk: As a showgirl through and through, burlesque gives me the opportunity to feel glamorous, powerful, feminine and fearless while fueling my creative ambitions and unashamed desire for the spotlight.
Kate Havok, 30, of Devonport: I love burlesque because it celebrates strong, proud women, who love and own their own bodies. I compete in Apprentease to meet other performers, learn new skills and the thrill of the crowd's roar!
Sinna-Mum Bunz, 39, Northern Tas: I got involved in burlesque to boost confidence and open another avenue of self expression. I entered Apprentease to show that all sizes are beautiful and sexy. I am here to represent big butts.
For me, burlesque was all about building my body confidence, self esteem and stepping out of my comfort zone, but now it is so much more.
Lily Flirtini, 30, of Devonport: For me burlesque was all about building my body confidence, self esteem and stepping out of my comfort zone, but now it is so much more. It's about feeling supported within a great community, everyone I meet teaches me something new and help me to grow as a performer as well as a person. The routines and costumes make it all the more fun.
Last year's winner Kitty La Creme will perform a hand-over act and the competition judges are Mr Boylesque Australia 2015 Egson Ham; Miss Gay Australia International 2019 Misty DelRay; Western Australian drag disruptor Ruby Slippers; and Miss Burlesque Tasmania 2018 Camilla Cream.
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