Story and Photos by Kaitlin Owens

Editor’s Note: Performers in this story will be
referred to by their stage names.

Stripping off bejeweled lingerie down to sparkly pasties and
a barely there G-string is just one way a woman can express
her femininity. Some women show femininity in a more
modest fashion, like wearing a hijab. There are many symbols
associated with femininity, but how the individual feels is what
truly dictates womanhood.

3

Prepare for the Stage

Clementine glues fake eyelashes on top of SweetAmber Wine’s real eyelashes before a show. The women were getting ready with other troupe members in a tent set up on the back patio of the West End Ciderhouse in Athens. This will be SweetAmber Wine’s first show and has had a lot of help from
other troupe members over the last few months while she was preparing. (Previous) Rena LaMarr reveals her g-string and fans out her skirt while
practicing a number in Kantner Hall on Ohio University’s campus. LaMarr tends to wear costumes that draw attention to her plus-sized body.

Rena LaMarr has been performing burlesque for 6 years. A few
years later, she co-founded Moonstruck Burlesque, a troupe out
of Athens, Ohio. LaMarr is also a plus-size woman but she does
not let that stop her from stripping down to the least amount of
clothing she can without breaking the law. In fact, she embraces
her curves.
In mass media and pop culture, LaMarr feels that plus size
women are usually stereotyped as the funny person, the friend,
or the sidekick. Mainstream also dictates what makes or breaks
someone’s beauty.
“If you’re not the model, you’re not feminine, and if you don’t
have big boobs, you’re not feminine, or if you don’t have curves,
you’re not feminine,” she said.
She turns those stereotypes on its head by focusing on
performing ultra-sexy numbers, and using traditional beauty

“Because of performance, I have a platform where I
can speak up about things and promote...and when I have
conversations with people after shows I can say ‘this is why,’
this is what’s important as women.”

standards to her advantage. Adding a layer of feathers to a bra
draws eyes to her breasts and adding rhinestones to a thong draws
eyes to just below her stomach.
“I find it’s important for people to see that as a plus size
woman, you still can be sexy. You still find your inner beauty
and, you know, be sexy. The confidence of being sexy and feeling
that way helps so many people.”
To the average viewer, burlesque might seem like it is about
the costumes and makeup, but it is much deeper than that.
“Because of performance, I have a platform where I can speak
up about things and promote...and when I have conversations
with people after shows I can say ‘this is why,’ this is what’s
important as women,” said LaMarr.
In a 2009 study titled Femininity, Masculinity, and Body
Image Issues among College-Age Women: An In-Depth and

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5

Perform for the Judges

Models from F. A. C. E. S. Modeling, a student organization at Ohio University, pose at the end of the runway during the annual Black Alumni
Reunion Variety Show. The organization also celebrated its thirty-year anniversary at this event. (Previous) Body builders lift weights and do final
checks backstage in the “Pump up Room” at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio. The women are required to wear bikinis with gemstones,
some wear high-heels, and jewelry, as opposed to male body builders who just wear shorts and go without shoes.

Written Interview Study of the Mind-Body Dichotomy, when
asked to explain femininity, multiple women brought up
physical traits and material presentations of gender.
“Women love compliments, especially about their bodies,
and not like “you’re so smart” they want to hear like, “wow you
look really great in that dress,” or something like that. I think
it’s made people more concerned about the way they look,” said
one of the participants.
It is noted in the study that the women asked to define
femininity had a hard time articulating their thoughts and
feelings. The study found female bodies are seen as delicate and
experience negativity when expressing power.
When asked to define masculinity, the same people
responded much quicker and associated male strength
with power.
While feelings of negativity can be associated with

“Women love compliments, especially about their bodies,
and not like “you’re so smart” they want to hear like, “wow you
look really great in that dress,” or something like that. I think it’s
made people more concerned about the way they look.”

womanhood, one Ohio University junior journalism student
stated very simply, “I just love being a girl.”
Sarah Al-harrasi, an international student from Oman, has a
much different take on what being a woman means.
“Being a woman is appreciating all the other women in my
life, including the women in my family as well as my friends.”
She also proudly dons a hijab, which she says was entirely
her choice and would not feel like herself without it.
“It is not oppression if we get to decide what we wear,” Alharrasi said. To someone who does not understand the tradition
of wearing the hijab, “it is just a cloth.”
When hearing about stories like the Egyptian Olympic
volleyball team wearing hijabs, she finds it “strange” because it
shouldn’t matter what she is wearing. In Western media, the hijab
can overshadow the amazing thing the woman is actually doing
when in many places in the world, the hijab is completely normal.

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7

Center around Simplicity

Sarah Al-harrasi poses for a portrait. (Previous) A portrait or LaMarr’s mother sits next to a pin-up girl figurine in Rena’s home. LaMarr’s home is
filled with vintage burlesque and pin-up trinkets, costume pieces, and photos of past and current burlesque performers. She also has many vintage
photos of her family, most notably her grandparents who were adagio performers, which is a type of “acrobalance” performance, in their younger
years. LaMarr cites them as inspiration for performing and even borrowed the name “Rena” from her grandmother’s stage name.

Even though Al-harrasi loves being girl, she recognizes
struggles she has because she is a woman.
“I am currently the president of the Omani Student Association
and I can think of how much more I have to struggle... just
because I am a girl. There’s always this idea with guys that a
woman shouldn’t be a president.”
While the hijab is a symbol of femininity in some cultures, the
scale is a symbol that either says a person is the right or wrong
size in western culture.
Scales measure weight, and depending on that number
a woman either fits in or is too large for the box. The Ohio
University Womens Center held a “scale smashing” event one
sunny day where they set up a tarp and invited anyone to take a
hammer to an array of scales.
Kayla Czyzewski, a freshman studying special education,
confessed that she struggles with an eating disorder, so it was

“I am currently the president of the Omani Student Association and I can think of how much more I have to struggle... just because I am a girl. There’s always this idea with
guys that a woman shouldn’t be a president.”

“awesome” for her to physically damage an object that holds
power over her. More women than men stopped to take part, but
this small event meant a lot to one male student in particular.
As Nate Breidenbaugh, a freshman studying music,
smashed scales, he was shouting “I have been freed from the
tyranny of the scale.”
He had been in treatment for anorexia and watched a girl die
from the same disease.
“It was good to get that off my chest,” he said before
walking away.
As much as media and culture dictate gender roles and
rules, it can also take them away instantly. In the cult classic
that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, gender is thrown out
the window. Sami Sparxx, a burlesque performer living in
Columbus, got his start in drag because he was joined the
Rocky cast as a freshman at Ohio University.

8

Smash the Norms
“The whole premise of Rocky is completely bonkers and
we got to pretty much decide what was up, what was down...
we threw gender norms out the window,” said Sparxx. “I find
gender norms archaic and just ridiculous... I love making fun
of them and playing with them.”
Performing in this show for many years, and then
eventually producing it, led him to explore burlesque and
creating a female stage persona. The character of Sami
Sparxx follows some of the stereotypes of made-up women
with perfect flowing hair, and slimming dress topped off with
fashionable pumps.
But, because Sparxx enjoys being a male during the day, he
refuses to shave his arms and legs. When he first entered the
burlesque world as Sami Sparxx, he said he drew more lines
on how he wanted to look as a male and how he wanted to
look as a female.

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Sami Sparxx performs a number dressed as Betelgeuse to a medley of Beetlejuice movie quotes and Harry Belafonte songs. Sparxx also lip-syncs
to many of his numbers, which is not common in burlesque but very common in the drag queen community. (Previous) Part of a smashed scale lies
on the ground during a scale smashing event that was part of “Love Yourself Week,” which was sponsored by the Ohio University Womens Center.
(Following) Clementine twirls around in a dress during a burlesque practice.

After figuring himself and his character out more, he wants
to become more androgynous on stage.
“I’ve been trying to switch my style to more of a
genderfuck... I find that I... have evolved as a person... so I
feel like I would like my stage persona to do the same,” he
said. “I don’t like imposing gender norms on other people so I
feel like I shouldn’t impose them on myself.”
It all depends on where he is performing though because he
said some people are just used to the “cookie cutter” and has
to decide if he should stay effeminate or not.
Long hair, short hair. Make-up or fresh faced. Skirts or pants.
A woman has thousands of options and combinations when
choosing how they want to look each day. Some choose to
follow beauty standards, and some use them in a way to make a
statement. Feeling feminine can seem literal and only expressed
materially, but in reality these are very personal feelings.

“I’ve been trying to switch my style to more of a
genderfuck... I find that I... have evolved as a person... so
I feel like I would like my stage persona to do the same. I
don’t like imposing gender norms on other people so I feel
like I shouldn’t impose them on myself.”
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