Not Your Average Strip Show

LA-based Thicc Strip was more than just a strip show, it was the start of something revolutionary for the body positivity community.

Hara poses in front of the crowd during her set on December 14, 2018 at Daf Creative Studios in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Lauren Berny.

The instructor tells them to face the mirror as they take a few steps forward. After they proceed to stretch their bodies in pretzel-like formations, she tells them to watch themselves as they move to the rhythm of the music. They arch their backs then bend forward and whip their heads back just so they could lock eyes with their reflections in the mirror. They stand back up to sway their hips in unison.

Some were experienced, but for most of these performers, stripping was nothing they’ve ever done before. What they wouldn’t know is that come show time, they would be greeted with a sea full of roars from the crowd and showers of dollar bills… a feeling both euphoric and electrifying.

When the body positivity movement began, its intentions were good. The goal was to be more inclusive and embrace women who were different than the conventional beauty standard. However, it has since become a brand, if not a marketing tool for companies to provide unauthentic ideas of self-love.

A month prior to the event, Victoria’s Secret Executive Ed Razek made remarks saying no one had interest in a show for plus-sized women. These remarks as well as the constant push for better progress in the body positivity community solidified the fact a show needed to be created that both defied that kind of thinking while also acting as a safe space.

Thicc Strip premiered in Los Angeles with a beautifully diverse cast of performers headlining. For these performers, stripping was a medium of empowerment and the only validation that was needed was their own. Not only were they bearing themselves on the narrow stage for all to see, but they were breaking the long-standing stereotypes and ideologies that bigger women couldn’t be seen as beautiful or sensual.

Hara Lim, one of the performers in the show, said she joined Thicc Strip because of this. “I decided to join because I’m really for the culture. I live the message in my soul. I got an invite on Facebook to attend the event. I read what it was and felt like I was invited to the fat girl ball. I instantaneously decided that there was no way I was just going to attend. I reached out told them who I was and within hours I was asked to join the group chat and the following Tuesday I attended my first practice.”

It was for the first time, an event would be giving a giant middle finger to those who enforced a standard for strippers, sex workers and to all those who apply.

For Alison Stevenson, one of the creators of Thicc Strip, this unapologetic vibe was already a big part of her life. The comedienne and writer started posting sexy photos of herself on Instagram featuring captions that spoke out against society’s expectations on women’s bodies. In one of her photos, Stevenson put:

“I remember how terrified I used to be of posting pics like these but now I’m like “Damn there’s not enough belly in this shot.” I guess I’m trying to say something like be the change you want to see in the world? Yeah.”

It was this mentality that lead to the creation of Thicc Strip, an event that would celebrate all bodies and hopefully cause a social change in how individuals see beauty. At the beginning stages of Thicc Strip, it was originally an idea that Stevenson had developed on her own. Unfortunately, with the extensive amount of coordinating it was too much for one person to handle and the show was canceled. However, by the second attempt came through Stevenson wasn’t alone. With her to help with the planning was co-founders Linda Douglas and Elizabeth Flores.

“Having Linda and Elizabeth on board as co-creators made the show be a lot more viable and we could come up with a clearer picture of what we were doing,” Stevenson said.

“When I got together with Alison, I knew she was onto something never seen before,” Douglas said. “Sure we’ve all seen bbw appreciation nights, but to have a show highlighting a range of bodies without a fetish vibe to it? This was something I knew would spread.”

After three months of classes, Thicc Strip’s final rehearsal was on Dec. 13. Situated in North Hollywood, Thicc Strip’s rehearsals took place in a small dance studio decorated with vintage furniture and a flickering red neon light reading “Hall Rental.” The performers only had an hour and a half to perfect their routines before opening night.

Excitement filled the air as the performers got ready, some wearing the outfits they’d be debuting on stage the next night. As the performers stretched, the main team tried to build the makeshift pole for them to rehearse on.

After realizing they couldn’t put it together, they’d hit their first obstacle of the evening and opted to rehearse without it. Despite the roadblock, everyone was still determined.

Each performance in Thicc Strip was unique to each performer. The song, choreography, and layout of each number was determined by the dancer — with the help of their coach Cera Byer, who guided and motivated the group during rehearsals.

“We got in touch with Cera via Instagram. We told her what we were doing and she was immediately on board.” Stevenson said on Byer’s involvement with the show. “She ended up being ten times better than what we imagined.”

With Byer’s motivational techniques, the performers of Thicc Strip were able to tap into their creative mantra’s and channel their sexualities in ways they never would have imagined. As the lights dimmed, the glow of a color-changing lantern illuminated the room as everyone sat in rows to watch each other.

Besides simply performing, each person apart of the Thicc Strip team was more than that. They were each other’s support systems. As the performers prepared for the show, those awaiting their turn wildly encouraged one another.

“We’re ready to let it all loose.” Thicc Strip’s host, Andrew Garside, also known by his drag name Ella Vira, said rehearsing for the show. “In this moment I want you to hoot, I want you to holler, I want you to say come here mama give it to me… I want you to yell all the beautiful things at these performers because they need your energy today.”

Although rehearsal ended a little earlier that night, there was still tons of work to be done.

At first glance, you wouldn’t expect the dark gray building to be the place for a strip show, but the long line of people waiting outside was a sign something exciting was happening inside.

Going inside was like entering a new world, one that included a tit pool, porn playing on the walls, and shiny metallic balloons that read “Thicc Strip,” to the vendors displayed their art, all of which echoed the theme of empowerment. Toward the entrance stood a raffle for the Downtown Women’s Center. HUD, who sponsored the event, encouraged attendees to fill out postcards oppose the Trump Administration’s gag rule that limited accessibility to care from Planned Parenthood and forbid doctors from offering abortion as an option, even as a medical necessity. It wasn’t just the performances that were making a statement, but every little piece of Thicc Strip was a part of a bigger picture.

As attendees started to pour in, it was only moments before the main event was about to happen.

Vendors displayed their art at the event. Photo by Lauren Berny.

Although the performers rehearsed their performances the night before, it was nothing like what was presented on stage. From bedazzled bras handmade by the dancer, high heels that lit up as they harshly hit each other, lots of glitter, and dollars being stapled to a performer’s body— each dance belonged to each dancer and was an extension of the person performing.


Vanessa strikes a pose. Photo by Andy Lizarraga.

Seraphina poses with a mallet as part of her routine. Photo by Lauren Berny.

Aria does a power pose during her set. Photo by Lauren Berny.

Latoya pulls out the whip as part of her performance. Photo by Lauren Berny.

Amaya stares into the crowd during her performance. Photo by Lauren Berny.

Kayli poses on the pole. Photo by Andy Lizarraga.

But it was more cool costumes and interesting twists. Sure this was a night for fun, but it was also a night to make a statement. These performers were making a statement.

Lou, 19, a vendor at the Kidd Bell table said, “As someone who grew up being overweight or bigger like all my life, I was told that that wasn’t okay and that wasn’t beautiful. I’m still sorta training myself to not think that way of my own body. Things like this just reinforce that message and help me to love myself and help others to do the same.”

It was that night where a particular space encompassed the body positivity movement and all that it was intended for. It was that night where people celebrated loving themselves, especially people who society tried to put down. Finally, a safe space that kept needing to be made had been created, it was happening in a small art studio in Los Angeles.

From the sold out online ticket sale to the line down the block, Thicc Strip’s success was evident.

“We knew we wanted to have a big show, but I don’t think any of us were expecting a line down the block,” Stevenson said. “I was hoping for 150 people, and we doubled that.”

“ When we were still in the planning stages, my goals were to hopefully get 100 or so people out, who knew LA wanted this type of show?! Someone told me we had 300 people wrapped around the street waiting to get in and I had to go outside to make sure they weren’t joking.” Douglas continued on by saying, “One of my favorite parts was seeing not only women supporting women but the date nights, the girl’s night out, the LGBTQ community, everyone felt welcome and comfortable to party with us. We were able to create a safe space for anyone.”

Although the first Thicc Strip was a success, that didn’t mean the team didn’t face any obstacles. Shortly after the event happened, the show’s official Instagram was deleted multiple times for due to people reporting the account revealing the social media platform’s flawed algorithm for sex-positive profiles. As a result, the team had to make a new Instagram account.

However, that didn’t stop the Thicc Strip team from continuing to prepare for more shows.

“Now that the first Thicc Strip is behind us, I want more!” Douglas said on whether there would be another Thicc Strip. “The energy from the crowd was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Getting cheered on when our belly fat was shaking, when unshaven legs were sliding down the pole, strutting on stage embracing our bellies, I want everyone to experience that.”

(Starting from left) Linda Douglas, Elizabeth Flores, and Alison Stevenson. Photo by Andy Lizarraga.

Stevenson echoed similar sentiments, “Sexuality and attraction are not as limited as mainstream media wants us to believe it is, and women of all body types can be (and are) sexy as fuck. We wanted people to see our dancers embrace who they are, in hopes they might do the same!”

You can follow Thicc Strip on their Instagram and Twitter. Anyone interested in participating in the next show can check out this post, as well attend an informational meeting on Feb. 5.