‘Under-cover in Agent Provocateur: By Immodesty Blaize
Author Bio: Immodesty Blaize is Europe’s premier showgirl. The only British woman ever to win the title Reigning Queen of Burlesque in Las Vegas in 2007, Immodesty has performed her extravagant shows internationally for clients such as Dior, Cartier, and Prince Albert of Monaco, and in shows with artistes such as James Brown, Roxy Music, Nick Cave, Scissor Sisters, and Gloria Gaynor to name just a few.
Immodesty’s documentary ‘Burlesque Undressed’ screened in cinemas in over 30 countries, and her two novels were Top 20 bestsellers. She is a certified eating psychology practitioner, and a long-standing body positivity ambassador. Immodesty lives in Monaco.
Photo Credit: Tigz Rice Studios
Thoughts from the runway
I joined the lineup of models backstage, ready to walk the runway. They were leggy, towering over me, a rainbow of stunning beauty. And then there was me, a little shorter, a whole lot more thigh, and a corset laced a wee bit too tight at the armpits by the stylist. I made up for the height difference mainly in extra hair. But you could say, I felt exposed. For someone who for 20 years has been taking her clothes off on stage for audiences of thousands, it wasn’t a feeling I was used to.
I was modeling for Agent Provocateur’s first UK runway show in 15 years. Behind me in line was an impossibly tall African beauty, fiddling with her earring. In front of me a stunning brunette shivering cold in just a string and bra. Then the queen herself joined us; Marie Helvin. I pinched myself. She’s exquisite in person. Not just her physicality, but her aura. I always appreciate beauty in another woman; yet at the same time, it’s the human condition to have moments of awareness of our own utter crapness. And yet… Marie Helvin, legendary supermodel… she was the same height as me…we had something in common…it was gonna be ok…
It was my cue to walk. As I stepped under the hotlights, a squeal rang out from a designer cheering me on from the front row. By the time I’d done my lap, tables of people were on their feet clapping and cheering. I don’t know if they were just applauding my ability (or stupidity) to let my shortcomings be seen next to women so exceptionally physically beautiful, or there were a lot of fans of nutcracking thighs; either way they were enjoying my contribution. I just thought, hey it’s not every day you get to walk with Marie Helvin. I’ll own that, thanks!
On reflection, it summed up the space that a burlesque performer must claim in her work and her life. In honing her unique presence and visual identity for the stage, she owns who she is. She must dig deep for authenticity in expressing her persona. Some will be tempted to imitate other performers they admire, but, like holding an inflated beach ball beneath water, it can’t last long. Neither will it convince an audience as being the ‘real deal’. Magic comes with authenticity.
When I think of my favourite performers past and present who have moved me, entertained me, made me laugh, or swept me up in the fabulousness of their presence, not once has that been led by the size of her body, whether or not she has cellulite, or the amount of rhinestones on her g-string. Just as passion is found in people, over sex; in the same way choreography or butt implants or an expensive costume alone isn’t enough to move an audience. The real fire happens with intimacy and connection. That only happens when a performer has found and put her true self and desires out there. Yes, often a honed and exaggerated version, but ultimately an authentic version from the heart.
It’s true I was certainly not physically perfect like the Agent Provocateur models, but I had something different. I didn’t have what they had…and they didn’t have what I had. And that space is where we get to admire, rather than compete with other women; we get to admire others, and simultaneously enjoy our own different qualities. As the burlesque legend Dixie Evans said to me when talking about the burlesque dancers of yore, ‘We knew who we were. We were galvanised.’ As someone who has made a career disrobing and celebrating my very imperfect and curvaceous body in a size zero world, I’m with you on that one Dixie, I’m with you.