Iwas a pretty responsible teenager, at least with regard to working. I had a job in a lingerie store and I loved having that responsibility and the independence it gave me. I felt very grown up. I was so interested in the world of lingerie – to me it was a rite of passage into womanhood. I’d had a fantasy of wearing these things since I was a little girl. I had a different perspective on lingerie to lots of people. I didn’t equate it with sex until I was older. I saw these mysterious pretty things in my mother’s drawer and I was like, why don’t I have these things? I couldn’t wait till I got to be an adult and wear them. That’s really how I formed my future career, out of my obsession with lingerie.
My early teens were a confusing time. My parents were in the middle of a divorce when I was about 13 and my body started to change and I got my period. I had just moved from Michigan to Orange County in LA and that was a big culture shock for someone who still felt like a little girl. I was definitely a late bloomer. I was quite small, and always looked younger than I was. It took me a long time to make new friends. It was a good thing I had an older sister to confide in. My parents just kind of overlooked the whole thing.
People who know me from back then are amazed by what I went on to do
I don’t think I could ever say I was close to my dad. He was very judgemental. When I worked in the lingerie store he translated that to my being a slut. So that made things between us a bit…tense. But my mother and I are birds of a feather in many ways. Soft-spoken and shy. She had a playful, fun attitude to makeup and clothes. Like me, she saw these things as the icing on the cake of life. I remember my mum dyeing her natural auburn hair to platinum and my dad had a fit. It was a huge blow-up fight. My dad called her all these awful names. My mum was just having fun with her hair colour!
I had a steady boyfriend for four of my teenage years. That made a huge difference to my confidence. There was always this thing in school, if you made out with different boys on different occasions you were a slut. I always found it really hard navigating that. Kids were so awful to each other. So having one boyfriend made all that much easier. I’ve always felt grateful that I was able to learn about sex, and experiment, with that one boy I loved and trusted. I look back at that time with absolute fondness. It ran its course naturally. We broke up when he went off to college and by then I was anxious to try other things. I got involved in the electronic music scene and my next boyfriend was a rave DJ.
Your first impression of the 16-year-old me would have been of a quiet, shy girl. I was a ballet dancer. People who know me from back then are amazed by what I went on to do. I was not someone who liked to be in the spotlight or have people listening to me talk. I don’t think the teenage me would be so surprised that I went on to be a dancer, or by the striptease or anything like that. But she would be amazed that I managed to find my voice and engage in public speaking, which I do now hosting awards shows, and working with various charities. I wouldn’t even get up in front of class, I was so paralysed by fear.
My younger self would be surprised that I would eventually think being married and having a baby wasn’t that important
My younger self (starting out in burlesque) wouldn’t have understood the issues around body shape and ageism. All I thought about was how cool and young and thin I looked. I didn’t think about what I was doing beyond, oh it’s glamorous, its sexy, it’s nice clothes and makeup. But now the driving force in what I do is inspiring people that they can be all those things, regardless of shape or age. I feel I’ve spearheaded a movement which has a lot of meaning for people. Burlesque has exploded, I’m really quite proud of that. I had a mission and I saw it through.