AGE INSIDE: IMMODESTY BLAIZE

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Here is another from my Age Inside interview archive. The usual caveats apply: this represents a snapshot in time, etc, etc. For instance, since this conversation occurred, Immodesty has married.

 

IMMODESTY BLAIZE, Burlesque performer and author
b. 11 March, 1978
Age inside: 30

I think I feel 21, and I see myself as 30. I feel connected to 21 because it’s an age when we experiment and explore, when we’re not sure what we want to do when we grow up. And it’s the year where, I think, you have intense ambitions and an intense thirst and lust for experiences and treading new paths. For me that has never waned, which is why I feel mentally that I’m still there.

But the thing is, is that when I was 21, I spent a lot of time wishing I was older, because people don’t take you seriously when you’re 21. So for me, the pinnacle of where authority and experience meet youth and, I suppose, the media’s idea of what’s sexual and sensual, is around 30, so I feel that’s my ideal age.

I was very happy on my thirtieth birthday. I felt I’d arrive. I was a woman. I’d achieved quite a few of the things I’d set out to do, though of course, your focus shifts and your goal post move. It was a good year for me, and in a lot of ways, I don’t think that in my head I’ve really moved on.

I really did appreciate 30. I thought, ‘OK, now let’s get serious.’ I felt like I didn’t need to try so hard for people to take me seriously. Because it can come across really precocious, when you’re younger, if you have all these visions and dreams and ambitions.

I always longed for the mythical 30. I used to love Wonder Woman. And my mother was very beautiful and fascinating, and I remember sitting on her lap and the smell of Chanel. Mum never thought she was beautiful, though, and it is sad. She really under-rated herself.

My mother had me young; I would have been six when she was 30, so for me this vision of 30 was this older woman and Wonder Woman – power and sexiness at the same time, particularly because I had such a baby face. Even when I was 16 I looked like I was 12, so I was always desperate to be older, always!

It was also because I used to be teased a lot for having almond-shaped eyes. My mother used to say, ‘When you get older, you’re going to love that you have almond-shaped eyes.’ It was that sort of subconscious thing: When I get older, I’m going to love the way I look. I’ll be pretty when I get older. I think there were a few things going on there.

You know how kids are really cruel, they tease anyone who looks different. We’re talking about the early to mid-1980s, when it was acceptable to be racist. I’d get all sorts of people making ‘Chinky, Chinky Chinaman’ remarks. My mum used to put my hair in a bun and they’d put pencils in my hair like chopsticks. So for me, it was always: when I’m older. I had this kind of nose pressed up against the window view of women who were glamorous.

I was very academic. I had never considered that I would ever be something as ‘frivolous’ as a performer, and I wasn’t brought up to have any kind of stage aspirations. I wasn’t encouraged to do things like dance classes as a child. The pressure on me was to be something really academically high flying, because I was a model A-grade pupil at my all-girls, Catholic boarding school in Hartfordshire. It was expected that I would become a lawyer or something conventionally academic.

I was desperate to go to art school and do fine arts. You know, get my hands dirty. I was seen as throwing away my future, or chucking away an education. For me, performing was complete and utter rebellion. The second I could, after finishing my degree in advertising, I moved straight to London.

I never, ever, expected to do anything that would involve any kind of expression of sexuality or image or beauty, because I’d grown up being teased about my looks. I never thought in a million years that I would then use them as part of what I would do on stage. I surprised myself.

I started performing when I was 21. At first I pursued what was legitimate artistic career. I got into film production and producing and directing commercials. Alongside that, performing was a hobby for me, another creative outlet. I was always painting and drawing, painting what I saw as representations of femininity, exploring the idea of what we see as femininity, how we express our femaleness, exploring themes of vagina dentata, and a lot of the feminist texts, and exploring my idea of what femininity and femaleness was.

I always say that what I do started out as an art installation – and it got out of hand. I wanted to experience what I was drawing on the page and painting and making films about. I dreamed that person, and then I discovered that was me. And that happened when I was 21.

I don’t make a judgment on someone’s age when I meet them; I kind of assume everyone is my age. It’s because we don’t have a similar sort of conventional structure that we did a few generations ago. There isn’t an expected progression from education, marriage, then children. There isn’t that kind of society driven pressure on us to do things in a certain order any more.

I notice a difference between, say, the UK and the US, and when I meet people who are French or Spanish. They’re still in this quite conservative frame of mind, where the men don’t leave home until they get married, and the women tend to get married younger. I have a house in France, and the French people, when they know how old I am, are, ‘You’re not married?!’ And then, ‘Well you must have children?’ Uh, nope!

It’s an interesting time to ask how I’ll handle ageing, because I’m at an age now where everyone around me is either in the camp of ‘I’ll do everything’, or they don’t give it any thought. In my job you do look at other women in the media. Again, I don’t see their age, but I can see how well maintained they are. I haven’t succumbed to anything yet. I feel reluctant to do anything, but then I don’t know how I’ll feel in five, 10, 15 years time. I am one for saying never say never, but I’m reluctant to change who I am and remove any signs of experience from my face.

The way I feel about botox or procedures on the face is that wrinkles are not the thing that give our age away. What does give it away is the way we speak, our experience, our knowledge. There’s an aura about people, and when someone’s really maintained, I don’t see someone who looks ten years younger, I see someone who’s their age, who’s had a lot of work done. People do have an aura of being mature or having experience. And that also goes for some girls who are young, and naturally look young, and can come across as older if they’ve lived an amazing life. It is the same with sensuality.

I’m not frightened. It’s there in my mind but I don’t notice if I’ve got a crow’s foot. I’m not scrutinizing my face. Sometimes I’ll watch a TV appearance and go, ‘God, I fell into some bad lighting there! Note to self: check lighting!’

But there is so much maintenance involved in [this job] anyway. If I’m getting up on stage and the only thing I’m going to be wearing is a spotlight and a few rhinestones, then I am very conscious of maintaining my body and being toned. I eat really healthily. I try to drink in moderation, and have put my heavy partying days behind me.

When I see myself in the mirror I feel grateful to look 30 and to have shed the baby face – I had such a baby face and I hated it, absolutely hated it. Where lots of women are getting fillers, I’m like, ‘Oh! The hollowed out cheeks, yes, great!’ I had the baby face, I don’t want that, I want the chiseled cheek bones. Perhaps I’ll feel differently when the wrinkles appear.

I think my mother would probably say I am the age I actually am, because she always saw me as wise for my years. The rest of my family would say I’m 16 – ‘For God’s sake, when are you going to settle down and do something normal?’ They still see me as a reckless teenager. And my best friends would probably see me at my ideal age, of 30.

It’s quite possible that people don’t take me seriously because I take my clothes off, but it doesn’t bother me. It would have bothered me when I was 21, but it doesn’t bother me in the slightest now. If people want to make a snap judgment like, ‘Oh, she’s doing it because that’s the only thing she’s capable of,’ they can think what they like. But it’s quite clear that I’m a businesswoman. I don’t feel that I have to prove myself, the way I did when I was younger. I grew into my confidence.

There’s something for me that’s about womanliness. I hated that pert teenager thing. No, I want to be a woman. You get this weird thing where women get older and they wear younger and younger fashions. I’m like, well actually, I like wearing womanly things. For me it’s all about being a woman and finally shedding childhood.

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