Dita Von Teese has proven herself as the "Queen of Burlesque" through her decades-long success as a performer pushing the boundaries of femininity and scandal on stage. At 50 years old, she has no plans to stop any time soon. In fact, she told Dua Lipa that she believes we're experiencing the "golden age of burlesque" today.
"For the better part of 25 years really it's been a movement but it has been a place of inclusivity and diversity. It has been in this era and it wasn't back then," Von Teese said during an appearance on the singer's podcast Dua Lipa: At Your Service. "So the show that I tour with is not like a show of pinup girls, there’s just as many men in the show as women performing strip tease and as many different people as I can bring."
The evolution in her show and burlesque as a whole speaks to the journey that Von Teese has been on in her own career, especially when she looks back on how her work was perceived when she had just begun.
"I've kind of lived my career and my life with, I think, an arc that happened not by my own design, but it started off as performance that seemed to be more under the male gaze. But that changed dramatically," she explained.
She recalled doing a tour in England for the release of her book, Burlesque and the Art of the Teese/Fetish and the Art of the Teese, where she was given the chance to talk about "why I love this era, why I love pinup, what makes me feel empowered about burlesque." From there, she saw her audience begin to evolve and felt that she was better understood.
"I was doing a signing at Harrods with the horse and carriage and all that kind of thing and they closed off the streets and I looked out and there were all these women, and I thought, OK, this is different than I thought it would be," she said. "I think by telling my story about why I love it, it resonated with other women about like harnessing your erotic power, your sensual power, living life on your own terms, a new kind of feminism because ultimately to me, being a feminist means choosing to live your life however you want. I'm not answering to other people's opinions."
Although burlesque had seemingly seen its heyday in the '20s and '30s, what Von Teese was doing even in the 2000s was considered scandalous and even controversial. Instead of feeling intimidated by that notion, however, she said that she was motivated by it.
"I feel like I've always kind of leaned into things that could be considered taboo or risqué. Like, I mean strip tease obviously or choosing to be objectified or put yourself in a position where you are objectified or bondage and fetishism. The corset, a lot of people are very offended by the idea of putting on a corset but I love the idea of taking the things that could be perceived as degrading or bondage, for lack of a better word ... you can liberate that taboo by saying I like it for this reason," Von Teese explained. "There's a power in saying, I'm gonna do this because it feels freeing.' So I like that. And I like the idea of making things more friendly, playful, fun. That's something I've always loved."
By paving her own lane in the industry and creating her own shows, the performer has also been in full control of the way that she is seen which connects to that feeling of empowerment.
"When I'm doing my own thing, all of the costumes are designed in a way that make me feel confident and comfortable and covered and accentuate the things I choose," she said.
Nevertheless, there are practical downsides to putting herself in the spotlight during an era of social media — namely when it comes to the criticism that people now often face about their bodies.
"I didn't have a care in the world before social media when I was in my twenties. I was just having the time of my life," she said. "Nobody ever said like, 'Hey, you've got a little bit of cellulite there,' or 'You look a little bloated.'"
Luckily, she said she benefits from a type of confidence that has come with age.
"I used to be so concerned with perfection on stage and now I’m a little like, it doesn't matter. I'm not going to say just because I'm not perfect from that angle, I'm not gonna do that thing anymore," she explained. "I used to want to be perfect on stage, and now I don’t feel that. I want to be perfect in other ways."
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.