SFBG.com: Q&A: Dita Von Teese on gaining sexual confidence, creating beauty on her own terms
by Hillary Smith
May 24, 2013
She is classy, beautiful, and sexually poised. She’s seductive, creative, and ambitious. She is world-famous burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese, and she is coming to SF this week (Wed/26 -Sat/29).
Von Teese recently designed her own line of lingerie, which you can check out here, and is on a tri-city tour with her sexy show “Burlesque: Strip Strip Hooray!” featuring MC Murray Hill. Her performances are much like Von Teese herself — epic and glamorous.
Von Teese talked to me about gaining sexual confidence, her fascination with straight male cross-dressers, and the satisfaction of creating beauty on her own terms.
SF Bay Guardian What is one life lesson that you have learned from dancing?
Dita Von Teese Just generally, discipline. Whether it’s ballet, like from my childhood, or what I do now, there is a lot of discipline involved in being a performer. I have friends that have never worked out and don’t do anything active. It’s something I take for granted because I have to, it’s by job to get up and workout. And having peace with my body. Taking dance classes my whole life forced me to appreciate my body. I don’t have the same kind of body self-hate that some girls get when they’re not used to looking at themselves in mirrors.
SFBG As an outsider, I would think that someone so much in the spotlight and so known for their beauty and style would feel quite a lot of pressure to live up to a flawless image.
DVT I do feel a lot of that at the same time. It’s easy to let that stuff get to you. I think ‘Oh, when are people going to find out I don’t have this perfect body?’ I’m just a normal woman. The things we say about our bodies, I would never say that to someone else.
SFBG You come off as very poised and confident. What advice do you have for someone who wants to gain sexual confidence?
DVT I think it’s important to educate yourself. I think it’s great to read erotica and to be around other people who have a healthy attitude about sex. One of my best friends, Betony Vernon wrote an incredible book and is a great writer and role model for sexually empowered women to have. To seek out role models like that, strong, powerful women in control of their sexual self, that’s really important.
San Francisco has so much to offer, like classes and places to go. I’ve spent a lot of time in San Francisco, and met a lot of people involved in the erotic world. I think that’s important, just exploring it and obviously having a partner with the same kind of attitude you have. Definitely seeking out other sexual partners who have the same kind of attitude that you have.
SFBG Do you believe that fashion can be empowering to people? If so, how?
DVT I’ve always loved clothing for the theatrics of it and how I can change the way I walk, talk, sit, and present myself. If you really think about the way you dress, how it affects your movements and decisions, you can’t go ripping down the street wildly in high heels and a corset. It’s the same way an actor gets in costume; it becomes part of the role. I love the way you can create a role.
You’re putting out a message to the world about who you are. It’s a secret code to other people about who you are — it’s great that we can manipulate that. Every day is another opportunity to wear something that makes me feel a certain way. It’s a way of achieving beauty that does not depend on how you’re born. Weaving this web of beauty and glamour and mystery without being like ‘I wasn’t born looking like a super model.’
SFBG That’s true. I think it’s great how you create beauty very much on your own terms. Speaking of, I think I’ve heard you say before physical beauty isn’t so impressive to you. What does attract you to a person?
DVT I’m really attracted to people who are self-created because that’s what I do, and especially in the world of entertainment. There are so many people who rely on paying for it. I feel like it doesn’t really help the normal women of the world watching all these actresses on the red carpet spend six hours with the best stylists. It’s nice to watch, but where’s the inspiration? I don’t have a stylist, I really like doing it myself, it sends out a good message.
When I go to my shows and see all these girls dressed up and beautiful and doing it themselves, it makes me feel good. Finding empowerment in their own beauty. That’s a common thread for me. In entertainment I do like being around people who have that same thing, like Gwen Stefani. She’s got a very distinguished sense of style, occasionally with makeup artists.
We know when we like to have somebody help us. We really like to be empowered by doing it ourselves, we don’t need that. We like to create; we’re very strong in our sense of self. I like other women who are like that, who realize that being around other gorgeous women doesn’t detract from having their own great worth. I like girls girls. Those are the kind of people I like to be around.
SFBG On your twitter handle (@DitaVonTeese), there was talk of twerking. Do you think SF will be lucky enough to see this in your show?
DVT I was really into the song a couple of years ago. I said it before I even knew what it was. With every number, I always think ‘What’s this thing I could add to this?’ I have this huge feather rhinestone bird tail, it looks really good. I could do this little pop-pop thing in the back, kind of like a twerk. But it’s got to be highly stylized and glamorous.
SFBG Going in a different direction, what role has lingerie played in your life?
DVT Well, I’ve always had a fascination with lingerie from a very young age. I used to steal my mother’s lingerie out of her dresser from age 6. I’ve always really been fascinated by this mysterious thing women wear underneath their clothes. My first job was working at a lingerie store at 15. [I have] a life-long fascination and love for it. It’s perhaps a little bit different for most. For me, it’s like that rite of passage as a woman. A little beautiful moment of femininity and luxury in your everyday life. It’s great, too, for seduction. For me it’s just like this is what it meant to be a woman- a symbol of womanhood.
SFBG What about for men, do you think they can find the same empowerment as you in lingerie?
DVT I’ve been involved in the fetish scene for the better part of 20 years. I’ve known a lot of straight men who like to cross-dress, I find it really interesting. Whatever makes someone happy. An incredibly handsome man taught me a lot of what I know about fetishes. He loved women but he liked to wear women’s lingerie under his clothes. I found him fascinating.
I was in the airport a few years ago, and I looked over and saw this man, in this swanky lounge, in a full three-piece business suit in these long, dripping diamond earrings and high heels while reading the paper. He was obviously a very powerful, wealthy man. I was so fascinated by watching him. He was living it. It was amazing. I wanted to talk to him so bad, but I get really shy around people like that.