The Uncensored Stripper by Rebecca Cornwell

I first came across @TheUncensoredStripper in my @SundayBluesEdit tag.  This Sunday community has been my Instagram home for almost 3 years.  I’ve met incredible people, heard amazing stories and viewed tens of thousands of breathtaking and sometimes gut-wrenching photos. I’d started to feel, in the glut of images I see everyday, that there wasn’t going to be anything new, and maybe there isn’t, but every once in a while something knocks you off your feet and out of your comfort zone. @TheUncensoredStripper snagged me with her moody, beautiful, insightful, surprising, sometimes seedy and always eye-opening images. Not long after studying her photos, like any artist might- we’re always interested in “how it’s done”, I started to read.

With each consecutive image and its accompanying text, she drew me closer. Like with any great writing, I couldn’t stop reading. She pulled me along with every image, giving me the honest, brutal, heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious details of her life. I don’t think of myself as prudish or even very shockable. I didn’t know if my fascination with @TheUncensoredStripper had to do with an element of voyeurism into a world I really knew nothing about, or if it was sensational or even taboo at times. After continuing to read and study her images, I decided @TheUncensoredStripper is just a brilliant storyteller. Pair that with her compelling photography and she’s given you something you wont be able to tear yourself away from. She will have you returning to her blog and her profile over and over to find out what happens next.


TUCS: I was born in San Francisco and raised in a loosely based hippie commune by vegetarian drug dealers. Yearning to live my life on my own terms, I moved out when I was sixteen and worked as many as three jobs at a time to make ends meet. I started stripping two years before I earned my BA in Social Science and have been a stripper and prostitute for over twenty years. The sex industry is demanding, both mentally and physically, as strippers are often treated like living blow-up-dolls while simultaneously acting as therapists. Strip clubs are a circus, brothel and wellness center wrapped into one. The sub-culture requires thick skin and an open mind in order to succeed, as well as avoid going insane. My longevity in the field is a reflection of my chameleon-like nature and my innate skill in the art of giving (and faking) affection.

In conjunction, thanks to my in part to my unconventional upbringing, my tolerance for dysfunction is set impossibly high, rendering me well equipped for the industry. I have lived my life as an open book, having the opportunity to dispel a few myths and misconceptions along the way. My memoir, Anything but a Wasted Life, aims to capture and reveal my unorthodox life. I have always loved photography, and about a year before I started writing Anything But a Wasted Life, I took pictures of one of my co-workers for her modeling portfolio with my point and shoot digital camera. I loved it, and she said that I had talent and a good eye. I continued to shoot. One of the perks of being a stripper is that I am surrounded by gorgeous, uninhibited women who want/need sexy pictures of themselves. I had my first solo art show in 2007. I started shooting with self-manipulated medium format film camera’s later that year. I am self-taught in both arenas.

I have journalled in a stream of consciousness style off and on my whole life. When I shared bits and pieces of my life with people (I have always lived my life as an open book), a common reaction was: you should write a book. I had never considered myself a writer, nor was I trained in the field, so I would laugh and write it off as something people like to say. But I kept it in the back of my mind as a possibility for later. Then, in the mid 2000’s business at the club took a dive, and I had long pockets of down time. I brought a composition pad one evening, and it poured out of me. I was hooked. My manager wasn’t quite as thrilled, but he loves me so he let it slide. The entire memoir was written first-hand and then later put into the computer. It was written mostly at the club as well as in local watering holes around Los Angeles. I knew that if I ever did write a memoir, it wasn’t going to be in the traditional autobiographical style; I was born on this date and raised here. I am not famous in any capacity, so who cares about me? It’s how I see life and human behavior that I think people relate to and are entertained by. It also happens that I have crammed a lot of off-the-wall shit into my forty-four years, and people are curious about the sex industry.


I believe that watching women dance nude on stage for over twenty years has given me a unique perspective of the female form, as well as close proximity to harnessing sensuality in a visual format. And of course, the use of angles and light. I wrote Anything But a Wasted Life as a candid, unapologetic, 115,000-word memoir. I have experienced the pitfalls of being naked in front of strangers and the absurdities that arise when you fake intimacy for a living. As the title suggests, it is also about rarely said “no” to life I recount falling in love with a girl in high school, patrolling at night with a couple of cops while high on acid, living in a luxurious, converted missile silo from the Cold War. It’s always my intention to show the reader the secret world of stripping and prostitution through an often drunk, occasionally sarcastic, and frequently funny magnifying glass. Until recently, I had kept my writing and my photography separate.

Last year I had the idea to open an Instagram account to post excerpts from my memoir. I matched these excerpts with images from my past, then started posting some of my fine art photography photos. Currently, I am putting together my third solo art show where images will be keenly interlinked with my memoir. Unlike my previous art shows, this one will be keenly interlinked to my memoir. Anything But a Wasted Life is a tell-all about myself, no one else. All of the names of people famous or otherwise, referenced in the memoir, have been changed.


These images: The three black and whites are self-portraits. It’s damned near impossible to shoot myself with my medium format plastic cameras, so these were done with my 5D, and then a mix of filter fun via various apps. I like cutting women’s heads off in my photography, this is the same with myself. The shot with the records was taken about a month ago with my point and shoot 35mm. One of my images I sell the most is of a woman’s legs, retro lamp, record player and vinyl records that I took in 2010. I put this shoot together so I could add to that genre to sell. I took the Holga shot of the Capital Records building back in 2008 when I was still living in Hollywood. That building has been captured in so many ways, I was wondering if I could get it from my own perspective with my manipulated camera.


The last image is actually the girl I had my very first photo shoot with (this was taken a couple years later). She freaked out when she saw my Instagram account and asked me to take down some of her pictures. She did not want to be associated with stripping in any way (no one knows she used to dance). I removed a couple shots where you could semi see her face, but I have signed model releases, and no one will ever know who she is, so I kept this one up, which I love so much.


Excerpt from Anything but a Wasted Life:

It’s your typical night in the dressing room. Girls drinking, girls talking shit, one girl inserting a tampon. Another is on her cell phone. Two are speaking too loudly, and four are heavily spraying themselves with sickeningly sweet body spray. And me, leaning over the counter applying my ho-bag makeup. Two plastic bottles sit next to my Mac brushes, one with vitaminwater, the other, apple vodka in a vitaminwater bottle. I swig one, then the other. Total shit. I hate vodka, but it leaves my breath smelling less like a barroom floor. And it’s cheap.    I apply shiny powder to my cheeks and over the thin lines around my eyes, to mask my experience. I’m a forty-three-year-old stripper. I’ve been dancing since college, more than twenty years ago. One of my roommates worked at The Lusty Lady in San Francisco, a female-owned and operated peep show, and another acquaintance of mine worked at Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre, the city’s premier strip club. Having witnessed their lifestyle of glam and financial freedom, I decided to give stripping a go. I was tired of being broke, working three jobs and having very little energy or time for homework. I was pre-law. My goal was to re-design the prison system. Suffice to say, law school never happened. Within a year, I was making more money than judges in San Francisco, my hometown. The prisoners would have to wait. I’d never had that much money before. I was raised by a single parent and have been on my own since I was sixteen. Most girls (myself included) start dancing with the intention of doing it less than two years (in the beginning I thought I would dance through law school and then quit). Nearly all stay two to seven years. Only a few of us stay this long.    Stripping was incredible when I started. It was special and still somewhat underground, a unique adventure for the wealthy. Times have changed. I make an eighth of what I used to, and there’s practically a strip club on every corner.    I suppose I’m a bit spoiled. Wake up when I want, work when I want, get paid in cash. It’s not a bad life. And I’m good at what I do. Sometimes I think it’s a curse to be skilled at making men feel good. Funny thing is, most of them want to make me feel good. That’s the secret.

About Author

Rebecca Cornwell