I trudged through the slushy sidewalks of the Annex, squinting my eyes in an attempt to see through the thick snowflakes that flitted at my face, so that I could find the nondescript signage for The Common. I had only been to this cafe once before, and it's the kind of place that if you're not paying attention to where you are and what’s around you, you'd breeze by it. I wanted to meet with Bellamie Beastly here because it’s quiet, it's cozy, and it has excellent coffee, which I think is the trifecta that leads to great conversation.
I ordered a large americano, and plopped myself down on the pale wooden bench near the entrance. I sipped at my drink and observed the other people at the cafe, growing increasingly excited to meet Bellamie. She is, after all, the first person to reach out to Panther Daze Designs and I wanted to find out what motivated her to send that email and also get to know one of the brand’s first admirers.
“Seeing that Deb wanted to start conversations about body positivity and about critically thinking on our views of ourselves through something as empowering, sexy and creative as lingerie, kind of struck a chord in me,” said Beastly.
Bellamie admitted to looking for garters and harnesses on other websites like Etsy, but never really considered buying any of them because nothing was “inspiring.” The garments, the work, and the positive message that Panther Daze Designs represents inspired Bellamie to get in touch with Deb and express her admiration and interest in collaborating with the brand. On top of the photoshoot, Bellamie and Deb are working together on a piece that will eventually debut during one of Bellamie’s burlesque performances (which will hopefully be in June.)
Bellamie is still relatively new to burlesque. She got into it about a year ago with the realization that she needed to “get off her ass” and become more physically active without doing something mundane, like staring at a treadmill screen for a half-hour at the gym.
All I knew about burlesque before meeting Bellamie stemmed from what I saw in Moulin Rouge (which I feel is hardly any knowledge at all.) Even though Bellamie is still learning about the dance’s rich history, she already has a keen grasp of what burlesque is all about.
“I took a class called Bump n’ Grind at the Toronto School of Burlesque,” said Beastly, taking a sip from her mocha. “It’s an introductory burlesque class where you’re learning somewhat choreography-based techniques of classic moves from the ‘30s, but also with some moves kind of around the Neo-Burlesque revival of the ‘80s and ‘90s.”
“Burlesque is an art form hybridizing dance and comedy that is not without its controversies because it deliberately aims to provoke,” said Beastly.
It took a while for Bellamie to define burlesque because apparently, a lot of people are confused with what this art truly is and she wants to be able to relieve that confusion and properly educate others about burlesque. There are stigmas and misinterpretations that revolve around burlesque because it involves taking off your clothes in a theatrical and satirical way.
“There’s kind of a misconception that burlesque was going around the same route as second-wave feminism, where you can accept and love your body if you’re white, conventionally attractive and look good when you take off your clothes. ” said Beastly. “There’s also the perspective that burlesque is just a classy form of stripping, which undermines sex workers. So, on one hand you have these very white, conventionally attractive beauty standards and on the other hand, burlesque is seen as a sanitized form of something that society has traditionally considered dirty or wrong.”
Though these ideas are entrenched within this art form, there are some burlesque troupes that are diversifying and are working toward becoming an intersectional community. Some of these troupes are doing this by confronting the racism present within the industry. Virago Nation, for example, is a Vancouver-based burlesque troupe entirely made up of indigenous women working to reclaim their sexuality after colonization.
Bellamie thinks it’s fantastic that troupes like these are challenging the stereotype that burlesque can only be done if “you’re pretty and white”, especially since she cannot do it herself.
“It would be very difficult and not at all reliable for me, individually, to challenge the stereotypes of whiteness in burlesque as someone who is very white-passing and is generally regarded as conventionally attractive,” said Beastly.
Bellamie is half-Vietnamese, but most people wouldn’t know that by looking at her. On top of that, she had a Westernized upbringing and her mother never taught her Vietnamese or traditional customs.
“If I’m around friends or acquaintances who are Vietnamese I don’t necessarily feel 100% comfortable because I grew up very Westernized,” said Beastly.
Being a white-passing person of colour comes with privileges that most minorities would not benefit from.
“Coming from a larger city, I didn’t really deal with [discrimination] a lot and that’s something that comes fortunately but also comes with a lot of critical thinking of how this is a form of privilege that’s not experienced regularly,” said Beastly.
Bellamie has never experienced any outwardly aggressive racist remarks and has never been accosted by strangers for her mixed-race descent. But, she has experienced fetishization from men who claim to be the “progressive”, “liberal” and “open”.
“I used to go out on a lot of Tinder dates with white men who would say things like ‘Oh you’re pretty for an Asian’, or ‘Mixed race girls are some of the most beautiful’, or ‘You’re Asian but not that kind of Asian’,” said Beastly. “I would ask them to please explain what they would mean by that and they would say ‘Oh, you know’ - but I don’t, can you tell me?”
Of course, Bellamie knew exactly what they meant through the stereotypes that she’s had to deal with for years, but she finds it ridiculous that there are still men out there “trying to get brownie points” for dating a mixed-race woman.
It is becoming the norm where misogynistic, racist, predatory and sexually-abusive behaviour is no longer cast into the shadows but rather thrown into the spotlight. It is harder for the guilty to hide from their actions. And, I think these people are beginning to recognize that and are becoming more ‘aware’ of how they present themselves.
Bellamie brought up a debate she read through on Reddit, on whether or not it is acceptable for a man to declare that he’s a feminist on their dating profile, and whether or not he should mention he’s a feminist or feminist-allied.
“I think this is especially relevant considering the idea of feminism is gaining popularity in the media among men who don’t often hold themselves accountable enough for their actions, despite what they say,” said Beastly.
Despite the men who are falsely proclaiming their feminism, it is still incredible to witness the resurgence in the advocacy for feminism and to see a community unite to fight for women’s rights. Talking about gender-based inequalities is becoming more common in the media, and also in day-to-day conversation. However, patriarchal values is still present in society and it's still going to take a fair bit of time to change this framework.
With our coffees long since finished but the conversation not quite over, we delved into the topic of self-confidence and self-love - a couple of the core messages Panther Daze Designs hopes to put out in the world.
“Young girls are often told to be confident and be accepting of yourself, but don’t be arrogant or don’t be too showy about it,” said Beastly. “It’s almost like there’s this idea that there’s only one acceptable way to be self-confident. It took me a long time to really get over that because I don’t really know where the line is between confidence and vanity.”
We talked about how self-love and self-confidence are not the same but are interconnected with one another and help manifest each other as well. Bellamie believes that there is no end goal when it comes to accomplishing either - instead, she considers self-love and self-confidence a journey.
“I’ve been describing it as a journey because it doesn’t necessarily have a specific destination,” said Beastly. “It can be hard to get to and hard to stay in.”
Bellamie is confident in her own skin, and was comfortable with her body before even starting burlesque. But with burlesque, Bellamie felt like she could express her self-confidence without coming across as vain. It is through this open expression of herself that Bellamie feels like she has grown even more confident.
“I never would have predicted that [burlesque] would lead me to a situation in which I’m actually expressing my own self-confidence and trying to motivate others to look at themselves and think: ‘What have you done to love yourself today? What can you do to love yourself tomorrow?’” said Beastly. “But also, that it’s okay to not love yourself right now because it is a process.”
All photography taken by @lowlightdistrict
All quotes have been edited for clarity.