“What would your mother say!?!?!”
That is what I read when I logged onto facebook a few years ago. I had just posted images from my very first pole dancing photo shoot and I was so excited. Honestly speaking, I had not thought about what anyone would say or think or do. I had already been a pole dancer for one year and was preparing for my first public showcase. As luck would have it, I was able to book a professional photographer to take some sensual, yummy pole dancing images of me. I was so excited about this new found lifestyle of mine and all I wanted to do was live it out loud. I read the comment again. “What would your mother say?!?!” In that innocent yet chastising statement was so much gunk and grime from years of societal standards regarding women’s behavior. Ideals surrounding what I could and could not do with my body, especially publicly. Expectations regarding my family’s name. A not-so-subtle implication that reputation proceeded my own pleasure. That statement was loaded! I wrote her back. “Actually, not only does my mother approve of my latest exploration into sensuality and sexuality, she also wants to learn to pole dance too. More-so than that, if she did not approve, that would change absolutely nothing for me. I am a grown woman. My life is my own.” A few hours later my mother, who is on facebook too….and my facebook “friend” wrote under the brewing comment that she was proud of me! It made me smile. I do know however, whether my mother approves or not, my life as a pole dancer is a taboo.

According to dictionary.com, ""a taboo is a vehement prohibition of an action based on the belief that such behavior is either too accursed or too sacred for ordinary individuals to undertake…. usually under threat of supernatural punishment.""  Taboos are improper and unacceptable as proscribed by society but they are subject to alter, change or be completely done away. I love the definition that states, “….set apart as sacred.” My life as a dancer is sacred and not for the faint of heart or the ""ordinary."" You know what else use to be taboo in the US and still is in many parts of the world?
  • A woman seeking an education.
  • A woman wanting a career.
  • A woman wearing a bikini.
The list could go on in many different directions from simple attire to major lifestyle issues. You get the point. Despite the fact that I had graduated from high-school at the age of 16, attended college on a full academic scholarship, and lived a successful and artistic life on my own terms while traveling the world, volunteering and embarking on a self reflective spiritual transformation that even led me on a 10 day silent retreat deep in the woods…..I was still being asked, “what would your mother say?” All because I had decided to take pole dancing classes. I hadn’t even lived at home in over 10+ years but apparently my mother's voice or society's voice was to have a ruling effect over how I lived and expressed myself. Even  though living on your own terms is LEGAL and your human right, I know that many GROWN woman (and men) find it hard to do so. There are many reasons.
  • They are afraid of being ostracized.
  • They are afraid of being ridiculed.
  • They are afraid of failing.
  • They are afraid of what their mother might say….or their husband, best friend, cousin, neighbor, sister, boss, etc.
I understand the fear but I am going to have to side with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Her quote resonates with my soul. “Well behaved women rarely make history.” The first well known documented case of this is EVE! She ate that forbidden apple...or fig. That one bite, according to Christianity, changed humankind FOREVER. If the bible isn’t your cup of tea, take a look at the book, “Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women” by Elizabeth Kerri Mahon. In her introduction, she wrote, “All the women in this book have one thing in common: they caused a scandal, a commotion and they bumped up against the status quo. Each ran counter to conventional behavior and each caused gossip, furor, and anger among her contemporaries. They were free, unafraid to take a stand, to make a mess if necessary to achieve their goals, whether it was against oppression or liquor or for religious freedom. Some were movers and shakers in terms of changing events; others left behind a legacy of brilliance and great art. “ Elizabeth gives voice to familiar and unfamiliar names such as Cleopatra, the woman who was never meant to be queen and yet her face launched 1,000 ships. She tells the stories of others such as Anne Boleyn, Calamity Jane and Joan of Arc, a woman who threatened notions of power, religion and gender sexuality norms…all stemming from the fact that she claimed she spoke directly to god. She was considered a witch, by the way. Most of these women were considered witches, whores, and hysterically institutionally crazy. Yet they paved the way for me to pole dance, travel, date whomever I want, sign my own lease to my own apartment, write blogs stating my opinions, thoughts and epiphanies and more. In reading that book a few key characteristics stood out about these phenomenal and notorious women. They seized every advantage. They were charming, independent, intelligent, witty, powerful, brave, influential, fascinating, vivacious and not to be denied. Most were indifferent to public opinion, lived a life of reckless courage and were not passive participants in their lives.

I  believe that exploring taboos can lead to your personal truth. Whether accursed or sacred, I know for a fact that pole dancing, or dating on my own terms, or exploring the depths of my sexuality have led to a greater sense of awareness, satisfaction and clarity. At the risk of being ostracized for living on my own terms, my sense of curiosity showed me what I was really made of in relation to the rest of the world. Want some quick tips on exploring, challenging or breaking taboos?
  • Speak your mind.
  • Follow your gut.
  • Ask questions.
  • Experiment.
  • Create your own definitions.
Each chapter in Scandalous Women, highlights a woman in history that will not be forgotten. I close with an excerpt regarding Jane Digby. “Jane lived a remarkable life but she paid a high price for the choices she made, ostracized by most of her relatives and polite society and alienated from her children. She saw her name become a byword for scandal. Despite all this, Jane was able to look back on her life with no regrets. She had lived fully and loved.” To answer the lady who wrote on my facebook wall, ""What would my mother say?"" I’m not quite sure. But I do know that each day, I live fully and I have loved. That is what matters to me.

Do you have a lifestyle or hobby that runs counter to “proper” culture? Are you a pole dancer? Maybe you like bondage? Perhaps you swear like a sailor? Maybe, just maybe you’re the only religious or spiritual person in your close group of friends?

What has your experience been due to your taboo lifestyle? Is it worth being counter cultural or would your life had been better if you had only behaved yourself?

Sheena LaShay is a Wild Magical Woman, Boudoir Photographer, Videographer, Writer and most importantly a Pole Dancer. She writes for SheenaLaShay.com, Owning Pink, Verizon Wireless and is the Co-President & Editor-in-Chief of the #PDBloggers.

 Photography by Glen Graham

February 27, 2020 — Jacqueline Lee