Mercedes Michaels, 36, from Perth, WA, shares her real life story;
My fingers shook as I grabbed the pole, twisting my body around it.
“Don’t worry,” my boss said. “No one comes in right on opening time.”
I nodded nervously.
Adjusting my mini-dress, I swayed to the music.
Suddenly, a man walked in and sat directly in front of my podium.
Panicking, I froze.
One of the other girls stood behind him, gesturing wildly to show me what to do.
I fumbled my way through the song and breathed a sigh of relief when it was over.
Despite my awkwardness, the man tipped me before I ran off stage.
After graduating high school at 18, I moved out of home, working at an ice-cream shop to make ends meet.
No matter how hard I worked, the money I made was a pittance.
One night, I was out with friends when we went to a strip club.
At first I was mortified, trying not to look directly at the women.
But I was also in awe. They were effortlessly sexy, moving their bodies with grace.
Eventually I talked to one of the dancers and she revealed how much money she made in a single night.
It was more than double my salary! The thought of that much dough was irresistible.
Although I was shy, I’d been dancing since I was a kid and had natural rhythm.
I bought some sexy outfits and weeks later I landed a gig.
I pushed through my initial nerves and before long I found my groove.
Soon, it wasn’t just about the money. I enjoyed the work, too. For the first time,
I felt confident.
But a cloud of fear hung over my head.
I was terrified someone I knew would see me.
Sick of living with the anxiety, I came clean to my parents, Marilyn and Billy, after a year in the job.
“I don’t mind what you do, love,” Dad said. “So long as it’s safe and you’re happy.”
Battling cancer that had spread through his entire body, he knew there were bigger things in life to worry about than whether strangers saw me naked. But Mum was furious when I called her.
“What else are you going to tell me?” she said. “That you are pregnant? Doing drugs?”
Mum’s judgement stung and after that I carried her shame every time I stripped.
I kept up the job until Dad lost his battle with cancer when I was 20.
In need of a fresh start, I moved from Perth to Sydney.
Weighed down by grief, I didn’t have the heart to act fun and seductive each night. Instead, I became a personal trainer at a gym.
I slowly worked through my dark cloud and even fell in love and got married. Our thoughts soon turned to children.
I’d been passionate about adoption, ever since I was young enough to understand the concept.
So when I was 28, my husband and I adopted a baby girl, Love*, from Ethiopia. She was just six weeks old.
Holding her in my arms, my heart leapt into my throat. She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
Busy with motherhood, I didn’t dream of returning to stripping. But two years later, my husband and I separated.
As a single mum, I wasn’t sure what to do.
One night, an old friend from my stripping days sent me a message.
I’m booked for a private event tonight, she wrote. But I can’t go. Can you cover me?
I shook my head.
But when I thought about the money, as well as how much fun I’d always had, it was hard to resist.
I arranged for a babysitter to look after Love and hours later I was dolled up and out the door.
I was buzzing with nerves.
But as soon as the young men saw me their mouths dropped open. For the first time since my divorce, I felt wanted and desired.
After that, I started working at private events, like bachelor parties.
Each weekend I made enough money to support Love.
The lusty stares from men I entertained always gave me a confidence boost, but I knew it was only skin-deep.
Once the show was over, my sense of empowerment vanished.
I threw myself into personal development, improving my mindset through meditation and courses in tantric sexuality, an ancient Hindi and Buddhist practice.
Within months I felt more empowered than ever.
With my newfound freedom, I decided to write a memoir, which I self-published, at 35.
Detailing my experiences, good and bad, was liberating. All these years, I’d felt ashamed of my job, no matter how much I enjoyed it, because of society’s stigma and judgement.
Finally, I felt free.
Now I’m a full-time life, love and sex coach.
I help women reconnect with their sensual side.
I also do womb healing, a practice that clears sexual trauma, birth trauma and the effects of toxic relationships, negative emotions and assists with women’s health.
Best of all, now that I’ve learnt to accept myself, my relationship with Mum has rekindled.
And I’ve also found love with a man named Dave who’s completely supportive of everything I do.
He loves me for the woman I am, not the different roles I play.
I’ve hung up my stripper heels for now but I can always return if I want to.
When I was 18, I thought sexiness was about driving men wild with desire.
Now I know there’s nothing sexier than being comfortable in your own skin.
The Soulful Stripper: Eat, Pray, Hustle, Mercedes Michaels, RRP $29.95, www.mercedes michaels.com