Real Life

Former stripper pens first book: “I’ve achieved my childhood dream”

Leigh Hopkinson spent 20 years taking her clothes off on stage, and now she's written a book about her experiences.
Leigh Hopkinson

Leigh Hopkinson

From her Melbourne home, Kiwi-born writer Leigh Hopkinson admits she’s no early riser – her body clock is still set on night shift and waking up before midday is a struggle. But this annoying side effect is the only hint of the 41-year-old’s previous life.

Casually dressed in jeans and boots, it’s hard to imagine the natural beauty used to spend countless nights in fake tan, sequined G-strings and sky-high stilettos, taking her clothes off for a living. But now, for the first time, she’s baring all about her own experience stripping.

“People would often ask, ’Do you hate it?’ and screw up their nose, or they’d ask, ’Do you like it?’ and they’d screw up their nose,“ Leigh laughs. “There’s a misconception that stripping is not a choice – that you’re forced into that line of work. But many of the women I’ve worked with come back to it because they love it – and they love what it provides in terms of financial freedom, independence and flexibility.“

Leigh was a university student when she answered an ad for lingerie dancers at a club in Christchurch. While it was far from the glamour job she was expecting, for the girl from Greymouth who had spent her high school years as a boarder, stripping was exhilarating.

“I could get up on stage and wear loud costumes, bright make-up and embody that aspect of myself that private school hadn’t encouraged,“ Leigh tells. “Suddenly, I was surrounded by people from all walks of life. I had been craving that diversity having had quite a sheltered upbringing.“

Over the years, Leigh became Holly, Sabrina, Juliette and Jasmine in clubs in Christchurch, Melbourne and London.

The larger the city, the more accepting society seemed to be. While being naked came naturally for Leigh, she learned that it took a special kind of man to accept her career, and her parents were also shocked and upset to learn what she did.

“It was confusing to my parents that I would want to partake in a world that was so different to the one I’d been raised in,“ Leigh explains. “We didn’t really talk about it, which was difficult, because stripping was a big part of my life.“

While she had many friends behind the vault-like doors and neon signs, when it came to meeting new people, Leigh took some time before revealing what she did for a living.

“I find that people either don’t want to talk about it or they’re super-interested,” Leigh reveals. “Another question that comes up is whether I hated the men I’d come into contact with – and, of course, I don’t. I don’t hate people, generally.

“The luxury of my job was that if there was somebody I didn’t like, I could walk away. You can’t do that if you’re waiting a table at a restaurant.”

Leigh found a sisterhood among the other dancers and says she was often inspired by those who shared her spotlight.

“I watched girls raise their children and immigrants with limited English became fluent property-owning citizens. They put themselves through every school imaginable, from medicine to circus, to horse massage.“

Leigh “hung up her G” just after her 40th birthday. Twenty years’ stripping had taken its toll – her back ached and her pelvis was twisted. The industry had become saturated with younger dancers and her heart was no longer in her performance.

But her former career has paid for her to become a qualified yoga teacher and study her first love – writing. Leigh’s now released her first book, Two Decades Naked, an uncensored glimpse into what goes on in a strip club.

“It’s so hard to know who’s going to respond and in what way,” the author says frankly. “For some of the dancers, it brought up good memories – the majority of us have moved on to other lines of work. And my family is so happy I’ve achieved my childhood dream of writing a book.”

Much like her very first striptease, Leigh is nervous about how her book will be received. But for now, she’s happy adjusting to the next phase in her life with a new partner.

“It’s hard to know what people will take away from the book when they read it,“ Leigh says. “I just hope it’s a little more insight into the world of striptease and it expands or challenges their perception.”

Words: Anastasia Hedge

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