Self-Care Tips for Strippers

Stripping requires a positive attitude and a lot of antibacterial hand gel

Illustration by Amina Maya

On Tuesday, Josh, a sheepish thirtysomething guy in a red shirt leapt over a fence and sprinted across the parking lot without paying me. It wasn’t the money that was the most distressing thing. It was the saliva his tongue had left on my face.

Josh’s full set of braces and white leather Converse set him apart from the geriatric preppy golfers nursing $4 beers at the bar. I’d seen him before and remembered he had bought quite a few dances last time so I tried my luck again. After some small talk about his hotel job, I led Josh into the lap dance area, where he kept trying to shove his tongue in my mouth. He pushed my head toward him and covered both our faces with my hair, attempting to hide the forced macking session from the security cameras above us. “You like that, don’t you,” he asked.

I jerked my head away. Kissing was against the rules. I told him so.

“How do I know you don’t have a cold?” I asked. I turned around with my back to him for the duration of the song. He laughed and grabbed my ass so hard I had to pry his fingers loose like the sticky tendrils stuck to Sigourney Weaver’s face in the movie Aliens.

“I don’t,” he said quietly.

“Don’t what?” I said.

“I’m not sick,” he said.

I could tell right away, Josh was the type of guy looking to fuck up his orderly life by collecting a couple of sweet regrets in the form of gritty strippers and Jack shots ending in a pricey DUI. I felt sorry for him for a half-second and kissed him lightly on the side of his mouth to get him to stop pressing his wet lips to my face. That’s when he licked my cheek, from my chin up to my eyeball. I cringed.

Watch an advertisement for anything from Hot Pockets to toothpaste and you see a woman’s body sliced and diced, commodified, and unwrapped.

Stripping shares common ground with other service jobs I’ve done — like cleaning houses, waiting tables, and bartending, which involves catering to and cleaning up after drunk or needy people on the clock — but it’s not the same.

In her essay “Pussy Fever,” Cheryl Strayed wrote that after much thought about becoming a sex worker, she could not get behind the idea because, “shaking your tits in someone’s face for tips was different than bringing them a steaming plate of Fettuccini Alfredo.”

Strayed expresses a desires for a culture in which women’s bodies are not for sale at all. Except, unfortunately, they totally are: Open any magazine under the sun. Watch an advertisement for anything from Hot Pockets to toothpaste and you see a woman’s body sliced and diced, commodified, and unwrapped. Criminalizing the sex industry may not change that — or would it?

I think the key difference between bringing someone a steaming plate of pasta and shaking one’s tits for bills is the hygiene problem. Exotic dancing involves close contact with skin, dirt, spit, toejam, and fecal matter.

And nothing is filthier than money.


Josh not only racked up $180 worth of two-for-one lap dances, then ripped me off — he slimed me. When we were finished, he walked to the ATM, which is not unusual if you’re drunk and in a strip club on a Tuesday afternoon. According to the receipt that was spat out, he’d already exceeded his limit so he called Wells Fargo and excused himself to go outside to the enclosed smoking area: a cage-like structure with a few chairs and a standing ashtray. I followed him outside to get some air and take in the view of the mostly empty parking lot in the blinding desert sun but quickly got bored listening to him grumble to the woman on the phone as he stated his bank account number and pouted. Then he smoked a Parliament so I went back inside.

I washed my hands and cheeks vigorously in the bathroom with sudsy soap from a bottle with a picture of an orange butterfly on it. Then I returned to my business of greeting the scruffy bikers playing pool and the one other man sitting toward the end of the bar, near the stage where Troy and Tatiana were doing vodka shots.

How does a stripper take care of herself on the job, maintain her deeply alluring healthy glow, remain playful and accommodating, keep her attitude positive, and refrain from holding a grudge while being slimed upon, ripped off, and callously rejected?

The DJ called me to the stage and happily played my music: Santigold and the Black Keys. I was totally absorbed in my show, swinging from the pole in wild abandon, an aerodynamic mermaid slithering to the ground. Before going on stage, I’d checked out the monitors from the DJ booth that showed the activity in various spots in the club: the bar with the girls doing shots, the lap dancing area, and the outside smoking area where Josh was still sitting in a chair on his phone doing some creative banking.

After my two-song set, Josh had disappeared. I buzzed with anger and considered sprinting across the parking lot in my glitter thong and 7-inch heels, but I didn’t want to roll an ankle. Besides, Josh was probably home already or at the next bar up the street. Security guards don’t work at the club during the day, and the ones that work at night are shorter and more glamorous than I am with their beards, baby mamas, and bald heads.

The Josh experience made me wonder: How does a stripper take care of herself on the job, maintain her deeply alluring healthy glow, remain playful and accommodating, keep her attitude positive, and refrain from holding a grudge while being slimed upon, ripped off, and callously rejected?

Dancing includes walking around barely clothed for long hours in a cavernous, airless room full of tipsy men with bad manners, dirty hands, loose boundaries, and sour breath. They often reach for a nipple or rub their hands all over my chest, grab a boob, pinch a thigh, and lick me where I don’t wish to be licked.

Beneath that question is the well-being of women and the small ways we can improve the lives of women who are economically struggling in a system that condemns and exploits them.

I’m concerned about our hygiene in this unique environment. After all, no waitress or bartender I know has unleashed this grimy complaint.

Broken down, the term “hygiene” is derived from the Greek hygieine technē, which means “the art of health” and is a reference to the Greek goddess of health, cleanliness, and sanitation. Hygiene in a strip club is hard to come by. On the go, the best I can do is a quick grab of a spray bottle full of rubbing alcohol or a plastic tub of baby wipes that have long dried out in my locker. During an actual lap dance? Hygiene is a wet spot with a comb-over.

I asked a few of my co-workers what they do to be clean and take care of themselves on the job, and this is what they said.


Tips and Tits: Self Care for Strippers

1. Get Rest

The sleep a dancer gets from 2 a.m. until 9 or 10 a.m. is not real sleep. Take days off and get enough sleep.

2. Drink Water

Ignore the shot girl. Seriously, those shots are disgusting and overpriced, and being a drunken stripper is an embarrassment to our gender. Drink less Red Bull. It will never give you wings. You already have them.

3. Bring Snacks

So you don’t end up eating Papa John’s meat special pizza again. Here are snacks that provide energy and won’t make you stink: raw almonds, string cheese, apples, tangerines, and protein bars. You need to have your wits about you in order to not be privy to the Josh experience. Eat protein.

4. Stay Alert

That customer who has not paid you yet? Don’t leave his side. Don’t let him leave the club in order to “go to the bank” because “the fees are too much here.” We have an ATM in the club for a reason. It’s not our fault the club charges $5 to use it. If he tells you he is going to his car or to the bank or to 7–Eleven up the street, threaten to call the police.

5. Spend Time With Your Loved Ones

A big part of our job requires us to talk to weirdos and pretend to be invested in their problems. It’s good to be nice and attentive, but it’s important to keep your personal life personal and nurture real relationships with people who care about you and your future.

6. Wash Your Hands

Do it every time you pass the bathroom. The germ thing is seriously gross. Bring antibacterial gel and put it in your purse. I get strep throat every year and I swear it’s from the pole. Don’t put your hands in your eyes or mouth.

7. Gargle With Listerine

My grandpa used to swear it killed germs, and I think he was right. Keep a tiny bottle of the old school amber-colored Listerine in your locker and gargle a couple of times per night.

8. Exercise Outdoors Most Days

That way by the time you get to work, you’ve already had a beautiful day, a run up the mountain, or a hike. You have gazed at the cherry trees that are suddenly blooming. Yellow daisies are bursting open. Your endorphins have been triggered and your attitude will be more relaxed, but not sluggish.

9. Don’t Take Any Of It Personally

When someone rips you off and all of your co-workers just shrug and walk away, it has nothing to do with you at all. You just trusted the wrong person, which means that you are a good person. You showed up for work and did your job. Move on.

10. Save Your Money

Today. Not next week. Save your money so you can get on with your beautiful life, girl. If I need to explain this further, ask yourself what your future looks like and work toward that. Don’t allow anything get in the way of your hopes and dreams.


The unpopular question of “does the sex industry ultimately harm our culture and is it soul-sucking for all of us” is something I continue to excavate and consider the same way I consider violent programming, Adderall, and Tinder. Beneath that question is the well-being of women and the small ways we can improve the lives of women who are economically struggling in a system that condemns and exploits them. How can I contribute to their care? Perhaps that question is a better one to ask.