‘Stripping Down’ with Author Sheila Hageman

By  | August 13, 2012

Sheila Hageman

LIKE MANY WOMEN, Sheila Hageman has had her fair share of self image issues. Her new memoir, Stripping Down, follows her quest to understand what it is to have a female self. In her journey through the chaos of body, beauty, and identity, a sense of order emerges. This powerful and beautiful story is a moving meditation on a woman’s life through her body, motherhood and loss. Bliss jumped at the chance to hear more about her inspirations.

Q: Briefly explain your journey to becoming mother, caregiver, wife and author.
A: My road to where I am today begins with my desire to understand myself and the world as a girl. I took writing very seriously; writing was my way of being heard, of feeling in control of my life and experience.

As a teen I achieved that feeling of control by starving myself and trying to contort myself into images of “desirable” women I saw all around me. From modeling and acting, I veered into a life as a stripper when I turned eighteen. A job that was only supposed to last long enough for me to save up money to move to the city took over the next six years of my life.

When I was twenty-four my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was a turning point for me. I quit stripping and went to college where I graduated as valedictorian. Inspired to help others achieve all they could, I became a yoga teacher. From there I became interested in writing again and while getting my MFA in creative writing I began writing what would become my memoir, Stripping Down, which is a meditation on womanhood and body image.

While I was writing the book, my mother was succumbing to her illness and I was a new mother and wife. All of the stories of my life found themselves weaving together into a non-linear narrative, which is how I have experienced my life as a woman.

Q: What are a few ways women can improve our body images?
A: Remind yourself that if you have two legs and two arms you are extremely lucky. When I read stories about the amazing feats others have accomplished with ability challenges, I’m able to appreciate my body and all it can do even more.

Wear clothes that flatter you and make you feel good. I’d rather have two beautiful outfits that cost a little bit more than ten cheaper outfits that make me feel depressed and uncomfortable when I go out into the world.

Tape a message on your bathroom mirror that you will see every morning that reminds you that you are beautiful!

Look at old photos of yourself and see how gorgeous you were and remember that back then you thought you were (fill in the blank). Stop the cycle now-otherwise one day you’ll be looking back at photos of yourself today and saying why didn’t I realize how beautiful I was?

Q: What are a few things you’d advise women to avoid doing?
A: To not berate yourself if you catch yourself hating a part of yourself on any day, whether it be a bodily “flaw” you see or a lack of self esteem in some area. It is natural to have days where you don’t love every part of yourself. Being honest with yourself and accepting that natural fact will help you to forgive yourself for not being perfect at loving yourself.

Don’t stress beauty as the most important area of life. Yes, it’s okay to embrace your beauty and celebrate it, but focus on what really is more important-like relationships, celebrations of life and joy at being alive.

Q: How important is surrounding yourself with faith empowered women when it comes to self esteem?
A: As much as possible, I believe it is important to surround yourself with people working toward the same goals and ideals in life. Spend time with family and friends who make you feel good about yourself, who encourage you to love yourself.

You may notice as your own self esteem develops that some people will not be happy; some people may not like the new you. There is a natural tendency in some people to pull down others who radiate self love because they themselves do not feel that way about themselves.

Surround yourself as often as you can with positive women who support your empowerment. You will know who these people are easily by asking yourself how you feel when with them.

Q: How does maintaining a positive body image affect different aspects of life?
A: A positive body image will allow you to more fully engage in your life. If you feel good about yourself physically, you will take more risks, make more friends and just feel like being a part of the world more — not to mention how a positive body image will improve your relationships, your career prospects and your sense of everyday joy.
Q: How, if at all, do girls participating in sports affect self image?
A: Participating in sports can have a tremendously positive effect on girls. They are able to gain a respect for what their bodies are capable of doing physically. Through dedication they will receive firsthand knowledge of what improvements can occur through consistency. Spending time with other girls interested in the same sport will teach girls that there are always going to be different levels of skill, but that we can celebrate everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.
Q: What role does exercise play? What’s your preferred discipline?
A: I am partial to yoga because it works on so many different levels: physical, mental and spiritual. It is something that I can practice on my own in little pockets of free time and use for revving up my energy or relaxing and calming down.

I also have been having fun exercising with my children. We go to various locations around town and run and jump and play. The best things about this practice are spending time with my kids outside of the house, encouraging them on a lifelong love of activity and having fun while exercising.

Q: What, if any, trends do you see in regards to young girls and self image?
A: It’s very encouraging to see young girls stepping up and saying what they want and expect from magazines they read. I think there is a new sense of empowerment being cultivated in media, families and schools, which encourages girls to love themselves just as they are. Hopefully we will see this trend continue and gain more momentum.
Q: In what ways does your book help squash the stigma of stripping?
A: I believe Stripping Down allows both women and men to realize that strippers are human beings. We are no different from anyone else when it comes to needing and wanting feelings of love and appreciation. For the most part, strippers are just women going to work every day like anybody else. A job should not define a person’s worth or moral standing.

What I truly hope Stripping Down will accomplish is a sense that it’s okay for women to be honest about their pasts. The more we embrace all parts of ourselves-the parts we see as “good” and “bad”-the sooner we will achieve that feeling of self empowerment and self love.