The Rose City School of Burlesque class gathers around instructor Meghan Mayhem, who’s demonstrating how to apply false lashes in the mirror. Mayhem, who earlier in the course whipped her blonde mane into a beehive in less than six minutes, says every performer needs at least three things: liner, lashes and shadow. Jason, one of three guys in the class, steps aside with me.
“A lot of what they’re taking about doesn't feel like it has a lot of pertinence for me,” he says. “But I know I’m going to have to be faced with it if I perform.”
Jason, who owns more than 2,000 comic books and dozens of vintage Star Wars toys, knows he sticks out in the class. Wearing a goatee, Superman T-shirt and a ponytail under a bucket hat, his take on burlesque is certainly different from the women’s. But he joined the class for many of the same reasons as the other students: He found community in the burlesque scene, first taking pictures at shows and later making friends. His fiancée graduated from the course three months ago. His burlesque name: Captain Glitterbang.
“I’m not necessarily nervous about being on stage,” he says, “but the burlesque thing, stripping down and striptease, I’m certainly nervous about that.”
Back at the mirror, Mayhem’s now showing us how to contour our faces, intermittently making self-deprecating remarks about her age—“I’m going to be 39 this month,” she says. “Big freaking deal!” screams Mimi, who’s older.
There’s no shaming in burlesque, and that’s another reason Mr. Glitterbang enrolled in the course. A lot of people talk about unfair beauty standards applied to women, he says, but men face them too.
“I’m kind of a fat guy,” he said on the first day of class, “and nobody ever talks about the guy because you know, we’re supposed to get away with that, but there are times for myself when I look in the mirror and I’m like, who the fuck—who’s gonna want to see me up on that stage looking like this?”
He’s not the only one who feels that way. At the end of the makeup lesson, another student asks instructor Fannie Fuller for advice on how to make her boobs look bigger. “Chicken cutlets,” Fuller half jokes, but she adds that size—and makeup and hair and costumes—shouldn't matter.
“It’s not about the shtick,” Fuller says. “It’s about being in your body and loving what you got. I can make you look like you have bigger boobs in a costume, but you have to be comfortable with their size when you take it off.”