The body-positive and size-inclusive movement has been reshaping the concept of beauty in the media for a few years now. Slender, trim and thigh-gapped are still the fashion runway and Hollywood standard, no matter how many people say it's not.
But things are changing and the idealized view of everyone from couture models, to swimsuit cover girls, to exotic dancers is taking a turn to the more body-inclusive. And that's a good thing.
Just ask Toni Snow.
Snow is an exotic dancer in Houston. She's been working in clubs for five years, and for most of that time she's been known as a BBW or plus-sized performer. It's nothing new to Houston, home to hundreds of strip clubs and a place some may say has the best offerings in the nation as far as this form of adult entertainment is concerned.
"I can remember being like 17 or 18 and there was a girl named Cream at Foxxxy's," Snow says. "She was the biggest girl in there, she was like an amazing performer, an amazing dancer; she would climb up and down the pole. She was amazing. Size wasn't even a factor."
Snow, who is 23, might be more than 200 pounds, but that doesn't stop her from dancing on a pole, she's even got a trainer. She's a regular at Secrets Cabaret, a North Shepherd strip club that has been dedicating a pair of nights to plus-sized dancers. And it's not the only spot that caters to people who like to watch such strippers do their thing. ST Lounge Gentleman's Retreat off Bissonnet tried BBW nights during the summer.
"BBW dancers are Big Beautiful Woman with curves; they would not be considered a slim dancer in a strip club," says Meemee Jackson who manages dancers at the Secrets strip club run by DJ Spider Woodz. She says the clientele for the plus-sized nights she promotes is different from the people who come during typical club nights.
For the past three years Secrets has hosted BBW nights on Tuesdays and Saturdays, according to Jackson. She also promotes plus-sized dancer nights as CEO of Plush Beauty Entertainment (an outfit that specializes in recruiting BBW dancers) at other clubs in Houston.
Jackson says she originally brought the idea to Woodz to push the BBW nights at Secrets when she noticed people were throwing parties and inviting plus-sized strippers to perform.
On the low end, according to Snow, BBW strippers can make $30 to $40 a night. On the high end, she says she can generate $100 an hour.
She says a lot of it comes down to confidence although generally it's hard. Most plus-sized strippers who "audition" for a couple of nights don't make it. Some get made fun of by patrons and others make too little pay. Still, she says it can also make many women her size feel good about themselves.
"You go to a BBW club and make like $40 or $50, but it kind of makes you feel good because you're being admired, " she says. It's all about confidence.
"You have the BBW's where you're thinking like a [plus-size fashion model] Denise Bidot and [Sports Illustrated cover model Ashley Graham], they're really confident women, girls like that it's kind of depressing to go into a BBW club. But girls who are a little less confident feel damn good being in a BBW club. It's confidence-boosting."
"I think it's a great development, part of the body positivity and fat-acceptance movements, says University of Alabama professor Catharine Roach, who studied stripper culture in depth for her book, Stripping, Sex, and Popular Culture. "Obviously, beauty and sexiness come in all shapes and sizes. My definition of beauty is to inhabit your body with joy. These women are doing that."
While Houston is a bastion for stripper culture, it's not really the trendsetter when it comes to BBW stripping. Plus-sized stripping is national. Snow, who was born and raised in Acres Homes, says she does far better on trips to Memphis and the East Coast.
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The mecca, though, might be Miami, where celebrated BBW promoter Jabari Jones has been running Thick Thursdays for years, featuring dancers with names like Suppa Nova and Sinnabunnz.
And Snow, who does tours of other strip clubs around the country, says there are well known BBW dancers In several major cities, such as Philadelphia's Philly Billy, and Cocaine Monroe and Winter in Detroit.
Snow says she's that bold-face name when it comes to BBW exotic dancers in Houston. And that's the kind of attention she didn't get when she was 160 pounds and just starting out as an exotic dancer.
"I make more money as a BBW than I did as a small girl, because there weren't a lot of factors that made me stand out against 50 women in a club," she says.