Meet the exotic performer who is dismantling stripper stereotypes
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
On the second floor of the former Shoreditch strip club Crown & Shuttle, there’s a smiley young woman, her arms and chest covered in temporary tattoos. She’s in the middle of setting up a stripper pole and arranging colouring materials for the life drawing class she will host in an hour. Her name is Samantha Sun, and hosting this class is just one of the long list of things she does to make a living.
Born and raised in Toronto, Samantha moved to London when she was 18 to study Fine Art. Skip forward five years and she is now a professional performer who specialises in aerial hoop, pole dancing and striptease. Her training? Working as a stripper throughout university.
Samantha joined the East London Strippers Collective in 2016 — a network which aims to increase the amount of work for strippers, improve their working conditions, break down stigma and make the industry healthier and better to work in. “I wanted to feel protected,” she says. “So joining ELSC was a no brainer.”
As an art student, Samantha used to attend ELSC’s life drawing class, where people from all walks of life could come and draw strippers “doing their thing”. Today, she hosts a class every Monday — and occasionally models for it too. Samantha explains the class serves as a platform to talk about specific issues the industry is facing — and push an agenda. “It acts in a way of social good and creates jobs. Again, it's all about money!” she says.
As the class invites people from regular life to meet strippers face to face, it plays a helpful role in breaking stigma. “It breaks down some of the fantasy,” she says. “People think oh my god she's a stripper! They are really scared of us,” she explains. “But actually we’re just normal people.”
According to Samantha, strippers are perceived as “horrible” gold diggers and victims who have no other choice. She argues that couldn’t be further from the truth. “It comes down to a lot of internalised misogyny people have. They're not capable of seeing women as complex creatures who can be more than one thing,” she sighs. “Can't you be a stripper and also be really good at being a mum?”
Samantha has decided that others’ opinions of her are not her business — but admits that people don’t judge her the same way as they do other strippers because she doesn’t fall into the victim stereotype. “I don't get that many bad reactions because the rest of my life is squeaky clean,” she explains. “I don’t drink or do drugs, I don’t party really, I have a fucking degree and a great relationship with my family,” she says.
However, Samantha explains there are strippers who do have messy lives and are victims of trauma — and people judge them more harshly than they judge her. “I'm just lucky,” she says. “Half of this stuff is all luck.”
When asked if she would ever consider running her own strip club, her eyes light up. “Oh my god I would love to, I would make a great manager,” she says. “First of all, I give a shit about the girls and I know what clients like. I'm also not a weird straight man opening a strip club because I'm weird and pervy,” she laughs. Do we need more women managing strip clubs? “I think we need more women managing things, period. Things are always better like that,” she says with a chuckle.
Samantha still boggles at how lucky she is to get to do what she loves. “Some people don't even get to do the Mickey Mouse version of the thing that they love,” she says. “I just happen to be young and really outspoken. I have a face for it. I'm symmetrical and conform to beauty standards, which is what they want.”
Samantha’s creative output comes in many forms, whether it be making a show, curating an exhibition, drawing, painting, making a costume or creating explosive makeup looks. “I'm a creative person and I don't care how that comes out,” she beams. “If I get to do all of that, and all of those things are my job, then I'm happy.”