Cara is only a few years older than me, and is home at her parents’ house for the holidays. She's pretty, with long brown hair. She walks with confidence, yet occasionally lets vulnerability shine through. We’re both in university, both have similar groups of friends, and both go out to the same clubs. The one main difference between us is that I work part-time at a call centre, earning a little more than minimum wage. But Cara spends her evenings dancing at one of Leeds’ better known gentlemen’s clubs, earning up to £100 an hour.

Cara is not what comes to mind when I think of a stereotypical stripper. Intelligent, middle class, no children, no abusive partner. When I bring this up, she gets defensive. “That’s the problem, people automatically think I’m some kind of victim,” she says. Pre-conceived prejudices have shone through. So I change tack. How did she get into stripping in the first place? “I just couldn’t not get a job,” she says. “Honestly.”
 
Cara’s parents are relatively well off, but with three other siblings it's rare they have money to spare. She gets the basic student loan covering her accommodation and no grant. “I tried everywhere, I needed a job to survive. McDonalds and KFC turned me down, and it got to the point where I was going to have to come home and move back in with my parents,” she says. It’s a situation I relate to personally, a few of my friends have left a city they love in order to move back in with their parents. People just can’t afford to live there anymore.
 
So I get it. But where could she possibly summon the confidence to writhe and gyrate in front of strange people fantasising about her. “Once you've done it a couple of times, you just block it out,” she says. “I have always danced, and that’s all it is to me. A routine, a set of movements, regardless of what I’m wearing or who is watching me.”
 
Are there many girls like Cara? Forced into a job they would never before have considered out of necessity? “There are girls much worse off than me. One girl I know is in so much debt, all her wages go on her credit card bills and her rent,” she says. “Some have kids, others are just starting in some kind of profession on entry level, and just can not afford to live on their wage. The hours are flexible, and the pay is good.”
 
Does Cara actually enjoy what she does? “Does anyone really enjoy their part-time job? I feel tired, mentally and physically at the end of a shift. I’m under a lot of pressure to stay thin, if I put on some weight, like I did after Christmas, I risk losing my job. So many people around me take drugs, and I am one of the rare ones, having only touched them occasionally.
 
“I am seen as an object, but are the people who work in factories and call centres not just seen as a cog in a machine?” Is really worth it? “I get paid a lot, and that helps me with uni. I feel like I have two separate parts of my life, and if I work two nights a week, even if I don't enjoy it, I have more time and more resources to concentrate on being where I want to be. Everyone makes sacrifices.”
 
I may have judged Cara only knowing her profession. I didn’t consider the reasons she may have chosen it, or how it affects her. Cara should have the right to do whatever she wants, but I can't help but believe this is not what she wants, this was the last option. “I have an out,” she says. “Many girls don't. I don't get consumed by this lifestyle. My other life – so similar to yours – keeps me in reality. I may be making a lot of money, but I am being made to feel like an object more and more. There’s no respect in this profession. That gets to some girls.”
 
Cara has made it clear to me she is not a victim. She depends on herself and gets no help from any outside sources in life, but in another way, she is a victim. A victim of society, the recession. One day, Cara will stop dancing. There are so many women out there who never have that option.

Rosa Mitchell


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