The Truth About Using Your Body To Make $$

This story was originally published on May 9, 2016.

For centuries, women were burdened by the idea that we’re “the weaker sex.” We couldn’t vote, own property, and we didn’t have much control over our bodies. Things have changed drastically in the past century — heck, even in the past six months — as women have proven time and again that we aren’t to be held to different standards than men, especially when it comes to our physical strength and ability.

Ahead, we interviewed four women and one transgender man who rely on their bodies in order to excel at their work. They are just a few inspiring examples: If you look around, you’ll be amazed to see how we’re anything but weak. Women are now taking on combat roles in the military, dominating in professional sports, and making considerable strides in industries once ruled by men. We aren't just stronger than ever before — we are closer to a world where girls grow up believing their career options are limitless, and instead of looking at their bodies as a hindrance, embrace them as powerful vehicles that can help them achieve their dreams.

29Rooms — Refinery29’s magical art and fashion funhouse – is back for its second year, kicking off during NYFW, from September 9 to 11. We’re bringing our commitment to women claiming their power to life, through the event’s theme, “Powered by People.” To celebrate this sense of possibility, we’ve curated content that embodies our theme and pushes you to do more — start the conversations you want to hear, make change. We built our dream world and want to inspire you to power your own. For more information on the 29Rooms event and our initiative, click here.

Photographs by Ryan Pfluger.
Roz “The Diva” Mays, 31, has been working as a personal trainer and pole dancer for the past eight years, teaching what she claims are “obnoxiously loud” classes all over New York City.

What is your favorite body part and why?
"The mahogany tree trunks I call legs. They’re not regular branches, either: My quads are the stuff they build basements out of. Dr. Jennifer Ashton from The Doctors called me ‘quadzilla.’ That’s the best compliment I’ve gotten in my adulthood."

What body part(s) do you rely on to do your job?
“Dry, ashy skin is the Holy Grail of pole dancing. You could be strong as an ox, but if your sweaty ass can’t stick to the pole, none of that strength matters. Secondly, I’d like to shoutout my left and right booty cheeks for being able to twerk independently of each other.”

How did you become interested in pole dancing?
“Pole started as just a class I took on Friday nights at the gym. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the most fun.”
Photographs by Ryan Pfluger.
Did you ever have second thoughts about doing this for a living?
"In my brokest days, when I was on food stamps and paying my rent with credit cards, I never once regretted choosing pole over a regular job. Absolutely never. I’d re-cry every tear of uncertainty before writing another TPS report."

Were you surprised that you ended up doing something so physical for work?
"Overweight Roz will forever be perplexed that she’s a professional gym rat."

Do you think you’ll be doing this for the rest of your life?
"Hell, no! This is far too strenuous to do for the next 60 years. But the next 10? Sign me up."
Photographs by Ryan Pfluger.
Hennessy, 31, is an actor, writer, personal assistant, and podcast host. If that doesn’t keep him busy enough, he also manages to work as a bike messenger on the side.

What is your favorite body part and why?
“My eyes. They allow people to see me.”

What body part(s) do you rely on to do your job?
“My entire body is crucial for my job as a bike messenger. Weaving between vehicles and other bikers and pedestrians not only requires use of my legs and feet for velocity, but my core for balance, and arms for direction and keeping steady on sharp turns.”

Why did you decide to become a bike messenger? What are some perks of the job?
“I’m an actor and artist. I’m also cohost of the Kill Me Now podcast with Judy Gold. My schedule and income fluctuate from gig to gig, and work (or pay) is never guaranteed. Messengering gives me the flexibility to work my own hours around my actual career, and the opportunity to make money and still be able to attend rehearsals. There’s also no boss looking over your shoulder, and I don’t need a gym membership.”

That’s a super-male-dominated industry. Have you ever come up against discrimination on the job?
“Since I haven’t changed my outer appearance, I’m often mistaken for a girl, but I pick and choose my battles. I’m discriminated against mostly because I am assumed to be an identity that I am not. But for the most part, in this particular job, I don’t have to work with anyone at all. I see the customers for a minute at most, and then I’m off. That’s one of the beautiful things about this job — no one to explain my existence to.”
Photographs by Ryan Pfluger.
In a 2014 Buzzfeed short documentary, you discuss how you identify as male, but aren’t planning on transitioning. How has that decision changed the way you feel about your body?
“I wouldn’t say ‘I’m not planning on transitioning.’ It’s always a realistic option for me; I just want to make sure I’m doing it for myself and not just for others to ‘see me better.’ On one hand, I have been raised with and live the ‘female experience’ because of my appearance. I understand women, and the born stigma that we female-bodied people fight against every day. As a trans person, I actually identify most with the elderly and women, in that they are identified in society by what they look like (even subconsciously), not by who they are behind the wrinkles or tits. And I will never make fun of your period. That shit is no joke.

“On the other hand, I have the mind, thoughts, instinct, and identity of a guy who happens to be straight. So I also have the experience, not only of a woman in this country, but a homosexual woman.

“And I struggle with my male ego, trying not to wake up every day feeling emasculated — because honestly — I believe women have had to evolve through so much projection of ideas and identities of what women are and how they appear and what roles they are expected to fill or not fill. This obstacle course of a life and having various tactics, practices, and advice learned and passed on to women in order to progress and survive has made them, in my experience and opinion, the stronger and more evolved sex.

“So the decision not to 'pass' as male is hard, because it feels as though I am living in a costume, yet I am so grateful that because of the steps I’ve walked in this body, I have the insight and connection and welcoming into a powerful, loving force that is the female community. I’ve been able to see and experience things that most men are not privy to or expected to experience. And that makes me a better man.”

You’re also a writer, actor, podcaster, and personal assistant. How do you juggle all these jobs?
“To be honest, I don’t always juggle my jobs well. I get overwhelmed and stuck and I drop the ball a lot. But I try to change little things and never stop trying. I’m really good at what I do and have a hard time saying no to stuff or turning gigs down, and my plate gets too full. But I’m learning. Hopefully that will never stop.

“Also, check out the legendary comic and actor Judy Gold’s podcast: Kill Me Now! Judy Gold is the best!! (See what a good assistant I am? Damn, maybe I need an assistant… )”

Can you tell us a little about the one-man show you’re working on?
“Ugh, I hate the term ‘one-man-show.’ I promise it will be better than that — so much cornball stigma associated with the genre. Let’s call it a 'solo show!' It’s a funny play about a boy whose penis never grew in and how he dealt with it. At the moment it’s called typecast, but that title may change. I will be doing a workshop of it soon to show its production to prospective creatives who may want to be involved. Stay tuned!”
Photographs by Ryan Pfluger.
Dr. Tracy-Ann Moo, 36, is a breast surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center and is seven months pregnant with her first child.

What is your favorite body part and why?
“Right now, my tummy. It's changed so much and brings me so much happiness when I feel my little one moving.”

What body part(s) do you rely on to do your job?
“My eyes and my hands. Surgery is both an art and science; I couldn't do my job without both.”

Why did you decide to become a surgeon? Why did you choose to focus on breast health?
“I loved the intensity and pace of surgery. It's also a field of medicine in which you can immediately see the results of your intervention on the disease process. I chose specifically breast-cancer surgery because I love working with women, and I find great satisfaction in not just curing a disease that affects so many of us, but also forming long-term relationships with many of my patients. It's immensely gratifying to see a women who's completed all her treatment, put the disease behind her, and is going on with her life.”
Photographs by Ryan Pfluger.
You work in a very male-dominated industry. Has that changed the way you think about your body?
“Not really. It's definitely affirmed for me that despite the physical differences between our sexes, women can be just as effective as men at tasks that can be quite demanding physically.”

Has your pregnancy changed the way you work or approach your career?
“My pregnancy, and the physical changes that have come with it, has helped me to appreciate the challenges unique to being a women in the workplace. You find yourself pushing through your day just like you did before, even though it becomes physically more taxing.”

Would you recommend young women pursue a career as a surgeon?
“Yes, I love my job. Even the toughest days are made better by hearing your patient say 'thank you.'”
Photographs by Ryan Pfluger.
Lauren Gerrie, 32, is co-owner of BigLITTLE Get Together and personal chef to fashion designer Marc Jacobs. She’s been working in the industry for 10 years and has the scars to prove it.

What body part(s) do you rely on to do your job?
“The whole shebang! Hands are probably the most obvious as a chef, but I think that the most crucial body part for cooking is the heart. There is so much gut and intuition that goes with being able to prepare a dish and manipulate ingredients. There has to be a fluidity that runs through the body when cooking, and it is the heart that leads the way.”

You have a dance background. Does that influence the way you cook?
“I think the dedication and work ethic that was instilled in me as a professional dancer has certainly carried over to my career as a chef. I am thankful for all those years of auditioning and the constant highs and lows of getting a job or being rejected. It gave me the confidence and drive to succeed. Being a chef is a mind game of sorts; there is a tremendous amount of pressure, and being a dancer all my life has provided me with the skill-sets to stay cool, calm, and collected.”

Has your work as a chef changed the way you think about your body?
“Similar to dancing, cooking is hard on the body. I have always been conscious of how food affects my mental and physical game, but with age and experience I have gained a stronger connection to my body. Manual labor is no joke, therefore I am obsessive about working out to strengthen and lengthen my body. Due to the fact that I spend most of my days standing, lifting and carrying, and riding my bike all over the city, I have become more ritualistic about stretching to promote healthy blood flow. I also go to an acupuncturist, which is so wonderful for not only my body, but also my mental and emotional state. I am a firm believer in Eastern medicine and healthy practices. It’s totally cheesy, but my body is my temple. I take care of every aspect in order to live a healthy and happy life, which I believe makes my food taste that much better!”
Photographs by Ryan Pfluger.
What’s the worst injury you’ve sustained in the kitchen?
“Last year, I underwent a double meniscus surgery on my right knee. I am certain this was caused by years of ballet training in conjunction with how harsh cooking is on your knees. Not to mention, I live on the sixth floor of a prewar walk-up, ride my bike miles a day, work out six days a week, and pretty much never stop moving! I am so thankful that I had that experience, because it forced me to slow down and look at my pace of life. Let me tell you, having knee surgery certainly smacks you in the face and makes you sit still with your thoughts. It made all the burns and cuts from being in a kitchen feel like nothing.”

You said you can taste the difference between a dish prepared by a man versus a woman. Why do you think men and women make such different kinds of chefs?
“Let me start off by saying, I think that each and every chef is different, which is what makes cooking so extraordinary! I have many male chef friends, who I think make delicious food. However, I think that there are fundamental differences in how women and men approach food. There is a tenderness that women have; I think it is rooted in our natural inclination to nurture. Most of the women I have worked with in kitchens have less of an ego and aren’t as affected by the stereotypical expectation of what it means to ‘be a chef.’ Women are more inclined to be team players, and they are able to express themselves, which is crucial in a kitchen. But, hell, there are always two sides to every coin. When it comes down to it, maybe it isn’t about gender; it’s about ego. In my opinion, you can leave your ego at the door, because food is just food, and each plate is so fleeting.”

Would you recommend young women pursue careers in the culinary arts?
"Fuck, yes! Any young woman who is passionate about food should join the club. The food world is so magical, but it is not glamorous. I think the common misconception about being a chef now is this idea of celebrity. It takes many hours, days, weeks, years to truly have a grasp on cooking. There are tremendous sacrifices, and your personal life can take a backseat to your life in the kitchen."

What is one stereotype about female chefs you wish would disappear?
“I am not alone in this…I wish the phrase 'female chef' would disappear. A chef is a chef, man or woman. The culinary world is definitely not the only professional field where this is a problem.”
Photographs by Ryan Pfluger.
Annellyse Munroe, 23, has been dancing since she was five, and spent the past two years with Ailey II, the renowned second company of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

What is your favorite body part and why?
“I love my body, especially my height and long limbs. They allow me to execute my movements with strength and elegance.”

When did you decide you wanted to be a professional dancer?
“Dance has always been a part of my creative and personal life. In 2006, my aunt took me to my first Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance in New York City. I saw dancers who looked like me and danced the way I wanted to. I knew then that Ailey was a company I wanted to be a part of. That summer, I returned to NYC and participated in my first summer intensive at the American Ballet Theatre. The experience of performing in the same theater and walking in the same halls as Misty Copeland really inspired me. That was when I decided to become a professional dancer.”

How has being a professional dancer changed the way you feel about your body?
“My body is my instrument and the vehicle through which I express myself. Being a professional dancer requires that you take care of your body, and the work that you put in directly affects the results you achieve. I love to work out and take dance classes as often as possible, and I stretch and make smoothies every morning to sustain my body’s health. I am confident in my own skin, because I know that I am taking care of myself.”
Photographs by Ryan Pfluger.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
“As a professional dancer, my stamina and endurance are often tested. During Ailey II’s recent two-week New York season, there were days when I had to perform two programs during the day and one at night, and I was in three ballets in each program. As exhausted as I was, the energy of the audience kept me going and motivated me to lift my own energy. This experience taught me a valuable lesson: You are there for the audience, and you can get through anything."

How do you prepare for an audition or a performance?
“Before an audition, I like to have an early breakfast, stretch, and listen to my favorite music. I take a moment to reflect and recognize how grateful I am for the opportunity to audition and show others what I’m capable of.

“Before a performance, I like to get ready by listening to my favorite music. I go onstage to stretch and do core exercises. I have a practice of taking deep breaths in the space and imagining myself doing the steps flawlessly. As a group, just before each performance, we get in a circle, hold hands, and reflect as a team.”
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