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Stripping Down

Having just finished reading Sheila Hageman's memoir, Stripping Down, the first thing I need to say is what it is not. 

It is not an easy story to read. It is not a straightforward narrative. It is not a Horatio Alger struggle upward from poverty.

No, the controlling metaphor is not up, but down.

Imagine a set from TV's American Idol. The lights come on. A long, glittering staircase appears center-stage, and at the top stands a young woman dressed in shiny, skin-tight black, her long blonde hair flying in the artificial breeze. It's Sheila. The audience applauds, as does the show's host and its panel of celebrity judges.  They wait at the bottom of the stairway. 

Sheila speaks, "My name is Kyrie, pronounced like Perrier." More applause, then a hush as she descends, slowly stripping, a piece of clothing here, a bit of herself there.

She dances, gyrates, bends to look at us between her legs. The audience sits, silent, mesmerized. The host withdraws to one side, next to the judges, who stare openly.

Kyrie is putting on an act for us, seducing, making us hers. She's down to a G-string now, her nubile body pulsing with power. Her plastic smile is still in place but there is wariness in her eyes. Or is it fear for what she's become?

We wait for what we know is next. Kyrie does not disappoint. She tosses her G-string aside, mimes lap dancing, licks her lips salaciously, then drops the last few steps to the stage. 

The judges morph into truckers and businessmen, rise from their seats, throw dollar bills that count as Kyrie's score. The host, owner of this sleazy strip bar, helps her collect them. Kyrie hugs the money to her breast. 

Then she cries. 

Only, it's not Kyrie any longer. It's Sheila, standing naked before us. We look away, her degradation manifested inside each of us.

That's when it happens. Sheila tosses the money aside and bends in front of the judges' bench to lift a full-length mirror. She turns it toward her to look at the reflection. At first, she frowns, her tears fall. Then she smiles, suddenly knowing herself, just beginning to love herself. 

She turns the mirror toward the host and judges, and toward us. They don't get it, and neither do we, at first. 

Then understanding comes. She is showing us who we are.

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