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Motherhood, Perfection and Stripping–Interview with Author Sheila Hageman

by Laura on February 1st, 2013

Self-help and therapy through the vicarious experience of another’s memoir? Guilty-as-charged.

Sheila Hageman’s very personal, very revealing memoir, Stripping Down, examines the nature of motherhood, perfection, and sexuality. I loved her book, as you can read in my 5-star Amazon review.

I am the first person to dislike self-absorbed blame-games in memoir. But, I am also the self-reflecting sort, always wanting to find reasons and understanding. Which is great, because I had a ton of questions for her after I finished her story, including this one:

The Myth of the Perfect Mother

Laura: In your memoir, Stripping Down, you’re suffering from what I would call “anxious mommy syndrome” (me too). It goes beyond “mere” panic over caring for a newborn … it touches the core of our being: Am I good enough? Am I doing enough? Am I sacrificing enough?

You compare yourself to your mom: You lie next to your daughter’s bed when she’s sick, just like your mom did with you. But, you remember your mom always being there the next morning. As a mother you (rightfully, in my opinion!) go back to your own bed to sleep.

At what point did you let go of these comparisons? Never? Are you still feeling guilty? How do you handle this, get over it?

Sheila: I’ll probably never be able to let go of comparisons all together, but I recognize what I’m doing now much better. One of my major life issues seems to be on learning how to let go of my own personal judgments and feelings of inadequacy.

I totally get it that I demand perfection from myself in all things even though I know “perfect” isn’t possible. I know I do things well and that I’m an awesome mother. But somehow those feelings of not being good enough still haunt me.

In terms of being a mother, it seems there are so many expectations in our society of what a good mother looks like, of what she does and who she is. I find it hard to live up to even that less-than-perfect mom who is all-loving, which makes up for her flaws, that is represented in media everywhere we turn.

I practice acceptance as soon as I become aware of what I am doing. And I practice reassuring myself I’m doing a good job. But it is a practice and sometimes practice is easier than other times.

Letting Go of the “Perfect Body Ideal,” whatever that is

Laura: The same goes for body image issues; to which I can totally relate. I taught dance to teenagers and tried to get them to accept their own bodies … But I was nearly anorexic at the time. (Talk about denial and hypocrisy on my part.) You teach yoga, encourage clients to love their body, accept their limits; and yet you struggle(d) with self-hate and depression. Where are you today with this?

Sheila: Body image has been at the crux of my relationship with myself my whole life it seems. Like you, I struggled with borderline anorexia for so many years that the whole deprivation mentality has deep roots in me. I spent so many years making money from what my body looked like that I have struggled as I have aged and had children.

I can say that I feel more at peace with my body now than I ever have. Time and circumstance has shown me that what is most important really is what I think and feel about myself. I still have days where I look in the mirror and I hear an old tape play in my head, but I recognize it as such immediately now, which makes it easier to deal with my insecurities and reassure myself of what’s really important.

I firmly believe that the deeper we dig into understanding why we feel the way we do today in the stories of our past that the more understanding and accepting of ourselves we’ll be.

Onto what we really want to know about … Stripping

Laura: Your memoir touches on a question about which, I think, many of us secretly wonder: Are strippers in fact prostitutes with a legitimate place to stand (and dance)? In my (admitted) limited and stereotypical experience, women would say “Heck, no!” and men would say “Hell, yeah. Everyone has a price.” Your response?

Sheila: That’s a legitimate question. I can only speak for myself and what I did or did not see myself. I never prostituted myself or even considered it. I had as much as $10,000 offered to me to go home with a guy and I just laughed it off because I knew I didn’t have a price.

There were strippers who yes, I believe would go on “dates” with customers, but it was the exception, not the rule. Most of the strippers I spoke with were there to make their money dancing and go home.

I definitely had judgments about women prostituting themselves, thinking they were doing themselves a disservice. With that being said though, I do think prostitution should be legal. I believe it should be every woman’s personal decision what she does with her body.

 *  *  *  *  *

Thanks so much to Sheila Hageman (@SheilaMHageman) for this interview!

Sheila is a Women’s Empowerment Speaker, author and teacher. Stripping Down, A Memoir is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.

Sheila recently founded This is My Beautiful, a site dedicated to showing women’s inner and outer beauty. Check out my own submission: Mother-Daughter Beauty in Flip-Flops.

  1. Thanks to Laura for sharing her impressions of Sheila's story.

    It's so easy to criticize ourselves in the search for true understanding, but the first thing that came up for me reading the review is how brave Sheila is for facing those demons of the past. Not only did she have to confront a part of her past that's tied up with all sorts of negativities but now that story is immortalized in print, making the emotional physical, having others read it and review it…remembering and coming to terms with how her life has turned out – that takes guts.

    Best of luck, Sheila; it'll put it on my to-read list.

    • Laura permalink

      Yes, I think it does take guts to place a magnifying glass on one's past, trying to make sense of it–no holds barred. Sheila allowed us into her mind, so-to-speak, and let us see a glimpse of that healing that can take place after the examination.
      Thanks for writing!

  2. Sheila's reflections on motherhood are right on. I'm still amazed at the number of people who will judge mothers, especially other mothers, as if there is just one way to raise a healthy, happy, well-adjusted (we all hope) child. You touch on so many issues that plague women today, and stripping as a metaphor for getting to our inner selves works. I love the cover photo too.

    • Laura permalink

      Yes, Stripping Down! I love memoir titles that have multiple meanings :) … Why do we become judgmental at the very time when we most need the support of other women? It's so hard not to just compare ourselves to others, but to beat ourselves up or pat ourselves on the back–prematurely. I just think of the mom who looks down on someone else's kid for biting … and of course, that very same condesending mom finds herself with a biter the very next week!

  3. On that last point, I don't think most prostitutes are in it because they want to be. They've got a pimp running the show and they're scared. They're being drugged, manipulated. They come from broken homes and they're lured by these supposed "caring" men who end up being pimps. It's very tragic. I read something recently about "Deep Throat" Linda Lovelace (I believe her name was) and how she was coerced into doing what she did.There is a movie coming out about her story. Anyway she eventually left "the profession" and became a mother which is telling isn't it? Anyway… sorry for the ramble.

    Very interesting post. I was a borderline anorexic too back in the day, starving and exercising myself to death in order to be perfect. I never could measure up though. Even at my thinnest I felt fat and ugly. This is the insidiousness of it, isn't it? You think at some point you'll cross the line and be happy, but happy never comes because it's not about weight. It's a much deeper issue.

    I'll put this book in my queue. It sounds fascinating. Great interview Laura. Congrats Sheila.

    • Raised in the Midwest in a middle class family I had no notion of prostitution, though it turned out I lived in a city famous for it. Indianapolis, the circle city, was the most popular convention town in the US. I write about when our vocal group became a band, and in recruiting a member I meet the two most influential call girls in Indy at their mansion on Meridian Street. Bunny, the one who was involved with our new recruit, told me how she had been taken off the streets of Chicago at 13, beaten, degraded and intimidated into the trade. It was a shocking tragedy that stuck with me. She and her roommate did not have pimps and ran their own business, supervised by the Chicago mob. Her story later helped me save a Hawaiian girl when we were in Honolulu in 1967, who had was being recruited into the sex trade, very scary when we confronted the woman sent from the mainland to pick her up.

      While these are the only two incidents about this subject in my book and involve the methods in which woman are recruited and enslaved to this profession, as the band became very popular in Las Vegas, especially at the Flamingo Hotel in 1968 and 1969, I met several 'working girls'. It may sound surprising but most of them were running their own enterprises with the tacit approval of various hotels, whom I assume were paid off either in kind or case. Lord help a girl who tried to work independently of them. But then there was another type of working girl, the semi-professional, often doubling as a tourist. On their short stays, they found it exciting to role-play hooking in the various clubs. I could only shake my head in wonder.

      As in every other endeavor humans are involved in, they are just people, and each girl/woman is unique. There is a tendency to drop these girls into a box labeled "prostitutes" or "hookers" and judge and objectify them, but it's unfair to them to do that.

      As to dancers, in 1965, when we somehow found ourselves booked into one of the most popular of San Francisco's night spots, the Galaxie Club in North Beach, a leader in the Topless revolution, we worked for a year with 7 topless dancers, showgirls, and a flame twirler, some of whom I got to know very well. While they bestowed their favors on whomever they chose at their own option, I never saw one instance of a blatant transaction from any of those ladies.

      I don't want to misrepresent Look Back In Love, memoirs of A Naked Car Thief, as a book about this subject or excesses of any kind. It's really about my eye-widening adventures together with some regular Midwestern guys in the deep cultural changes of the mid-sixties, from politics, music and the music biz, religions, and especially personal relationships.

  4. Laura, thanks for a great interview.

    Sheila, as a mentor of moms of preschoolers, I've not yet met a young mom, nor was I one, who can turn off the need to be perfect. And there is no perfect mom. Perfection in motherhood is doing the best you can. It isn't something learned in a textbook, an online course, or even from your own mother. And this is why? Because it is between you and your little one — you find what fits and then you have nearly perfect.

    And I'd rather not go to that place where we talk "body ideal" because mine never has been ideal! Another source of trying to achieve what is perfect for someone else, but maybe not for you.

    Your book is now on my "to read" list — sorry there are a few ahead of you — but rest assured you have gotten my attention.

    • Laura permalink

      Yes! Why is this sense of perfection pervasive? Is it cultural, a product of our times? Were moms always like this, comparing themselves to one another? The funny part, I'm finding, about figuring out what works with my small children is … it changes, constantly! Especially for my 5-going-on-sixteen daughter–talking to her, relating to her is so psychological. She wants my approval, and yet she is very strong-willed. I have to try to get my own emotions and quote-un-quote issues out of the way, so that I can deal with my daughter on her terms, within the proper age-appropriate range of emotional and physical development. I imagine it only gets harder from here :)
      Yes! Definitely, check out Sheila's memoir, Stripping Down–I really enjoyed it!

  5. This post is very interesting. This book is very nice . This story is immortalized in print. This book has very nice discus about -sheila motherhood. Thank you so much Laura for sharing her impressions of Sheila's story.

  6. I was thinking about the same thing for a while but I was really not able to get answer to this question. But I really want to agree with the theory that you have given about the strippers.

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