When Liv Osthus was in high school, she wanted to be the best at everything. She was a national merit scholar, a musician, a star athlete. So determined was she in her pursuit of excellence that, after reading a book on sports dieting, Osthus more or less stopped eating. The bouts of anorexia that followed nearly killed Osthus, but her struggle to overcome the disorder helped shape the rest of her life. “This drive for society’s view of success ended up biting me in the ass and that was very instructive. After that, I decided that success has to resonate from within.”
Two decades later, Osthus is a writer, an activist, and a musician. She has survived cancer, published two books, and released four albums. But her true passion, her mainstay profession is rare for Williams alums. For nearly twenty years, Osthus has worked as a stripper.
For many, the fact that a Williams alum would choose to work as a stripper is unfathomable. Society tells us that sex work is bad – that if a run of bad luck forced a college graduate to strip in order to pay the bills, it would be a short-term arrangement – something only discussed in hushed voices. Who would choose sex work? Who would turn down opportunities to write for The New York Times to perform nude at a local bar?
“Sex work is the one thing that intellectuals refuse to talk about. They think about race. They think about class, the economy, the environment. But they don’t want to think about why we unequivocally say that all sex work is bad.”
But to Osthus, stripping is not dirty or degrading – it’s not about sex or even physical beauty. To her, stripping is about performance. “Whenever I go to a strip club, I see art. What [the dancers] present on stage makes me reflect on my life, and that’s what great art does.”