A Journalist Photographed Me Topless Without My Permission and Sold The Picture To The Daily Mail

In 2011, a journalist snuck into the London cabaret club where I was dancing burlesque and candidly shot a handful of photos of me performing, despite the No Phone, No Camera policy.
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Charlie Starling
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In 2011, a journalist snuck into the London cabaret club where I was dancing burlesque and candidly shot a handful of photos of me performing, despite the No Phone, No Camera policy.

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In light of the latest nude celebrity photo scandal, there is something I have been sitting on for three years that I am finally ready (and feel obligated) to get off my chest. 

I'm a burlesque performer, which means I dance almost nude. I am not shy about my body and I love performing. But with burlesque, the control is ALWAYS in the hands (and tassels) of the performer. That's why it's so beautiful. That's where the intrigue is.

I'm trying to make you THINK your way into being turned on. I'd like to challenge your notions, confuse you, make you laugh, entice you, whether you're male or female. And I am always in control. My point here is that I practise my art in an exclusive, controlled, and strictly 18+ setting. I show my body how and where I want to, and nobody -- not the media or the audience -- has the right to take that from me. 

In 2011, a journalist snuck into the London cabaret club where I was working, candidly shot a handful of photos of me performing, and sold them to the Daily Mail. (Keep in mind this club had a "No Phone, No Camera" policy. I performed every night thinking I was secure.)

Consequently, a topless photograph of me has been widely circulated. I have been on Page 3 of four separate newspapers: one free evening paper in London and three nationals, one of which was the newspaper of choice for my grandparents. I am not ashamed of what I do, but my grandparents, and my parents, and my parents' friends, did not need to see that. 

My image was the top hit on Google for almost a month whenever someone searched for a certain red-headed royal who had visited the club with his friends. I've also been used as a full page spread in GQ. I even had to endure the London Underground in rush hour while surrounded by unpixelated photographs of my own nearly naked body. Luckily no one recognized me hiding under my giant hat. None of these publications had my permission to run my photograph, and I've never been compensated.

This is why the recent nude leaks have cut me so deeply. I've found myself in conversations with people whose general argument is, "They put themselves out there, they should not be surprised or fight this." I'd like to answer that with a deep and resounding NO. 

THIS IS NOT OK. 

From my line of work, and my passion for it, I hope you can glean that I love my body. I feel immense power in it that I love to share. But it's MINE. And no matter what you do to make your money or express yourself, there is nobody on this earth who has the right to violate your privacy.

With actors and pop stars, it is entirely the same. Yes, they choose their paths, and those paths are scrutinized by the public every single day. We all understand that this is the way celebrity works. If they aren't in the public eye, they aren't bankable. But that doesn't mean the public has a right to somebody's phone, their personal photographs and their sexual lives. It does not matter who you are and what you choose to share with the public -- you still have the right to keep something back for yourself and those you love. 

I'm nervous to share my story. I know in my heart of hearts that I am an artist and I deserve privacy, but a little voice inside of me still sometimes says, "But Charlie, you deserved this." I have grown up in a world that has tried its damn hardest to condition me into thinking I do not deserve control over my own body. It has been three years since my image was stolen and I haven't spoken up to anyone about this but my friends and family. I haven't pursued legal advice. Because deep down, there is that voice saying: "You took off your clothes. They had the right to your image." The voice says other things too, like:

You took off your clothes. He had the right to grab your ass when you walked by. 

You took off your clothes. You cannot call yourself a feminist. 

Sit down and be quiet, Little Stripper Girl. Men are talking. 

But you know what? No more. No matter what it is I do for a living. No matter what I wear to a supermarket or super-club. My body, my life and my privacy are my own. I'm laying myself open to scrutiny by a very scary and judgmental Internet because I'm hoping that I can make somebody think twice before saying "She had it coming."