Topless work takes its toll

What other people think of her is not so much of a worry. What the job is doing to her shapely body, and her health is, she tells Rachael Woods.

A topless waitress working at “buck’s nights” and other events in inner-city Melbourne has spoken out about the excessive drug and alcohol culture surrounding them and the psychological toll on her.

Abbie*, 27, receives tips in lieu of payment for three-hour shifts. She said she reluctantly used cocaine to increase her self-confidence and thus earn more.

“I get drunk most shifts to give myself a boost of self-assurance,” she said. “I end up constantly comparing my body to the other girls’ and it impacts on my self-esteem.”

Abbie, a successful student with two Bachelor degrees – in teaching and psychology – said she wanted to work as a topless waitress while she was “single and in my 20s”.

She said she was in disbelief at the “insane” quantities of drugs that those who attended these events were constantly offering her.

According to Abbie, she normally dislikes taking drugs as it makes her feel “vulnerable and promiscuous the next day”.

She regularly consumes vodka straight to prepare herself mentally for work, and she’s not the only one: “I get there drunk, and most of the girls are drunk or on pills.”

Abbie said she was constantly comparing herself with other women. As “one of the older ones” in her company, she found herself struggling with the “competitiveness” to make tips.

“Sometimes people will say, ‘I don’t want you, I want the other girl’, which is quite hurtful.”

Dr Peter Robinson, a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Swinburne University, said he could understand the need of psychological ”performance” for someone in Abbie’s position.

“They are working a system that is dependent on the approving gaze of men,” he said. “The drugs and alcohol can be a way to keep the performance going.”

On a typical night, Abbie will be involved in many “body shots” – where a participant drinks a shot from between her breasts – and will occasionally pose in photographs for tips.

“You don’t make an hourly rate. You make money from body shots and tips. Sometimes you don’t make much, sometimes you make a ridiculous amount.”

Abbie said she took a cut of $5 for each body shot. She relied on acting “flirtatious” to make the tips, which she usually achieved as a result of intoxication.

If Abbie does not want patrons to take photos of her or touch her, she has to be “assertive” with them. She has few rules protecting her privacy.

“The guys aren’t allowed to take photos. The event staff don’t give out our full names. A few security guards are with us at events. That’s about it.”

She said she was aware of the conflicting views people might have on her mode of employment, some of them stigmatising it.

“I can understand why people would be judgmental, because you’re getting half naked in front of complete strangers,” she said. But such judgments clearly didn’t faze her: “That’s their morals, so it’s a personal opinion.”

* The name has been changed to protect her identity.