Special Report: We get paid to take our clothes off ... and we love it!
Three Ulster women reveal why they're not ashamed to strip for cash
Tara Liggett, 20, from Portadown, lives with her father, a civil servant, and mother, a veterinary practice worker and two younger sisters, Kathryn, 18, and Stacey, 17. She is a podium dancer and glamour model and has previously worked as a stripper in clubs in Ibiza.
MY ambition is to appear on Page 3, though I'd also love to do those spreads you see in car magazines. Friends look at me in amazement when I tell them that, and say that it's degrading. But I disagree. To me, it's harmless fun, and how can taking off my top be demeaning when it's my choice to do it?
Nor do I think it's belittling to womenkind in general. If a woman looks good, why shouldn't she show off her body? I mean, so many people go topless on beaches, so what's the difference in appearing topless in a paper or magazine?
Sometimes, though, I do think it's strange that I ended up doing this sort of thing. After all, at school I did sociology, psychology and biology A levels and dreamed of joining the air force.
But, then, when I was 15 I started entering beauty competitions. The first was a 'head-to-toe' contest in the Republic and I won. From that point on I entered every competition I could find; I was runner-up in the province-wide Miss Millennium and, for the past few years, I've competed in Miss Northern Ireland.
People have always told me that I should go into modelling but, though I'm five feet, ten inches tall, I don't have the shape for catwalk work. I'm quite curvy - my vital statistics are 36D-26-38 and I'm a size 12 - so glamour work is the right niche for me.
As I love dancing, a few years ago I decided to train as a podium dancer to earn extra cash and, in early 2002, I signed up with a Bangor-based agency which supplies podium dancers to clubs around Ireland.
Podium dancing is great fun but hard work. Usually you choose your own outfit, anything from a thong to hotpants, teamed with a skimpy top.
Last summer I'd my best break yet. I'd gone to Ibiza, where there is plenty of work in the clubs, and one night I podium-danced while the DJ Fatboy Slim worked the tables.
I suppose it was the atmosphere in Ibiza that was conducive to me doing some stripping work. Everyone there is sunbathing topless and very laid-back, and so, when my boss suggested I try doing a strip while dancing, it didn't seem that much of a big deal.
At the time I was working in a show in a gay club, so I didn't exactly feel as if the men were leering at me. Plus, there were acrobats and fire-eaters, so it felt like I was really just part of some huge performance.
Still, the thought of it was scary. I watched the other girls to see how they did it but, for the first three weeks, I could only pluck up the courage to take off my top. Then one night I decided to do the Full Monty, though I have to say it was the most nerve-wracking few moments of my life. Fear and excitement mixes with this huge adrenalin rush.
Of course, you get more used to it, but I only did it for a few months because I just couldn't get over my feelings of uneasiness about it. There's a glamorous side to it but it just also seems a bit iffy to me so I don't do it any more.
There is good money to be made in the clubs in Ibiza; as a podium dancer I averaged about £400 a week. Funnily enough, because doing a strip is seen as such a routine thing out there, it didn't pay that much extra.
Back in Northern Ireland, it's harder to get glamour work, so previously I've supplemented my income by working as a clerical officer with the Housing Executive and, soon, I'll be starting a new office job in Belfast.
Modelling is tough. Because there is so much hanging around, photoshoots can be monotonous. Plus, I have to spend a lot of my spare time working on my body, especially since I love my food!
My passion is horse-riding but, unfortunately, that tends to build up your body, so I also swim, jog and go for long country walks. I've been toning up recently but, at the same time, I don't want to lose too much weight in case it comes off my chest.
I'm lucky that my family are so supportive of my career. Mum and dad are quite open-minded; they take the attitude that it's my life. Mind you, if they thought I was doing something wrong, they'd put their foot down.
My boyfriend, Neil, is also very relaxed about it.
Since I started modelling I've had to get used to bar- bed remarks from others, especially women. At school, other girls would say things like, 'look at her, she thinks she's a model'.
But I've always been able to shrug off all the jibes.
In fact, I've just arranged to have a new portfolio of topless shots done by a local photographer to help win me some more work.
If anything I'm more determined than ever.
- Tara Liggett can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Angela Woodage, 22, is originally from Antrim but now lives in Belfast. A former lap-dancer in England, she joined the Angels stripogram company 18 months ago. She entertains in a variety of uniforms - including a 'punishment beating' special, which consists of a balaclava and baseball bat. She can earn £300 on a weekend night and says she loves her job as it's a 'power-trip'.
I'M a dancer, not a prostitute. I don't perform sexual favours but I will strip down to my birthday suit - the Full Monty - if required.
I love it. It's a total power trip over men. You can totally embarrass them, totally humiliate them to the point of no return.
Here's my routine: I jump on the guy, gyrate on top of him and put my head between his legs and his head between my legs.
Then I push him back, take his shirt off and put cream on his belly, rubbing it in with my backside.
Then I get him to lie down, take his trousers off and I squirt cream down his boxers and then jump on top of him and do some more gyrating.
To finish off with, I spank his backside.
If a fella tries to touch me once during this routine he'll get a hard slap on the face. Very hard. I don't let anyone mess with me.
Some of these guys, they think you're a Barbie doll and they lift you up and haul you around. Well, I'm not there to be mauled and that message soon gets through.
Originally I wanted to be a professional dancer and lap-dancing was my way in, but now I love being a stripogram. I am doing a course in hairdressing, though, as something to fall back on. My body won't be like this forever.
People order stripograms for all sorts of occasions - stag nights, hen nights (Angels also has male strippers), office parties, birthday parties. The first time I did the Full Monty was at a Rangers club and I was terrified.
It costs £45 for the basic kissogram routine, £90 for a topless girl and £145 for the Full Monty. With a guy stripogram you pay £45 for the basic and £100 for the Full Monty. The routine usually lasts between 10 and 15 minutes.
I can dress up as a nurse, a schoolgirl, a prison officer, an RUC woman or a punishment beater, which is really popular, especially in the Falls and Shankill. People might object to it and think it's tasteless but I don't see why.
My parents are fine with what I do, but I don't really speak to them any more. It's nothing to do with the job, though. They think the job's fine. They know I have the body and the attitude for it.
Mind you, I don't put much effort into looking good. I don't diet and I hate gyms. About the most I'll do is hop on a sun-bed.
I never go out with clients because I wouldn't want to be with a man who would see me in that light.
I want to be with someone who knows the real me, the Angela who is nice and sweet.
Then again, I wouldn't let any boyfriend make me give up my job. I'm very independent that way. It's for me to decide when I give up stripping.
People think I'm degrading myself but it's my body and my choice how to use it. If I have any regrets in the future, that's my issue. No-one has the right to judge me.
- Angel Promotions, tel: 9022 6072.
Gemma-Dawn Garrett, 21, from Belfast, lives with dad, a security firm manager, mum, a classroom assistant, sister Lisa, 26, and brother Stephen, 16. A full- time model, she specialises in lingerie work.
THE highlight of my career to date has been appearing on the ITV reality TV show, The Club. Three celebrities, Samantha Fox, Richard Blackwood and Dean Gaffney, headed up teams that competed against each other, and I was on Dean's.
As well as giving me valuable TV experience, I got to meet loads of famous people, and even had dinner with Sam Fox and Jordan. Both gave me sound advice about the modelling industry.
Neither of them were what I'd expected them to be like. Samantha Fox was actually quite motherly, whereas Jordan was really down-to-earth and lovely. She has this outrageous image but I think it's all a big front, no pun intended.
Obviously I wouldn't want to do the type of work she does, nor would I agree with some of the things she does for publicity. But, at the same time, I'm not going to knock her. All of it is her choice and she has worked very hard to get to the top of her profession. No-one can take that away from her.
I'd never go topless though I do a lot of lingerie and swimwear work. Though I'm a size 10, I'm just five feet seven inches tall and quite curvy - 36C-25-36 - so my figure is particularly well-suited to that kind of job.
I've done magazine spreads, as well as shows for outlets like Pretty Woman. Some people might shudder at the idea of walking down a catwalk in just a bra and pants but I don't feel exposed at all. They're just items of clothing and people need to see them on a person to judge what they really look like.
But I certainly wouldn't wear anything see-through. Usually - perhaps because of my build - I'm asked to wear French knicker-style briefs and, so far, I haven't been asked to wear a thong. But often when models have to do that, they wear flesh-coloured tights so that they don't feel too exposed. So, yes, if I was asked to wear a thong, I'd put my tights on and get on with it.
My break into modelling was purely by chance. In 1999 I was at school, Bloomfield Collegiate, and planning to become a physiotherapist, when I went shopping in Belfast city centre and a photographer stopped me in the street and asked if I'd enter the Miss Ulster contest.
I said yes immediately and ended up winning. I loved my year as the title-holder. By that stage I'd started work with the Halifax Bank but left so I could make the most of all the wonderful opportunities coming my way.
Since appearing on TV my career has really taken off. I don't want to say exactly what I earn but it's certainly hundreds of pounds every week. As well as being signed to Models2K. com in Belfast, I'm signed to a London agency which also represents Jordan and Melinda Messenger. Recently I was the face of Impulse deodorant for a billboard campaign, and I've just finished work on new adverts for McCain chips and T-Mobile. I'm also on the cover of a new health and lifestyle magazine for men being launched in the province this month.
But it is more difficult making it as a model if you live in Northern Ireland because for every casting in London you have to pay for a flight over.
Plus, there's the attitude problem from some people here; you need a thick skin for that. Other women can be unkind and just want to stab you in the back; I suppose they see you as a threat. But I've encountered that kind of thing from primary school and I can deal with it. It does mean I don't have many girlfriends so, if I do find a good pal, I try to hang on to her.
The irony, of course, is that no-one actually looks as good as they appear to in magazines like FHM or Loaded. Most pictures are air-brushed and I feel strongly about the negative impact such unreal images can have on vulnerable teenage girls. No-one is perfect; we all have our flaws. Certainly people have come up to me after seeing me in magazines and have gone 'oh'. It's not that what I look like in the flesh is a huge shock, but it's certainly not perfection either.
My parents are totally behind me, yet since this is a very age-conscious profession I only have a few years left and am planning to go to university next year to do media studies. I'd like to move on to a career in that area, and I've already gained a good working knowledge of the industry.
Oh, and I'd also like to find a boyfriend. It's a myth that all models are constantly being asked out. I'd like to meet someone really nice; a gentleman.
- Models2K.com, tel: 9045 5055, website: www.models2k.com, email: email@example.com. Models with this agency do not do not undertake glamour work.