What it’s like to compete in Miss Nude World
IT'S Friday afternoon and Isabelle Deltore is freaking out. She's been planning her routine for weeks: Costumes, choreography, music.
And then she has a revelation. The whole thing sucks.
I don't quite get the drama. Doesn't she have at least a month until the competition? But Isabelle wants to be Miss Nude World. And to do that you've got to be good. Very good.
"I'm covered in tattoos," Isabelle says, pushing up the sleeve of her hoodie to show a forearm covered with images.
"That's my disadvantage. Some judges don't like them and my routine, on top of all the tatts, it was just too dark and masculine."
With her high cheekbones, blonde locks and D-cups, Isabelle is more Pamela Anderson than Tommy Lee. Still, I figure she knows what she's talking about.
So Isabelle ships in burlesque performer Sina King to help refine her performance.
"Men are inspired by femininity," Sina explains. "Long hair, wide hips good for breeding, curves, a fun and flirty manner. It's biological."
In 2015 Isabelle, from Melbourne, won Miss Nude World and started thinking about her retirement. But when she heard the pageant was being held outside the US for the first time in its 54-year history, she couldn't resist trying for a second win.
The three of us are sitting by the podium at Centrefold Lounge, the Melbourne-based strip club that will be hosting Miss Nude World from October 7-13.
Like all nightclubs, the glamour is lost during the day. The black floor is marked, there is a large pile of mismatched towels in the corner, plastic spray bottles line the stage. A giant chandelier looks down, somewhat sadly, on ceiling-high silver poles.
To compete in the Miss Nude World pageant, contestants must perform two eight minute routines that demonstrate the performer's versatility. For example, a pole dancer can only perform one pole routine, a circus performer only one aerial act.
"You don't want to be too arty," Sina advises. "This is a stripping competition. You want songs the audience already knows, you want them to connect, to start toe-tapping. But you don't want something that's on Nova every two seconds."
And you definitely don't want to end up with the same music as one of your competitors. When I suggest Kendrick Lamar they tell me swearing is not permitted.
Miss Nude World is about stripping and it's about beauty. A panel of judges that includes industry professionals, fans and B-list celebrities rank contestants on their routine and their looks. To enter Miss Nude World, contestants must pay a $350 registration fee and an additional $100 promotional cost. There is no prize money, only the prestige of the title.
Contestants are also responsible for the cost of any props, costumes and grooming. I promised not to disclose specific details, but let's just say it's not unheard of for contestants to spend up to $7000 on a custom-made outfit that's strong enough to rip off and throw on the floor.
"The people who enter Miss Nude World are the real showgirls," says pageant promoter Christian Ganaban. "They want to be the best in the business. Of course, winning also leads to more work. It gives you a name in a competitive industry.
"A stripper just works at a club to make money," Christian continues. "A showgirl, she puts her heart and soul into it. It's her passion."
Isabelle entered stripping relatively late. After completing a social work degree she worked as a prison officer in maximum security prisons. It was gruelling work in a culture where sexual harassment was the norm. Feeling powerless and unsupported Isabelle had a breakdown five years into her career.
At 29, fragile with post-traumatic stress, she didn't know what she wanted to do. With bills to pay Isabelle started stripping.
Seven years later she's still dancing.
"I thought I'd strip only until I got my strength back. But this is the best job I've ever had. I feel safe here. If a guy hassles me, he's kicked out. I'm the one in control."
The following night I meet Isabelle at work. The tracksuit is gone, her hair is loose around her shoulders and she's wearing nothing but skimpy red underwear. She hugs me like we're old friends.
Isabelle may look like a porn star, but her real strength is in the way she combines no bullshit toughness with a genuine kindness. She knows how to make a person feel special. Ultimately, she's a sensible woman with a long-term partner, a mortgage and an array of pets.
As Isabelle wanders off on the hustle I catch up with Christian and a few other guys who work at Centrefold. It doesn't go unnoticed that the people in charge of this establishment are all men who are amusingly nonplussed by the bored-looking millennials dancing lazily on the podium below us.
"The industry is changing. It's about entertainment, about showgirls," Christian insists. "It's really opening up."
I'm not completely convinced by Christian's entertainment spiel and while I know he wants it to be true, I'm not sure he is either. Still, Christian is a likeable guy and I can't help but admire his enthusiasm.
At 1am it's time for Isabelle's performance. This is the entertainment aspect Christian is talking about, when showgirls replace strippers and perform a choreographed routine. It's a taste of what the Miss Nude competition will involve.
The music starts and the theme is Kill Bill. In Uma Thurman's yellow tracksuit, Isabelle commands the stage. You get the feeling that a lot of the audience are too drunk to appreciate her efforts. Which is a shame because Isabelle is fun. She's engaging. And she's sexy.
By the end she's stark naked rolling around in a clear fibreglass bathtub that was custom built for her by her father. Unlike the awkward millennial "strippers", Isabelle makes eye contact. She performs. And when it's over a bus boy hands her one of those mismatched towels that she promptly uses to cover herself.
I give Isabelle a thumbs up and she smiles before changing back into her underwear, ready to do it all over again.