Although burlesque may seem like unexpected vehicle for making a statement on social issues, Earlecia Richelle believes the art of dance is an empowering way to convey powerful, unexpected messages to an audience.
“I like unconventional ways to tell a story,” says Richelle, the Beverage Director and Cultural Curator at NYLO Hotel in NYC. “For me, it’s not through writing a book or an essay. Instead, I want to tell stories through bartending and through the art of burlesque. I like taking these issues that have a lot of depth to them and apply them to arenas that are very social. You go to burlesque show, you think you are seeing skin, and that it will be sexy. You’re not thinking you're going to get a history lesson. You think you are just going to have a good time.”
Richelle, who began her career in editorial, said she always knew she wanted to work in New York City in the creative arts. In her third year at college, she moved to Manhattan to pursue a career in magazines.
Earlecia's Solange & Sage Cocktail Recipe
1.5 oz Ketel One
.75 oz Sage Simple Syrup (1:1)
.25 oz Suze
.50 oz Lemon Juice
2 Whole Blackberries
1-2 drops Preserved Lemon Brine
Muddle blackberries in a cocktail shaker. Add the rest of the contents and shake with pellet ice. Dump contents in rocks glass. Top with pellet ice. Garnish with a burnt sage leaf and edible gold glitter.
Once in the city, Richelle got an internship at Essence Magazine, despite no longer being a full time student (a no-no at the time). According to Richelle, she kept up the clever ruse so that she could eventually follow her dreams of storytelling through unique mediums.
They kept asking me for my papers and I kept saying ‘I’ll get them,’” laughs Richelle. “I just stretched it out until I couldn’t anymore and then I made an excuse why I had to leave.”
Thanks to her shifty maneuver, Richelle says her internship helped open many doors for her. Richelle next went on to work at Sephora, where she worked in the beauty editing department, helping them build out their blog. From there, she began an editing role at Henri Bendel, and while she enjoyed experiencing the New York City world of beauty and fashion, Richelle felt something was missing.
“What I really wanted to be was a stylist and an editor and I wasn't having that much success in the magazine side,” said Richelle, who soon joined forces with an accessories designer, becoming a stylist assistant. “I was styling music videos and editorial shoots. I was still in and out of school trying to finish my degree, but I had all this passion [that had still been untapped]."
After attempting to launch her own online magazine, while concurrently moonlighting as as a cocktail waitress, Richelle said she was feeling a lack of creativity. She decided to
"check out a burlesque show" called Brown Girls Burlesque, and suddenly, Richelle says the world opened up for her.
“When I tell you it was a moment that changed my life, it was” says Richelle, who is of Panamanian and African descent. “I was like ‘Yes! I can finally tell the stories I have been trying to tell through burlesque. This is totally the platform. Looking back I understand that I’m very much a storyteller of my ancestor’s stories; that is who I am. I wanted to tell stories of people who looked like me; I wanted to talk about the things that represented me and where I came from, which being told in mainstream media. Women of color are so fly and our culture is so rich , why don’t I see that [reflected in the media]?. I didn't understand it."
These days Richelle is focused on telling stories that have to do with relevant issues including race, culture, and even global warming through burlesque and mixology. In one of Richelle's burlesque acts called Toxic Bee (which is danced to Britney Spears’ Toxic), she plays a bee in love with a sunflower. In the skit, eventually the love, like climate change, poisons the dance, culminating in a dramatic fashion.
“In other countries, say, Latin American cultures, daughters are raised to be accepting of their female forms, says Richelle, making the point that by embracing Burlesque, she is able to rise against the American tendency to have self hate. "They dance, they own their body, and they learn that from a young age. For me burlesque takes me to that original place if I had been born in Panama or Africa, and I had felt very disengaged from that.”
In her newest role at NYLO, Richelle is still telling stories. Now, a maestro of mixology, the outspoken beauty spends her time creating meaningful cocktails like Strange Fruit, meant as a a reflection in America's gruesome relationship with the hanging tree; Roses and Ash, a smokey rose sour inspired by Van Gough's painting Roses which he created right before leaving the Saint-Remy asylum; and Viva La Loba- playing homage to my most adored book, "Women Who Run with the Wolves"
“I want to continue creating high concept cocktails that create a craft cocktail experience fused with culture and unique engagement,” says Richelle.
The Quick 10
1.What app do you most use?
2.What's the first thing you do in the morning?
Check my emails.
3.Name a business mogul you admire.
Dita Von Teese.
4.What product do you wish you had invented?
5.What is your spirit animal?
6.What is your life motto?
Keep creating, no matter what.. "you can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." Maya Angelou
7.Name your favorite work day snack.
I forget to eat most days at work.
8.What's something that's always in your bag?
Lipstick, wine key, and business cards.
9.What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?
Lesotho, southern Africa.
10.Desert Island. Three things, go.
Gin & tonic, avocados, and some kind of hat.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."