Marilyn Bersey is 75 years old and is from the Isle of Wight. Having been a pre-birth and early years outreach worker for years while raising her family and then caring for her husband, Marilyn’s life has been transformed by burlesque dancing. Now performing as Foxy La Mer and Foxy Faux Fur, Marilyn encourages you to find your inner diva!
They say we are all a product of our childhood. Well, if my childhood was anything to go by then I should have turned out a total wreck, and in some ways, I did start heading in that direction.
Being the overweight kid, with NHS glasses and homemade clothes, I was the butt of everyone’s jokes. I was bullied at every opportunity, and I didn’t have the self-confidence to fight back. I recall one of the times I did pluck up the courage to retaliate and I got the reply that stuck with me for a long time, when the girl sitting behind me at the school dinner table poured salt into my hair and all her mates started laughing. I asked her why she felt that was so funny and she said that’s what her dad did to shrink big fat slugs. I sank back into my shell like the slug she thought I was. I then started to use humour to hide my shame and I would crack jokes at my own expense, getting the laugh in before anyone else could.
Life at home was not without some soul-destroying element either. My mother, who we later found out was suffering with a mental health problem, would tell me that she’d never wanted a girl, and that I should have been a boy. Thank goodness for my father, who would try and make up for it in his own way, by buying me cakes and sweets. So yes, the fat kid got even bigger!
In my teens I joined a drama group and found I could escape from reality and hide behind a character. I could be the glamorous leading lady getting the guy, couldn’t I? Er, no, that went to the slim beauties while the ‘big’ girl got the comedy roles. Playing the fool became my trademark and I was good at it. Let’s face it, I’d been doing it all my life, and acting the fool wasn’t all bad. Making people laugh made them like me, and I began to grow in self-confidence.
It was during one of these shows that I struck up a friendship with one of the male members of the group. He didn’t seem to mind that I was overweight, and that made me feel good. The friendship turned into romance, and we eventually got married and went on to have two wonderful children.
My insecurities would creep up on me now and again however and I would feel the fat slug emerging. I would diet, lose weight, feel better, then fall back into my bad eating habits and gain back the weight and the slug reappeared. Then I’d diet, lose weight … well, you get the picture. Sadly, my husband and I began to drift apart, and eventually after 14 years we divorced, and I found myself bringing up two teenagers on my own. My children eventually became adults and had lives of their own; I was now on my own and life trundled on.
In 1993 after being on my own for almost 16 years I met the man who was to become my second husband. However, not long after we married, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and I eventually became more his carer than his wife. His condition worsened rapidly, and I found it difficult to work full-time at my job as a pre-birth and early years outreach worker while giving my husband the care he needed. It was decided that it would be better for him if he was cared for in a nursing home. Once again, I felt like a failure and was on my own.
Around this time, I was diagnosed with dangerously high blood pressure and was advised to lose weight. This was a wakeup call, and knowing I couldn’t do it alone, I went along to a Slimming World group and managed to lose six stone! For the first time in my life, I felt amazing and managed to maintain my weight loss with the support of my group. By then I was retired and spending my time pottering about, cooking healthy meals and visiting my husband, but sadly in 2014 he passed away.
This is when my life really began to change. I was at a crossroads. I’d just had my 70th birthday and I realised that all the things I’d been – a daughter, a wife, a mother, a working woman – had gone. Who was I now? And, despite feeling healthy and positive about my weight loss I began to feel old and frumpy. I wanted to be that glamourous leading lady that I craved all those years ago.
It was at this time that I had been having trouble with the neighbours from hell and decided to move to a different town. I was trawling social media to see what was on offer in my new hometown when I came across an advertisement for a Burlesque style dance, fun and fitness class. I’d always loved that style of performing, and wondered if I could do it, or was I too old? Only one way to find out! I rang the number, expressed my interest and my doubts and Sarah Spillain the instructor assured me that it was a class designed for confidence building, for any age and body size, and invited me to join the next session for a trial.
As I walked through the door, I was so nervous. I looked around the group of younger ladies – some in dance wear and fishnet tights – looking gorgeous and confident, and I almost ran back out again, but Sarah had spotted me, as had all the ladies, and they guided me in with such a genuine welcoming attitude. I took up a chair at the back of the room ready for Sarah or Mimi Vin Rouge – Sarah’s burlesque persona, to start the routine. I was mentally preparing myself to feel awkward and say that no, this was not for me, but oh my goodness how wrong was I?!
I was immediately engrossed in the sassy moves. I felt so exhilarated and vibrant and even more surprised that I was able to get my leg over the back of the chair without falling over! I couldn’t wait for the next class and there was no more sneaking in at the back. From then on, I was up at the front giving it all my sass and Foxy La Mer was born.
During the last four and half years being a member of Starlesque UK has changed my life and enabled me to experience some amazing things. Not only has it helped me to maintain my weight loss and a high degree of fitness, but I have also performed as a solo act for many charity events and cabaret shows. As well as being Foxy La Mer, burlesque performer, I have created a comedy Faux drag character called Foxy Faux Fur and I have been featured in several magazines and newspapers and appeared in a promotion video for Sunlife over fifties life insurance who voted me one of their six top inspirational women in the country.
I am now in my 75th year, and still going strong as one of the oldest burlesque performers. I have a mission to challenge the stereotypical idea of old age – that after a certain age you’re not supposed to feel sexy or glamourous or have an exciting adventure.
Everyone has a right to live the life they choose whatever their age, and Starlesque has given me the confidence to life my life and become the leading lady diva I was always meant to be.
AKA Foxy La Mer
Your can find Starlesque on Facebook.
Our monthly flash theme for April was Dance and Neurodivergence
In April we celebrate both International Dance Day and World Autism Awareness Day and we would love to read your flash submissions in honour of either or both of these themes. Would you like to tell us something about your experience of being an older person who loves to dance, learned to dance or teaches dance? Has dance had a positive impact on your life and health? Are you an older person with an experience of neurodivergence? We’d be honoured to hear about your experience of autism or neurodivergence intersects with your creativity, or about getting a diagnosis later in life.
Entries will be accepted until midnight on April 30th and flash submissions can take the form of a poem, short story or flash memoir. The winning entry will be chosen by the Autumn Voices staff team and the winner will receive a book prize.