“When I was 13, I saw Boy George on TV, and I ran in the bathroom, locked the door and shaved off my eyebrows. I’m 36, and I haven’t had them since".
World Famous *BOB*, a girl who doesn’t have to look back, obliged the intrusion into her past on a rainy Tuesday as we sat in the living room of her pad, “The Pink Cupcake”, and recalled some of the good, the bad and the beautiful in her life—influences that have molded her into one of downtown NY’s preeminent performance artists.
“I became really excited with the concept of recreating yourself. Boy George’s face was this beautiful mask that he had painted; and there seemed to be a lot of choice in his look, and in that I saw freedom.”
That desire for freedom to express might have come from growing up on a farm in San Luis Obispo in a redneck area with little tolerance for individuality--which meant anyone other than a white male. “If you were a minority--meaning woman, overweight, gay, Mexican, black--there were problems. Hey, anyone who went through the 80’s with an ounce of style in a small town...”
*BOB*’s own style--one part Marilyn, one part Dolly, one part slip-showing drag, all viewed through pink-tinted lens from a bubble bath--is clearly an example of taking lemons and making lemonade. Pink lemonade.
Her presence on the burlesque scene is commanding: at 5’11” without heels, with ample bust & hips, brown eyes framed by high thinly-penciled brows and a voice with hints of a drag queen’s timbre, she exudes extravagant femininity. With a relaxed manner & wit, she is regarded as one of the community’s more prominent personalities, and aside from her own performances frequently finds herself playing MC to live shows. Her favorite spot, though, is as hostess of her own “World Famous *BOB* Presents!”, a monthly revue that introduces the new crop of burlesque dancers to the scene.
“I’m very proud of the show. I love to take beginners and provide a platform for them to realize their dreams onstage. And watch the excitement of just starting out.” Her role as mentor is befitting, given the nurturing that her own self-image and sense of style received when she was a teenager: Nina Hagen, Souixie Sioux, and when she was younger, Cher, Charro, and Dolly Parton all represented “over-the-top” female images she related to. So were men dressed as women.
“I saw Jimmy James when I was about 10—he’s gonna kill me—on the Donahue Show and was bowled over with how beautiful he was.” (James is a female impersonator/singer who in the 80’s & 90’s did an eerily accurate portrayal of Marilyn, videos of which can be seen on YouTube.)
By age 13, she was playing with her own her look and befriended by gay peers in the New Wave/Goth scene, where image and identity were regularly manipulated. She made stencils with an Exacto knife and poster board for the eyebrows she had shaved--“this was before Ricky’s” (the NYC beauty-supply store)—and coming from a town that didn’t even have a record store, she found this act of defiance didn’t serve to help her blend in any.
So when she was 15 she decided she wanted to be a drag queen.
“As I got older, I was surrounded by all these examples of how I wanted to be, and they all happened to be men.”
“Anything worth doing is on the fringe.”
At 18 she moved to San Francisco, doing drag shows at night and living androgenously during the day---complete with men’s deodorant, underwear and cologne--because she didn’t identify or feel comfortable being a woman…
“…and because being a woman didn’t serve me. I became immersed in gay male culture. I feel the people that raised me were the queens. They were my mirror, my reflection of the world…which if you look in it long enough, the reflection is how you identify. I felt like a man in a woman’s body. And it’s so hard to describe to people because I’m so hyper-feminine now…”
She stops to pick up Movie Star, her pink-eared poodle who has been periodically yelping for lack of attention. “You want your wig?” She proceeds to pull Movie Star’s pink bob out of its box on the table and arrange it on the dog’s head, as it executes an oddly human modeling of the coif, slowly turning its head side to side for all to admire it.
*BOB* had created a stock of characters in her earlier teens, and the drag club scene was the perfect platform to trot out some of them:
Whoa Ho Nellie, a magical horse that came to life, with a huge mane, a bit in her mouth and a purse filled with glitter & oatmeal; Rag-a-Bob, donning a corset, Victorian petticoat, and a skullcap to which she had attached a head full of licorice candy laces piled into a updo—and in performance art fashion, entrants to the VIP room she held sway over would each take a bite, with the size of the crowd growing inversely proportionate to the shortening of her wig; and “Bob”-arella, complete with bullet bra and space gun.
“But I was really undercover, which means I spoke the queen’s lingo. So verbally, I was able to not be clocked at all. And nobody could spook my beard, so to speak.” She’d made a checklist of all she needed to cover to add to the ambiguity: delicate hands, with gloves; her throat, to hide the absence of an Adam’s apple; her skin, with Dermablend to hide a dewy complexion; her hips with full skirts, and 6-in platforms to rise above suspicion.
“If we just stuck to what we were given, it would be pretty boring”
After almost 3 years on the San Francisco scene she came to NYC to retool her image. She found, over time, a difference between the queen scenes on both coasts: on the west, there was an emphasis on camp; in the east, a greater appreciation for glamour and ultra-over-the-top femininity.
And that esthetic is what *BOB* has cultivated as a performance artist---and burlesque dancer, using its tools of artifice: wigs, make-up, boas, sequins & glitter. She appreciates burlesque as a genre that celebrates women. That discomfort as a younger woman she felt in her own female body has become a fierce display of her own femaleness. In a popular act, she prepares a shaken martini with the assist of her two mammaries, garnishing it with an olive extracted from her nether regions. In another, she dances to music created around the “negative track” of criticisms and name-calling regarding body image that used to run through her mind, effectively bringing it into the open and taking its power away. In addition to her monthly dancers’ debut event, she teaches Burlesque Glamour & Make-up, and a popular Confidence Workshop at the Jo Weldon’s New York School of Burlesque. If anyone is qualified to teach both, it is World Famous *BOB*.
“The ultimate feminist is someone who is completely confident & in charge of what they’re doing, and their sexuality--which for me, includes wigs and glitter, pasties and public nudity. It’s gone from burn your bra to sequin your bra. I feel more comfortable wearing one, anyway.”