After losing her husband, Marilyn Bersey age 71, was looking for a way to get her confidence back. She walked into a burlesque class and hid at the back. One year on, she’s been crowned ‘Miss Burlesque Isle of Wight’ and has never felt more confident.
“I feel healthy and happy. Life is really good at the moment!” Marilyn tells us with a smile from ear to ear.
Marilyn Bersey, aka Foxy La Mer as she’s known on stage, walked into a burlesque class at the beginning of 2017 looking for a way to get her confidence back. Little did she know, it would completely transform her life.
Marilyn wasn’t always the star of the stage, nor did she feel particularly confident or happy in her own skin. “I was always overweight,” she tells us.
Before finding her passion as a burlesque performer, Marilyn had a few turbulent years to contend with. “I was working full time and looking after my husband who was sick,” she says.
During this time Marilyn’s weight yoyoed as she was juggling dieting with the demands of daily life.
“When I retired ten years ago, I could cook properly and not grab food from shops.” She joined slimming groups and was stricter with having a healthy diet, managing to lose five stone.
Sadly, in 2014, Marilyn’s husband passed away and her weight plummeted. Friends and family told her she was looking unhealthy and although she felt OK physically, mentally she didn’t feel her best.
Eventually, Marilyn managed to get back to a healthy weight, and, having moved to a new area, was looking for new ways to get involved in the community, which is when she saw a flyer for a burlesque class.
“Off I went,” she explains, “and sat at the back.” From that moment on, Marilyn was hooked.
It’s an excellent fitness routine, she tells us. There are moves for different muscles or parts of the body and “You can do as much or as little as you like.”
It’s helped Marilyn to maintain a weight she’s happy with and beyond that, it’s boosted her confidence immeasurably.
Before Marilyn got into the swing of things/the throes of burlesque, she asked herself “Can I do it at my age?” Now she beams as she tells us, “To do it at 71 years old… it’s fabulous!”
We ask what Marilyn thinks the perception of people her age is. “At my age, people think you don’t need to be sexy or glamorous.”
But for Marilyn it was about more than that. When her children grew up and left home and when her husband died, she felt she lost the titles and labels that defined her: “You think, ‘who am I and what can I be?’”
Luckily finding burlesque has meant finding her femininity again. “I wanted to be a glamorous woman. I got that back.”
For Marilyn, burlesque has also meant becoming part of a wider community. The younger members of the burlesque group “look up to us,” she says. “We feel like we’re in a young team.”
The feeling of belonging to a group is a big part of the appeal for Marilyn. It offers the opportunity to pass on knowledge and work creatively with the younger girls.
Being naturally artistic, Marilyn buys a lot of her outfits from charity shops and embellishes them herself. “A lot of the younger girls wanted me to make them personalised nipple tassels,” she tells us, showing off her range of customised pieces.
Together the burlesque group have made all sorts of items of clothing including corsets, tassels, and bustles that light up.
These outfits are often worn on the last day of the 4-week routine learning period, when the group puts on a final performance.
We ask Marilyn what her family think of her burlesque performing. “I didn’t tell my kids at first,” she says. Then, when she realised burlesque would be a permanent part of her life, she knew she had to let them know.
Naturally, seeing how happy it made her, Marilyn’s children were pleased for her. But the cherry on the cake was when her grandson found out and told her she was the “coolest grandma ever”.
After being crowned Miss Burlesque Isle of Wight in 2017, Marilyn is showing no sign of stopping. “Why should you grow old?” she says.
Why should 71 be different from 21 if that’s how you feel?
Marilyn tells us it’s the best thing to ever happen to her and that it “should be on prescription!” It certainly seems to have worked for her.
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