Leaning against a glass display in Waterloo station is Hattie (she/her), clad in a white crop- top, black tracksuit and tan, chunky-soled trainers. The look is chic and has overtones of ‘Goth gf’ if she was conceptualised during Y2K.
We head over to an indie, little-known coffee house called Pret and get settled. Hattie aka @babyhatts stirs her green tea and waits to see where our conversation will start. Today, her jet black hair is neatly gathered back into a low bun. Sporting a medusa piercing, she sips her drink with darkish berry stained lips. The bold but delicate tattoos on her décolletage and arms are complemented by eye-catching yellow-gold hoops.
Hattie is petite and somehow self-contained in her body language. Although soft spoken and generally reserved, she has the kind of smile that uses her entire face and illuminates her surroundings.
She and I met during uni in a philosophy seminar. The last time I saw her she had a blonde buzzcut and long Barbie pink acrylics; versatility is the name of the game. She’s kind of a fashion icon.
“So how would you describe yourself?” I ask.
“I don't really like to define myself because I think it puts me into a bit of a box…. I don't want to be in a situation where I feel unable to do what I want because it doesn’t match up to an idea of who I’m meant to be",
she muses in a mostly Essex accent (with a hint of East London).
I agree with and respect her answer, but for you dear reader, I push her for a few adjectives.
“Okay, how would your partner describe you?” I press. After some consideration, she
arrives at “laid back”, “playful” and “inquisitive”. This checks out.
(A couple of days after I interviewed Hattie, she asked her partner how he’d describe her
and this is the message he sent:
“Creative and intelligent. Fair and reasonable. Determined and principled. Hopeful and
loving. Caring and loyal.”
We love to see it.)
Hattie expresses that as she’s grown in self-assurance, she’s become primarily concerned with being content and living a life that she’s happy with, rather than one others approve of.
“Over the last year or so I’ve been allowing myself to move a bit slower through life
and listen to what feels right over what sounds impressive. I used to care so much
about external expectations of how I’m supposed to live my life. I used to feel this
need to achieve everything I could and live at this ridiculous pace but now I’m actually
fine with being fine.”
This hits. I think, collectively, if there’s anything that the last two years have shown us, it's the value of stability - even if it feels like boredom at times. ‘No news is good news’ (a lot of the time).
Hattie and I connect over our mutual disinterest in having online personas and performing our lives on social media, as is now the norm.
“I don’t always need people to know what I’m thinking!” She emphasises. “I’m pretty
reserved until I feel comfortable with someone and that definitely extends to social
“Do you ever run into issues with people sexualising you online because of your pole
content?” I enquire.
“I mean, I’m very vocal about being in a relationship so people know not to shoot their
shot!” She laughs. “But aside from that my only problem is if people are weird or
disrespectful. I don't mind people voicing that they think what I do is sexy because
pole is sexy! There’s broadly a sensual element to pole and that's okay.”
I sip my black Americano regretfully and add a couple of packets of sugar (sorry, coffee
snobs) as we go on to discuss some of the politics surrounding pole dancing.
We both find it disappointing that many hobbyists in the pole dancing community seek to distance their sport from stripping and pole’s sex work origins. After all, pole dance/fitness itself would not exist if it weren’t for strippers and sex workers. To try and erase that fact is to deny workers and artists their credit.
With that having been said, we touch on one of the rewards of pole removed from
expressing sexuality: the beauty of proving yourself stronger than you ever could have
Hattie has a background in gymnastics and dance but by her own admission has “never
excelled the way she does with pole”. Yet, even with her level of obvious talent, artistry
and athleticism, at one stage she didn’t think she’d ever be able to invert (lift her body weight to go upside down on the pole).
“It’s one of the things I love about teaching! Watching students go through that process of breaking through their self-doubt and being shocked at the things their bodies can do".
She’s a self-described Chill Teacher and her studio reviews corroborate that. “Although,
sometimes I will be harder on someone if I can see that their overthinking is getting in
the way of them doing skills that they’re actually capable of… only if I sense that they
can handle that push.”
As far as her personal style and choreography preferences go, she answers easily: “At this point, my favourite sub-genre is, like, spinning-heavy pole and floor work that’s
slower and more sensual.” I proceed to enter fangirl territory: “One of the things I’ve been noticing and loving about the pole community is how supportive everyone is. Like, regardless of what someone’s body looks like or what body part pops out, nobody is flinching or even blinking.”
“So true!” She enthuses.
“You have people at showcases and competitions anywhere from semi-dressed to
basically naked. Literally anything and everything may happen when you’re training
so it's all just very normal and the environment is super accepting.”
“Yeah, like, why aren’t we used to seeing asses with pimples and inner thighs with
hyper-pigmentation and boobs with stretch-marks?” I ask. ”It's sad that it's actually a
novelty to me.”
“There’s absolutely a come-as-you-are policy and the studios are usually a pretty
“What are you usually thinking about when you're pole dancing?” I ask Hattie.
“Honestly, nothing profound… I’m usually thinking about very physical stuff - keeping
my form right. Squeezing, pushing, pulling. Y’know making sure I don’t plummet to
the floor!”, she laughs.
Due to an inability to stay away from gendered politics for any measure of time, I steer the conversation around to women’s bodies and how they’re policed.
I bring up a statement that I came across in my earlyish teen years - a statement that for
whatever reason, has been burned in my mind ever since I read it.
‘Women lost the battle of the sexes as soon as they started doing pole dancing for sport.’
“That’s so strange, I’ve actually heard that one before, from someone close to me - ”
Hattie says with a touch of disappointment. “Although it was before I started pole.”
We talk about the difference between centring male validation and honouring the parts of us that can be sexual and expressing them how we want to. It sounds simple but it's not. It's a boundary that plagues many girls and women trying to separate the things they do because they like to and the things they do because of the way we’re socialised.
‘Am I playing into tropes that previous-wave feminists fought against with
good reason? Am I liberating myself and pushing back against the part of me that’s ruled by respectability politics?’ There are layers to such an investigation.
“How deep does your misogyny have to run for you to believe that women behaving
sexually means they have no self-respect or they’re objects?” Hattie says in
bewilderment. What can I say? It is bewildering. Hattie has cut straight to the crux of one of the issues. Some struggle to understand women as multi-faceted, fully-fledged human
beings with complex internal lives. To some, the question is simple:
‘Madonna or whore?’
The effects of this ideology and the culture it props up are far-reaching and prevalent in our everyday lives.
Take something as innocuous as stretching in a public area, like a park or the gym.
“I kind of avoid doing yoga outside these days - which is a shame because I genuinely love it. I just hate knowing that some men actually think I’m signalling for them to come and engage with me.” Hattie confesses.
“SAME.” I say, maybe a little too loudly for the room. “I would love to do a deep stretch
before and after gymming but I just don’t want to deal with the nonsense. Some
random dude coming up to me whilst I’m in a straddle, demanding my attention, is
just not worth it.”
We relate to each other over the bittersweet feeling of security that comes with being in
public with a masc/male partner. Why do we have to have what is essentially a bodyguard to feel comfortable existing in public?
Conversation meanders a little bit and comes to a reluctant close as we prepare for the rest of our respective days. From our coffee, Hattie’s headed to the studio, Pole People in Moorgate - which she’ll soon part ways with, as she’s imminently moving to South Korea.
“The West to East culture shock probably won’t be as jarring this time around”, she
reflects. “You know I moved to China for a handful of months after uni. That was a
shock to the system and then as I was getting used to things, COVID happened so I
Walking back to the station, she explains a bit more about her goals and ideal life. She
wants to live freely and securely. Rise-and-grind culture is not in the picture: “I would love to be in a beachside town in 10 years.” She exudes a certain balance between knowing what she wants and going after it and being adaptable. Hattie seems like she’d be able to find home wherever she may find herself.
Written by Sav Moyo
Performed by Hattie Hughes
Photographed by Ellie Softley
Film Directed & Edited by Ellie Softley