By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
"I'm ready for a fight," she says, looking around the hotel room. Her eyes widen and water, nearly lost beneath a thick layer of peacock-green eye shadow. Lim isn't young or glossy. The petite Filipina wears her shock of black hair down to her waist, which makes her look, at first glance, much younger than her 46 years. Beneath her veil of makeup, though, her face is tired. She's a mom with two grown daughters—one just around Aboul-Hosn's age.
"I need to correct a wrong that was done to me," she says.
Ever since she got divorced some 15 years ago and has been on her own, Lim has been busy with this or that business idea—makeup lines, glamour photography for women, dance classes, DVD lines, even a women's foundation—only a few of which have ever materialized. When she speaks about them, though, her voice becomes higher, determined. Her passion manifests in the form of disorganized piles and dozens and dozens of URLs she's purchased online. The idea she's most attached to is the one that emerged, she says, after years of working as an exotic dancer.
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Lim's first time in a bar also happened to be the first time she danced in a topless strip club in Phoenix. "I had never been to a bar—34 years old, and I had never been to a bar," she says, alluding to the strict Mormon values that had characterized her upbringing and her marriage. Lim's Catholic mother converted to Mormonism after a missionary knocked on their door in the Philippines. Lim was 10 and converted along with her mom. She came to the United States to attend Brigham Young University in Hawaii, where she met her Chinese Mormon husband.
"I got the shock of my life," she says of the strip club. "At first, I saw the bar. Then I saw these women walking around topless. And I started shaking." She was sent in a bikini costume to sit among the men to take her turn onstage when she was ready. Eight hours went by. Still, she hesitated. "I was glued to my seat," she says. But she noticed that the women's garter belts were growing fat with bills. She remembered why she was there: She needed the money for a lawyer. Recently divorced, she was preparing to fight for the custody of her daughters and was only eking by with a few odd jobs.
"I finally went onstage. I was shaking, and I was hot because I was humiliated," she says. "I said, why would I do this? Why do I have to take off my top for me to be given money?" She stood with her hands against the wall onstage and her face turned away from the men. "I cried and cried for a long time," she says. Then she heard her daughter's voice, remembered the money and the lawyer, and slowly began to move. "I made $100 that first night," she says. With only a couple of weeks left before the court date, she worked double shifts every night.
Months before that first dance in the strip club, Lim had been struggling to make ends meet. The newly divorced former housewife had no job skills. The $5.50 per hour she was making at Sears and the bit of child support didn't suffice for long. She handed her daughters over to her husband, who had joint custody, just before she lost her apartment. Soon after, she lost her car and took brief refuge in a battered-women's shelter. She didn't see her daughters for a year and a half because her husband had moved them and, she admits, because she was ashamed at having nothing to offer them. She got work as a traveling makeup artist and attempted to launch a small glamour-photo business for women at a fitness club. After about a year and a half, she reconnected with her daughters and found out her husband was seeking full custody. "I said, 'I have no money,'" she says. "I said, 'God, if you really exist, show me a miracle.'" She gave God a "deadline."
The miracle came in the form of a strapping Brazilian woman who walked into the fitness club late one night, just before the "deadline" was set to expire. Lim recognized the woman from a doctor's office and remembered overhearing that she was a stripper. "I thought, oooh, a stripper. How terrible. She must be a whore," she says. "But she was so tall and confident and very, very sexy." The two women started talking, and Lim told her she had no money for a lawyer and was set to lose custody of her daughters.
"She said to me right away, 'You have no problem; your problem is solved,'" Lim says.
"She said, 'You're going to be a stripper.' I said, 'Oh, no, no. What will my family say? What will my friends think?'" But out of desperation, the next day she went to the Brazilian woman's house and learned her first moves—the same ones she would attempt for the first time in the topless club a few days later.