One of the saddest ways that a woman can earn an income is to work as an exotic dancer, in my opinion. ‘Scars and Stilettos’ by Harmony Dust is her story about going from being in the spotlight in a strip club to being in the spotlight of God’s love as she was delivered from that lifestyle.
Here is the synopsis of this book and biography of the author:
Nineteen-year-old Harmony Dust is trapped. Thousands of dollars in debt, struggling to get by, dominated by her boyfriend: things can’t get worse… until someone tells her how much money she can make as an exotic dancer. For the next three years, Harmony lives a double life as Monique, a dancer in a fully-nude strip club.
Scars and Stilettos is Harmony’s stark, honest, and ultimately hopeful story of how God found her in that dark, noisy place and led her back out. She has since married, completed an MA in Social Welfare, and now leads Treasures, an organization helping women in the sex trade discover their true worth.
And here is a video of Harmony telling her story:
Harmony was sexually abused from a very early age. She quickly developed a coping mechanism:
That stiffening feeling was familiar to me. Throughout my life, I’d been sexually abused by several people, both men and women. I was exposed to pornography at the age of three by a male relative. ‘Stay still. Go to sleep,’ I remember him saying. The pink fleshy images on the television screen were burned into my mind.
Staying still and pretending I was asleep was the very defensive tactic I used the first time it happened. (pp. 27-28)
She grew up having a twisted view of sex, yet she knew that was more to life than that:
Casual sex. Is that what grown-ups have? No ties. No attachments. Sex for the sake of sex. I wanted to be a grown-up about it; to ask like one of those mature, independent women with a corporate job. The one who gets out of bed first after a one-night stand, slips on her pumps and skirt suit and leaves the man lying alone in their hotel room, wanting her more for leaving him. I wanted to be that woman, but I couldn’t. There was nothing casual or meaningless about it for me… (p. 39)
After a blow-out fight with her mother, she moved out at age 17. She finds a job, enrolls in college and is entangled in a dysfunctional relationship with a guy named Derrick, who has not worked a day in his life and expects Harmony to support him. Harmony obliges, because her low self-esteem gives her no other option in order to keep him with her; she doesn’t think she’ll be able to survive otherwise.
After she turned 18, she inquires about a ‘hostessing’ job in which the classified advertisement says she could earn $150-300 a night. She applied, was hired, but left shortly thereafter when she sees what is really going on there.
At age 19, a college classmate who seemingly had ulterior motives encouraged her to work at a fully-nude strip club. She reluctantly agreed, and thus began three years of being trapped in a job which paid her very well, but little by little, took away her dignity and humanity.
She quickly learned that she already knew what was required to succeed in this new environment:
To keep up with the continual stream of competition, it wasn’t enough just to have a great stage performance and the cutest outfits. To make money, I had to hustle. Growing up, I had learned how to sell my mother’s crystals to sun-scorched tourists on Venice Beach, which my mom looked on with pride. The trick was to make the person think that they needed the crystal more than you needed their money. The principles were pretty much the same in the strip club. (p. 119)
She also explained the toll that line of work took on her as a person:
I tried to look down on the men. I tried to remind myself that outside of the club, most of these guys wouldn’t even get a second glance from me, if they tried to talk to me on the street. But sometimes that made it even worse. If I let my sense of self get in the way of it all, I was bound to have a crappy night. I would inevitably end up like Grace, pouting in the dressing room and gorging on junk food.
Really, there were two choices: let the rejection reflect on who I was as a woman, or wear a mask. The mask allowed me to pretend that I was someone else; that someone else was getting rejected. Each night, I died, just a little, to who I really was. It was just a little bit safer to be someone else. (p. 152)
Fortunately, her grandmother had given her a Bible at one point, which sat in her closet. Her sole use for it was to hide her earnings from Derrick. One day, she did take a look inside:
As I pulled it closer for examination, her writing and her heart became clear. In pencil was one simple word, written next to a gently underlined passage: ‘Harmony.’
Beside my name was the Scripture ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall inherit the Kingdom…’
…Imaging her searching for a pencil in the cabinet of her nightstand and carefully writing my name in her Holy Book softened my heart towards her, and what I always thought were her religious rantings about going to church and reading the Bible.
‘Harmny.’ The syllables of my name ran together in her East Texas accent. ‘You really need to go to church. And you should read your Bible every day, too!’
Why? Why should I go to church or read my Bible? Just so she could sleep at night knowing her big, angry God wouldn’t send me to hell if I played by some man-made rules? I wanted to argue with her, but it was pointless. But standing there in my closet, holding her prized Bible in my hands, I realized that there was something caring and personal at the heart of her ‘ranting’ that I had never seen before.
She wanted her grandbaby to be blessed. (pp. 137-138)
Harmony was well aware that there was something missing in her life:
I had a hole, too, and an insatiable thirst to have it filled. I longed for someone to see past the scars and stilettos; beyond the façade of glamour; the find the woman locked deep inside me. I sensed her presence when I sat at the foot of the ocean and fathomed its vastness; when I peeked inside the windows of quaint houses filled with happy families and dreamed I belonged in one of them. I could feel her inside me, willing me to survive long enough to find a force powerful enough to unleash her, to set her free. (p. 168)
I found that paragraph to be so well-written, and so heartfelt!
Harmony met a lady named Tanya in a dance class who invited her to church. After several months of invitations, Harmony finally accepted an invitation to a special featuring singers and comedians. She and her grandmother attended. Harmony saw love and acceptance directed toward her, and made this observation:
I clasped my hands in front of my heart and swayed to the music. Then I noticed an attractive woman with tumbling tresses of red hair a row ahead. She wore a sensible, beige two-piece suit, and looked like the kind of woman who had a steady boyfriend and held a good job. Her hands were drawn to her chin, which rested gently on them. She didn’t look sad, but she was crying, as if she had just been captivated by something wonderful. Longing to go to that place, I closed my eyes just to see if it was possible. In that room, as I allowed myself to experience this thing called worship, somehow I understood I had finally come home. (p. 175)
She came to love church – and the Lord – and ultimately walked away from her job. She also severed ties with Derrick, and was baptized. And she realized she would be ok:
The fullness of this realization bubbled up in me so fiercely that I had to keep myself from jumping out of the car and telling the homeless man on the corner that he would be ok too. Second chances are for real; people really do change; and there is a Love that sees to it all.
I am not who I was. I am not even who I was yesterday. Tomorrow I will be new again, and again, until I am completely the woman I was meant to be. Still, in this moment, in this breath that I am taking, I am enough. Right now – as is- I am worth loving and fighting for. This God of mine has shown me that. He is enough.
My heart danced in my chest. He is enough. The world around me shifted, and there was hope in every person I saw, connecting me to them in a way I had never noticed. The woman using her rear-view mirror to put on lipstick; the man in the center divider selling incense; the child with its forehead pressed up against the back-seat window; the young woman in hot pink stretch pants, walking rapidly, searching frantically for her next fix. He is enough.
And if He is all I ever have…
He is enough. And I am enough in Him. (pp. 230-231)
In the Epilogue, she writes:
This has been an account of my exodus: my journey out of captivity. It is by no means the entire story, as it hasn’t ended yet. Today, I am freer and more fulfilled than I was yesterday. Tomorrow, I believe I will be freer still. The journey is ongoing. I am not perfect, but I am complete. I am married to a wonderful man; I have a beautiful daughter, amazing friends, an education, and I get to spend my days reaching and loving women in the sex industry and sharing hope with them. I am complete not because of the circumstances in my life, but because of Who I am living for. I have learned that faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). There have been plenty of times when I have had to summon this faith, a faith that lives outside of facts and reason. (p. 237)
And she concludes with this:
This brings me to God, who loved me while I was still in the middle of my deepest mess. My relationship with Him did not begin once I ‘got my act together.’ He not only loves us in spite of our junk, but He sees past all of it in the person He has created us to be. God loved me just as much standing half-naked in the middle of a strip club as He does today. I didn’t somehow gain His approval by doing or saying the right things. I didn’t need to win His heart. He won mine. (pp. 238-239)
It is truly a miracle what Jesus has done in Harmony’s life. Based on the trials that she has gone through – as well as poor choices she’s made – she could be an angry and bitter young woman these days. Instead, He has rescued her, and she is ministering to the very people who are living the life in which she was ensnared and entrapped. I was so encouraged by her testimony! I can understand why anyone would want to get out of that lifestyle and never look back; it is amazing that she continues to return to that environment to minister to other women who are still ensnared. She has an amazing heart for the Lord and for people! I am so glad she is living a happy and healthy life now. To God be the glory! I thank Harmony for sharing her story. I am sure it will be a blessing to many!
You can order this book here.
This book was published by Monarch Books, a division of Kregel Publications, in association with the LitFuse Publicity Group for review and giveaway purposes. I am proud to be on the blog tour with these other bloggers.
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