Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Dita Von Teese (@DitaVonTeese), the biggest name in burlesque in the world since Gypsy Rose Lee, credited with bringing the art form back into the spotlight. This “Burlesque Superheroine” (Vanity Fair) is the performer of choice at high-profile events for designers such as Marc Jacobs, Christian Louboutin, Louis Vuitton, Chopard, and Cartier. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller Your Beauty Mark: The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour and has a namesake lingerie collection available internationally at prominent retailers. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Hello boys and girls, this is Tim Ferriss, and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, where it is always my job each and every episode to speak with a world class performer, and today, “performer,” I suppose, is very literal in a lot of respects. This wide ranging conversation will involve my guest Dita Von Teese. Dita Von Teese is the biggest name in burlesque in the world since Gypsy Rose Lee, who was born in 1911. Dita is credited with bringing the art form back into the spotlight. She is renowned for her iconic martini glass act and dazzling haute couture striptease costumes adorned with hundreds of thousands of Swarovski crystals. This “Burlesque Superheroine,” as she’s been called by Vanity Fair, is the performer of choice at high profile events for designers such as Marc Jacobs, Christian Louboutin, you’ll have to excuse me for my French, Louis Vuitton, Chopard, and Cartier, among others. She’s the author of The New York Times Bestseller Your Beauty Mark, subtitle, The Ultimate Guide to Eccentric Glamour, and has a namesake lingerie collection available internationally at prominent retailers. She can be found on the socials on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook @ditavonteese, D-I-T-A V-O-N T-E-E-S-E. Dita, welcome to the show.
Dita Von Teese: Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: And I have wanted to meet you for so long. Amanda Palmer first piqued my curiosity, and there’s so many directions we could go, but I thought we would start with a word, haute couture, which we started talking about a little bit because I didn’t know what it meant. What is haute couture?
Dita Von Teese: Well, I mean, that’s like a term that’s used very loosely these days. Everyone wants to call something haute couture if it’s extra special, but it really means high sewing, like a high level of sewing. So when you talk about a haute couture designer, there’s a ministry of haute couture in France, where you kind of get the stamp and you can call your clothing haute couture. So it’s kind of loosely used. You’ll find like haute couture donuts and things like that, but it’s really not accurate. So I always say that I do haute strip, so it’s like a high level of strip, but wearing haute couture costumes, which means they’re made with extravagance and excellence, that is not something you can buy in a store.
Tim Ferriss: So speaking of things that you can’t buy easily in a store, because you forged your own path in a lot of respects. I would like to take a 90 degree turn I suppose from where most people would expect me to go and talk about vintage cars. So it’s my understanding that you’ve done very well in collecting, flipping, refurbishing vintage cars.
Dita Von Teese: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Where does that come from?
Dita Von Teese: Well, it first started in the early ’90s. I was big into the swing dance scene and pin-up, a pin-up model. I had a boyfriend that drove a 1930s car, and I sort of thought I should have a 1930s car. So I got my first car, a 1939 Chrysler New Yorker, when I was in my early 20s. I loved that car and I used to drive it all around Orange County where I lived, and I didn’t … I sold that car not that long ago, maybe like 10 years ago, and I bought it for like $8,000 in the ’90s and sold it to someone in Germany for like $30,000. So I thought, “This is kind of, I should do this more.” So I started buying more cars. I met a really great guy that helps me with my cars, and so he goes to all the auctions and finds things at a good price, and then we fix it up. I drive it for a while, because also for me with vintage cars, I like cars from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, but with vintage cars there’s kind of, it’s like a relationship.
I’ve had cars that I had a bad relationship with, like the brakes going out, there’s a … I had this ’65 Jaguar S-Type for a while that I loved. It was so beautiful, I actually bought it on eBay while I was drinking red wine and taking Ambien, which was probably not the best idea, but… So I picked up this car and it was so beautiful. I picked it up when I was sober, it was still beautiful, I was glad I bought it, but it was not a good fit for me because the brakes kept going out on this car, and you could imagine that’s really terrifying.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, sounds like a downside.
Dita Von Teese: One moment in particular that I remember was I was pulling up to the Playboy Mansion, and this is like in the ’90s when it was like this amazing parties happening, and I remember going up the hill and knowing the brakes were starting to fail, and just leaning out the window to all the valets, “Brakes don’t work.” And they all ran, I was going up the hill quite slowly at that point, but all these valet guys running in their red coats to stop the car. Then I just go out, went to the party and had the car taken care of the next day, but it was one of those things where I couldn’t get, I kept taking it to mechanics, and they were like, “The brakes are fine. The brakes are fine.” And then I’d get in it again and then they go out on me. So I feel like you have to have the right fit with a vintage car.
So I buy them, I drive them, and I decide if it’s the car for me or not, like is it easy for me to drive, do I love how it feels to drive it, does it leave me on the side of the road or not? So I’ve kind of just, right now I have three cars. I have a 1953 Cadillac that I’ve had for a long time, a Fleetwood. I’ve had that one for a while and I love that one, and I have a 1940 LaSalle, which is a Cadillac. It’s a convertible, like a big black gangster car, really beautiful, but I don’t drive it that much, and then I just bought a car called a 19, it’s called a Woodill Wildfire and it’s a convertible. It looks like the Disney Cars car. So I bought that one actually to flip it because it’s super, super rare, and it’s not really the kind of car that I can cruise around L.A. in because it’ll be like a really, it’ll go to Pebble Beach for sure next year. So I’ll drive it for like a year, I’m having it all done up, and then I’ll take pictures in it, drive it, enjoy it, and then flip that one.
Tim Ferriss: Now is part of the ability to flip these cars associated with the fact that you have driven them? Is that a selling point, or is that not part of the selling process?
Dita Von Teese: I think it’s a little bit of both. I feel like vintage cars are one of those things if you can keep them for a long time, they will always retain their value. It’s just you have to not be desperate to sell it and you can always turn a profit. But yeah, having the pictures, or video, or me getting photographed with it, that’s you know … But I don’t just buy them and take pictures with it and then sell it, you know? I really use them; I really love them.
Tim Ferriss: You collect, or you have collected other things, or I should say vintage cars are not the only vintage that you’ve acquired in the past.
Dita Von Teese: No, I mean, I pretty much collect dead people’s things of all kinds. My house is like a museum. I’m a maximalist, I love — I like recyclables too. I like vintage clothing because it’s another thing that retains its value. I started wearing vintage when I was just out of high school. I graduated from high school in 1990, and I bought vintage clothes because I couldn’t afford anything else, and I kind of wanted to get the designer look. I could emulate designers like Vivienne Westwood or Jean Paul Gaultier by buying vintage bullet bras, when you could buy them for nothing. So I started like that because I couldn’t afford the designer jeans my friends in Orange County had, or the cool sneakers. So I kind of went to flea markets, and went to vintage stores, and then lo and behold, all these years later it’s super collectable, and I have amassed an amazing collection of vintage clothing that has really, has a lot of value.
Tim Ferriss: It’s amazing how that works, and it makes me think of my habits and hobbies with comic books as a kid. I mean, I didn’t acquire them to have them appreciate in value. But like you said, lo and behold, [crosstalk 00:08:21].
Dita Von Teese: It’s kind of like a life lesson, right? If you do things with authenticity, that’s what I’ve always retained from, it’s a common thing of all of my life lessons, is like things that are authentic, if you do it in an authentic way. I never said, “I’m going to be the world’s most famous burlesque star. I’m going to be a stripper in the modern times.” I just did it accidentally, and it’s the same thing with collecting, with the cars and the vintage clothes. It was sort of like I just loved it, and then I’m lucky that it all worked out.
Tim Ferriss: So we’re going to look at luck and we’re going to look at decisions. I think they go hand in hand. Very often you have, maybe not equal doses of each, but certainly doses of each. Let’s talk about burlesque, but we’re going to do it kind of hopping backwards and forwards. The first question that I wanted to ask is about the name. So Dita Von Teese, where does the name come from? What’s the backstory on the name.
Dita Von Teese: Oh that’s funny that one time I remember a few years back, someone was talking, a journalist said how cliché my name was, how calculated and cliché it was, but it wasn’t at all. So I was working in a strip club in the early ’90s in Orange County, and I had picked the name Dita because I had just seen a movie with an actress called Dita Parlo, and then there was also the Madonna character in the sex book, and I kind of was into this ’20s look at the time. I kind of went through different eras that I loved and emulated that. I picked the name Dita and then a few years later I was asked to be in this Playboy newsstand special, and some people remember this, that they used to have always these special magazines called the Book of Lingerie or whatever. So I was in those in like the mid ’90s, and they told me I had to have a second name, and I said, “No. Why? Madonna, Cher, Dita. What?” And they said, “No. You have to have a second name.”
So I opened up the phone book, because we used to have yellow pages back then, or white pages, and I was like, “People with a Von are cool in their names.” So I looked under the Vons and I found this name Von Treese T-R-E-E-S-E, and I called Playboy and I said, “I’m going to be Dita Von Treese.” And they’re like, “Okay.” And then I remember the magazine came out, and I went to the liquor store, and I grabbed my issue, and opened it up and it said Dita Von Teese — they forgot the R. Now I wouldn’t think anything like, “Oh, this is cool. It’s like striptease, Dita Von Teese.” I thought, “I need to call them and tell them, give them what for.” And so I call them and said, “It was supposed to be Dita Von Treese.” And they said, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll correct it next month.” So the magazine came out again, and it said Dita Von Teese, so it just kind of, I just kind of left it, and I didn’t think ever for one minute that I was going to be famous with that name, or I was going to be trademarking it internationally. I would’ve probably done it differently if I’d known that it was going to turn into what it has, so.
Tim Ferriss: It seems to have worked out.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, but I was just, you know, I was just like working in a strip club, posing for these Playboy magazines. It was something I thought I would just get married, have a baby, and that would be my past of being this pin-up star and stripper.
Tim Ferriss: It seems to me that there is an argument that people can make for planning big, thinking big, and making those decisions with this really long-term outlook, but I think there’s also an argument that could be made if you look at a lot of the people who have been on this podcast, that if they knew then what they knew later, they would’ve fucked it all up by trying to sort of craft themselves for the world, and they would’ve lost that authenticity or that spontaneity that is actually kind of the genie in the bottle that helped them to do what they did.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: What is burlesque and how did that enter the scene? Because my understanding in doing the research and also you very generously contributed your answers to Tribe of Mentors, is that ballet was one of the, I guess first focal point. How did burlesque enter the picture and what is burlesque?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, okay. So I wanted to be a ballerina my whole childhood, but I was just not really that good at it. I just loved it and still to this day. It’s like I like to take a ballet class, but I’m the ballerina in the back and I have to follow everyone. I just never had that like, I was just not naturally meant to do that, but I loved it. So burlesque was a type of show that was sort of a spin-off of a vaudeville show back in the 1930s and ’40s. So vaudeville was kind of where a lot of amazing comedians and singers kind of made their mark in America in the 1920s and ’30s, and pretty much it was dead by the ’40s. So burlesque was kind of the naughtier cousin of vaudeville. It was a little bit more about sex. It was like working men’s entertainment, cheap per ticket. You could go and see, well actually originally it was kind of just a variety show, but the stars of the burlesque show kind of became the strippers, and it was kind of by an accident.
They say there was a dancing girl, there’s a few different, there’s different folklore for how it actually started, how burlesque in America really started. That idea of striptease to music with a band or on stage. There was one story about a girl who was trying to do a quick change and she started pulling off her outfit before she was concealed from the audience, and they went crazy. So in those days it was like, what can you do to make a name for yourself, so obviously that turned into a striptease act. But yeah, it was kind of like the strip club of that time, but there was a live orchestra band, and you had comedy, and dancing girls, but you had great stars that came out of burlesque like Gypsy Rose Lee, who a lot of people compare me to or compare my career to. She was the subject of the musical and film Gypsy, starring Natalie Wood, which came out in the ’60s. So burlesque was kind of very niche entertainment. I don’t think it’s ever — of course it went away. The burlesque theaters got shut down in the ’50s, and the burlesque dancers like Lili St. Cyr were performing in like supper clubs and whatnot, but burlesque was kind of dead by the ’50s in a lot of ways.
Tim Ferriss: So it’s dead in the ’50s and yet somehow it finds you.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Or you find it, and you were born in, through working class rural Michigan. Is that right?
Dita Von Teese: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Dita Von Teese: I was born in Rochester, but I grew up in a place called West Branch, Michigan, which is near Traverse City. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So how did burlesque or striptease or any of those forms of entertainment, or those iconic women, enter your life?
Dita Von Teese: Well, I had this idea in around 1991 that I wanted to be the new Bettie Page; I wanted to create pin-up pictures with the emphasis on bondage and fetishism, because I kind of got introduced to that world in a roundabout way through my job working in a lingerie store.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Dita Von Teese: I worked in a lingerie store. I’ve been obsessed with lingerie since I was a little girl. I have really distinct memories of being curious about what these weird things that women wore under their clothes were, like bras. I used to sneak into my mom’s bra drawer, and I used to steal things, and to me it was symbolic of womanhood and femininity and I was like, “I want to be part of this world.” So I was always obsessed with lingerie. Anyway, I became obsessed with things like garter belts, stockings when I was a teenager. I worked in a lingerie store. I asked someone for — I’d been looking for like a Victorian corset and someone gave me this address when I was like 18, and I walked into the store where I supposedly could get something like that, and it was a fetish store, and it kind of opened my mind to this whole other world that I had no idea existed, and I was shown this picture of Bettie Page and I thought, “Why isn’t anyone doing this now?” And I decided I was going to be that.
So in the process of me making all these pin-up pictures, and even bondage movies and all these things that were from that, in a ’50s theme. I would be looking at these vintage magazines, and a lot of the models that posed for these vintage magazines, or these fetish magazines, that it would say they were a burlesque dancer too. I was like, “Burlesque dancer?” So a lot of these women that posed for pin-ups back then and men’s magazines in the ’30s and ’40s, they were also dancers, and I thought, “Oh, what a great way to use my failed ballet career!” I could perform on stage and perform in these vintage outfits. My first stages for that were a strip club, a regular strip club, and then as I became more famous, like with Playboy and everything, I would headline the big strip clubs all over the United States. Then suddenly I was the most famous fetish model in the early ’90s too, so I was performing at this Torture Garden in London, and the Fetish Ball here in L.A., and kind of doing all these fetish parties.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. I have so many questions. I have so many questions. Thank you for that. Your career and trajectory is so interesting to me on multiple levels because, and then I get to list off all the reasons, but there’s a — the perception that I have is that the, say, strip club or stripping, striptease world is very, would be very difficult and very competitive because you have a lot of beautiful women, or beautiful girls, and the, at least in some places I would imagine the sort of barrier to entry is decently low, and yet you were able to craft this unique career for yourself and really differentiate yourself. I want to hearken back to something we were chatting about before we started recording which was Amanda Palmer in The Art of Asking, if I’m getting the title right, talked about you because she contrasted what you did, and feel free to fact correct, but with a lot of what was happening at the time, where you’d have this sort of bleached blonde women completely nude, enormous fake breasts, doing their thing, getting kind of singles or fives, and you would have this elaborate long striptease with much more clothing, and then there was one guy who would give you a 50, and it was like, that guy is your customer.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Which to me is so beautiful because, and I’m going to read a quote here, if I may. This is from your answer in Tribe of Mentors, if you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why? And the quote that you gave was, “You can be a juicy ripe peach and there will still be someone who doesn’t like peaches.” And I’ll just finish this real quickly. This is a quote that my friend’s great-grandmother told to her and she told to me and I’ve always loved it, and you go on to say how in the public eye as a burlesque star you’ve been called brilliant, stupid, ugly, and beautiful in equal measures, but you found your niche; you found your true believers. How did you do that? When did you realize that it could work? Was there a, that’s a very long-winded lead up to a question, but it’s like you broke through and became so big in a world where I think the belief would be that it’s extremely, extremely difficult. When did you realize, “Wow, I think I’m on to something,” or you found that secret sauce?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah. I feel like the first thing I think about is that all along I was just having fun and enjoying what I was doing, having the time of my life. So it was never high stakes like, “Am I going to make it or break it?” I didn’t really care. I always kept my normal job while I was going to the strip club.
Tim Ferriss: What was the normal job?
Dita Von Teese: First I worked in lingerie and then I worked in makeup and beauty, behind the makeup counter at Robinsons-May. So I kind of always kept my other, my job. So it was never like, “If I don’t make it, what am I going to do?” I just thought like, “This is fun.” So I think not having that pressure, but there’s certainly a couple turning points in my career where I mostly felt I had to live up to accolades I was getting suddenly. Like when I was on the cover of Playboy in 2002 for the Christmas edition, it was still a time when Playboy, everybody knew who was on the cover of Playboy and people cared. It was kind of before it was all reality stars, and it was when you had actresses wanting to be on the cover. That was a pivotal moment in my career, and then I was in Vanity Fair and they wrote this article about what I did and I felt like, “I better live up to some of this.” And that kind of made me take myself a little bit more seriously.
Then I came out with a book where I told my story, not in an autobiographical way, but a photo book with Judith Regan, and she kind of let me go wild with this book, and it was the first time that HarperCollins and ReganBooks had done a book like this where it was sort of autobiographical but mostly a photo book, and on one side. It’s called Burlesque and the Art of the Teese and Fetish and the Art of the Teese, and it was a book where you could flip it over and read the other side, the light side and the dark side.
I found, I did this big book signing in London at Harrods, and the night before I went on The Jonathan Ross Show, and when I showed up they had blocked off the streets and there were thousands of women there. It was like a sea of girls with red lipstick on, and I suddenly went, “Oh, I didn’t know that I’m standing for something now.” And I realized that by just telling my story about feeling like I wasn’t very beautiful, wasn’t very talented, all these things, it kind of resonated with other people that said, “I’ve felt that way too.” I kind of just felt like I had a mission and something to stand up for and realized that all has to just come from speaking my truth and being authentic and not calculating, because you know, talking about what we were saying earlier, there’s so many people that want to be the new me, and they’re going to be more Dita Von Teese than Dita Von Teese was, and they’re going to make their career, and they’re going to be more famous than me, and do better than me.
I hear it all the time, but it’s like you can’t really, you can try to make it up and you can decide you’re going to do all those things, but I think ultimately I’m not super spiritual, like the universe is watching, but I just feel like my whole career path is just a matter of doing something that I loved, that I believed in, but without the desire or want to be famous. I wanted to be acknowledged certainly, but I didn’t expect it.
Tim Ferriss: When did you know you could make it a full-time gig? So I’m thinking about the road leading up to the cover of Playboy. I would imagine a few things happened leading up to that. When did you end up quitting those backup jobs?
Dita Von Teese: I think I ended up quitting those jobs around 2000 and maybe, like right before Playboy, and that’s when I was really touring and shooting pictures, and I also met my ex-husband Marilyn Manson. A lot of people know me because of him. He’s always been a cheerleader for what I do and still is in a lot of ways. So I think that that was a moment too where I felt like I could focus completely on showbiz instead of my paycheck, because I was also like, let’s be real, I was basically his cook. I’m a good cook. I was sort of like the housewife and took care of him while he was making records. He made a record called The Golden Age of Grotesque, which was sort of a tribute to my world. Around that time I was sort of moved in with him, we got engaged, and I was packing his suitcases, unpacking his suitcases, acting like personal assistant half the time, but also had the freedom to start building, put big props up in our backyard, and rehearse on them, and make bigger, better shows, so that was kind of a moment where I could focus more on that.
Tim Ferriss: You have said that the advice, well actually, no. I’m going to come back to the advice, not the advice to your younger self, but that your 16-year-old self might be surprised that you’ve managed to find your voice and that you experienced a lot of fear as a kid, and you do. I mean, just in our interactions leading up to recording, I mean, you seem very in some ways very introverted.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Or on the shy side, which is not a bad thing. How did you find your voice? What changed?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, I mean, I grew up really shy. I remember being in grade school and being sent — and I was sort of always confused by this — but they sent me to a speech class or something like this because I was so soft spoken, but mostly I was just terrified for them to ask me anything, or call on me, and I felt that way through high school and everything. I could’ve never, I used to duck out of speech class, or in high school when you’d have to give speeches, oh, I would never. I never went to theater, I didn’t want to be an actress, nothing like that, but I liked ballet, I liked performing, but that was different. I feel like I found my confidence actually with first, one of the things I talk about with my book is learning how to find confidence in how I present myself. Listen, it’s like drag, the way we dress ourselves, the way we wear our hair, the makeup we wear. I feel more confidence than when I’m, you know, with the character I created which is not — I don’t. It’s a character but it’s not. It’s like an aesthetic character, but I’m not, I still find the importance in being still the Heather Sweet from Michigan, and that vulnerability coming across not just with the appearance I’ve created, but on stage with how I perform.
Tim Ferriss: Heather Sweet for people who don’t know, your birth name.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah. I’m Heather Sweet. It sounds like a stripper name, I know. Yeah. What was I saying?
Tim Ferriss: You were talking about confidence and when you put on the, and I’m just paraphrasing here, but when you put on the persona that allows you to assume a level of confidence that you don’t normally have access to.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, I felt like wearing my makeup a certain way, and wearing my clothes that change my posture and make me want to walk proud, or people wondering who I am. “Who’s that girl?” You know? It slowly but surely helped me gain confidence, and of course there are, I feel like it’s definitely about maturity too, right? When you’re in high school you’re a certain maturity level. It’s just when you think about the science of it too, and I just kind of thought eventually I learned that if I make mistakes in front of people, there are people that are all saying, “I’m like that too.” And it’s endearing. So when I was a spokesperson for the MAC AIDS Fund, for the MAC Viva Glam thing, and I had to give speeches all over the world, and I was so scared, but then I realized that once I got up there and I’d have a triumph, it made me have more confidence, and so I love to challenge myself in doing things that terrify me.
I have never been a singer, I cannot sing, but I got asked to make an album by one of the greatest French musicians, and I thought, “Okay.” I said to him, “You know I can’t sing, right?” And he said, “This album wouldn’t work with a singer, and I wrote it for you.” And I thought, “Okay.” And just the whole process of going into a studio and being around all these sound technicians, and this artist that I admire so much, and learning and going to that place of feeling like Heather Sweet from Michigan again. I enjoy it and I come out of it. It’s one of the things that I think my fans and people that know me like about me, is that I’m not trying to like, “Look to me, I’m so glamorous and I have confidence in everything I do.” I don’t talk like that. I don’t act like that. I know how to bring it on stage, but I also know that the little things that are the real me are what make it an interesting thing to watch.
Tim Ferriss: So you mentioned feeling terrified. I want to wind back the clock a bit and, because I deliberately didn’t want to kind of fill in the gaps on some chapters in your life because I wanted to hear it from you directly, also because can’t believe everything you read on the internet. Is it true that you were thrown out of your house in high school?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah. Well, my parents were getting a divorce, and I always feel so bad talking about this for my dad because he’ll, it’s one of those things I haven’t really gotten around to sitting down and talking to him about, but I will. So my parents were getting a divorce. My mother was having an affair with my dad’s best friend. My dad was having an affair with his mistress back in Michigan. We’re all living in Orange County at that time. They’re both having this — they had their affairs with these different people. I’m 16 years old, I’m working in the lingerie store. I have the same boyfriend since I was like 14 years old. I’m living my life, I’m working, I’m going to school, I’m working, I’m hanging out with my boyfriend. I’m not getting amazing grades, but I’m not getting bad grades. I’m not doing anything bad. I’m working in the lingerie store and I’d wash my little black lace lingerie things and hang them up in my bathroom, and my dad just had a fit about it and was calling me a whore, and like, “Whoring around with your boyfriend.” And I was sort of like, “What?” I was like, “I have a credit card, I’m working in a lingerie store selling lingerie to grown women, and it’s a legitimate — it’s not a sex store. I’m selling nightgowns to ladies in their 50s half the time.”
So my dad kind of threw me out of the house and he was drinking a lot at that time, so I went to go live with my mom, which was better for me because I’ve always been closer to my mom, and we’ve always understood each other a lot better than — dads and daughters don’t always understand each other that well. So that’s the story of me getting thrown out of the house.
Tim Ferriss: Was that hard for you? I mean, I’ve never been thrown out of a house; I’ve certainly had my own childhood stuff, but — was it more of a relief than anything?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah. It was kind of like I feel like I could recognize whatever my parents were going through and that a divorce is never easy on anyone, and I was sort of like. I was always very relaxed about things like that, and even looking back, it wasn’t traumatic. I sort of just went and lived with my mom. I had more freedom that way. It wasn’t long after that that I moved out. It was a couple years later that I was kind of on my own. Yeah. I don’t know. It made me think about it a few years ago. I didn’t think about that too much, but it made me think about how people have their own associations with certain things, and my association with lingerie, and black lace, and garter belts, and stockings was kind of an innocent one. Like I said, it goes back to that rite of passage of being a woman, not sex.
Certainly, I know how to use the tools of seduction and things like lingerie, I know how to use that in my personal life, but I don’t, it’s never been that for me, and I thought, “Oh, that’s my dad putting his issues on me. It’s not about me.” And I still think that, and that’s the conversation I need to have with my dad. It’s like, I do understand that something that made him associate black garter belts and black lace with something bad, with a wicked city woman and a prostitute. He was really disturbed by his 16-, 17-year-old daughter wearing that stuff. But none of that was my problem, that’s his problem.
Tim Ferriss: How did you develop the capacity to handle all of that as calmly as you did? Is your mom that way? Did you somehow develop that over time? I mean, that seems atypical.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: For a 16- or 17-year-old getting thrown out of the house to be able to watch the watcher in a way and have that level of kind of calm awareness. Where does that come from?
Dita Von Teese: I’m not necessarily, I’m not really sure if I felt that way at the time, but I think I’ve always been someone who kind of disappears into the work, whatever it is. I kind of, I don’t, I’m not someone who reacts unless I’m really provoked and pushed, and then suddenly I can explode, but I certainly wasn’t that way when I was a teenager. I think things would be different now if someone like my dad talked to me, and even when he does talk to me now, if he says something I don’t agree with or that I’m offended by, like I wouldn’t be that person that’s like, “I’m just going to go.” I’m a little more confrontational with my father now.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned the ballet and wanting to be a ballet dancer, and I want to come back to that because going back to one of the questions in Tribe of Mentors, I asked how is a failure or apparent failure set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours? There’s a lot to the answer, so I’m not going to read all of it, which is a great answer, but you mentioned at one point, “Truthfully I never really loved dancing per se. I loved what ballet stood for.” And then you went into what that meant. The part I want to highlight here is, “I believe that sometimes our shortcomings can lead to greatness because those of us who have intense desire but lack natural, god-given talent sometimes find roundabout ways of realizing dreams.” So this I think is really, really, really important, because there are certain places, certain fields of endeavor, certain careers, that require mutant-like attributes, that you’re either born with or you are born without.
Dita Von Teese: I agree.
Tim Ferriss: And if you want to spring along say, alongside Usain Bolt, good luck. You better have some very unusual genetics. If you want to be a superstar ballet dancer at the top of the world, similarly you need, there’s a certain phenotype, a certain build and there are attributes that are prerequisites in a lot of respects. You managed to take your abilities in different areas and combine them into something unique. What are other either failures that helped you along the way or key decisions that you think have helped you to craft this very unusual path for yourself?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, for some reason I’ve always loved people that have shortcomings. You always read about people’s opinions, like, “Oh, she’s not that good of a singer. Why is she the most famous singer in the world? There are better.” I always loved those people. So I’m kind of, because I can relate to them, you know? Those are always the kind of singers I like. I can’t stand listening to vocal gymnastics, like when people are like the great singers of today. I like people that have flawed voices or interesting voices that communicate, and I always felt the same way about dance and myself. I’m just trying to communicate. I’m trying to be on stage instead of look like I’m trying to dance. I get insulted a lot with, “She’s not that good of a dancer even.” And I’m like, “Oh actually, I probably could be, but I don’t want to ever look like I’m trying too hard.” Because to me, sensuality and eroticism is an epic fail if you look like you’re trying to do it. It’s better to do less. I mean, I even think when I watch someone like Beyoncé, her best moments are when she stops. She does all this crazy stuff and then she stops and breathes, and you’re like, “Yes. Do more of that.” It’s so great.
That’s just … I think that my failures and not really finding what that thing that I might be amazing at is because I also, I am always fascinated by what you were saying. How does someone … You think about all these people that are walking around, and what if they could’ve been the greatest whatever but they were never given the opportunity or they weren’t interested in it? What if they could’ve been the best basketball player, or they could’ve been the best actor, but they never had the opportunity or the interest in trying it, and there’s probably people out there with hidden talents who could’ve been the best in the world and they would never even know it.
Tim Ferriss: I think that’s why I like this answer you gave and this topic is that whether it’s people listening, whether it’s you and what you’ve done, you’re not limited to 27 preset tracks called careers. You can be the best in the world, but you have to figure out how to be the best Dita Von Teese in the world, if you’re Dita Von Teese. You mentioned people trying to out Dita Dita, like that’s never going to fucking work, right?
Dita Von Teese: But they try all the time.
Tim Ferriss: They try, but they should race their own race, right?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: It’s like they’re not going to have the endurance or the enthusiasm, or the passion, or the lack of attachment that you had in the beginning, so they’ve kind of in a way already lost, right?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: They’re trying to dominate in a category of one which is already owned by Dita. I think quite a bit, I’ve had two folks on this podcast, Marc Andreessen is a very famous entrepreneur and investor, and then Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, and both of them have very similar thoughts on building incredible careers, or finding your own path which is in a sense, and this came from Scott first in his writing is you can try to be the top one percent of one percent of one percent in one thing like basketball, but you’re going to have a hell of a time doing that and you are going to be relying heavily on attributes that you are either born with or without, and that is a sort of a finite game in a sense. Then on the other hand you could combine really unusual, I shouldn’t say unusual things, you could take usual things that are usually not combined, like a law degree and a computer science degree and fill in the blank, a love of Japanese anime; I’m just making that up. Now all of a sudden you’re the one horse in the race.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Right? What other — you’ve mentioned a few of the women who have inspired you. Are there any other, whether it’s women inside or outside of burlesque or really anywhere who inspire you along those lines? Kind of people who have carved their own path. You mentioned Madonna earlier, this is something else I wanted to mention. She’s had people throughout her career say, “Oh, she’s not, she doesn’t know how to sing. She has no idea how to dance.” Or whatever it is.
Dita Von Teese: Or she makes a movie, “She can’t act.” She directs a movie, “She can’t direct.”
Tim Ferriss: But she’s fucking Madonna, right? So why is she Madonna? That’s a really worthwhile question to ask. For decades she was Madonna, right? I mean, she still is Madonna, but she’s been able to reinvent herself successfully so many times, and it’s because she is the best at combining all those disparate elements.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, but not only that. People sometimes forget, and this is a thing that bothers me. She was the first person to sort of like, “I’m going to make a music video on stage.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dita Von Teese: And the shows with all the dancers, all of it around her. She was the person that was like, “I’m going to make this stage show that is like a spectacle.” And so every, what bothers me is people definitely have every show, that’s the benchmark now. Everyone has to try to have all these dancers, they have to have designers making their outfits, they have to do all these stuff, but sometimes these people will forget they wouldn’t even … She’s the one that paved the way for that and inspired everyone to do that. It bothers me when somebody doesn’t get credit for that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, for sure.
Dita Von Teese: I mean, because I watch people all the time that are like, they’ll imitate one of my shows but then they act like they never saw me or they’ve never heard of me before. Because there’s always that, everybody wants to be recognized, they want to feel like they did something that was the first thing and they change the world, but it’s honestly like, why don’t you do that first? And then you can, instead of just trying to sweep it under the rug that you saw somebody else do it and you decided you were going to try to make it better, but you didn’t.
Tim Ferriss: No, I agree. I totally agree. What other notable influences have you had? Any gender, any discipline. Does anyone come to mind? There’s one that I can definitely bring up just because I think she’s amazing.
Dita Von Teese: Okay.
Tim Ferriss: But no, no, no. I want to hear.
Dita Von Teese: Oh, Madonna, okay.
Tim Ferriss: No, no, Madonna. Well I was also —
Dita Von Teese: That was the one.
Tim Ferriss: No, no. I brought her up as just someone top of mind that I didn’t want to forget. Well, let’s just jump to it. Mae West.
Dita Von Teese: Oh yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Mae West.
Dita Von Teese: Mae West. I mean, she —
Tim Ferriss: Who is Mae West for people who don’t know?
Dita Von Teese: Okay, she was an actress that has, I think there is still no one that’s ever done what she has. Do you know much about Mae West?
Tim Ferriss: Very little other than what you wrote about her just because of her incredibly well titled book On Sex, Health, and ESP. Very rare book.
Dita Von Teese: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: But also her quotes. I’ve just found her quotes to be so brilliant. All right, I’ve had a few too many cappuccinos prior to this interview, which is why I’m all over the place, but just to get it out there. So when I get attacked by someone on the internet, usually I don’t reply. Before that, I don’t even go looking for it. But if I just happen to be having a tough day and I come across someone and feel compelled to feed the trolls, I will very often respond. It’s usually because I’ve offended somebody in some ridiculous way, and I will almost always just reply with a Mae West quote, which is, “Those who are shocked easily should be shocked more often.”
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And I just let her do my speaking for me.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: But who is Mae West?
Dita Von Teese: So Mae West is this fascinating, she was the biggest sex symbol in the 1930s, and the things that make her fascinating, the short version are number one, she made her first film at age 40 and she was the biggest sex symbol of her time. So that’s, imagine that now. Also, she wrote every line she ever said in every film. So when you look up Mae West quotes — and you will get the best quotes ever written, the best one-liners ever written — she is that like, “And that’s what she said!” She is the originator of that kind of quote. Then she went to the studio bosses when she made her first films and became a sensation, she said, “How much does the studio boss get? I want more than that.” And she got more than that, and she was the only person. She was the only actor, actress that made more than the studio bosses just because she asked for it, and she demanded it, and she was a sensation back then. So she is kind of like a sexual gangster, too. She was the one that flipped the script. Women would have a certain role in Hollywood, and she was kind of like the male version, and she, even when you watch her films, she’s objectifying men left and right. It’s just, it’s astonishing to watch, and I can’t think of anyone in history that’s done what she’s done since.
I mean, to actually write every line in every film is kind of — and she made so many films, and of course you know, there were some things about her that are problematic because it was a different time.
Tim Ferriss: What kind of stuff is problematic?
Dita Von Teese: Well, I mean. There’s a great documentary coming out about her. I hope people will watch. She grew up, a lot of people say she appropriated black culture with her swagger, and the way she sang, and talked, and everything, and that was kind of an imprint of childhood because she was actually a child actor in a minstrel show, so that was kind of like, she just picked it up and turned it into something totally different. So that’s one thing, but then we could also argue she completely swirled it into something new and became Mae West, and Mae West is this character that there’s never been another one like her. Drag queens do Mae West, everyone does Mae West. It’s like this character that we’ve never seen again, and when you squint your eyes, you’re like, “That’s Mae West.” So yeah, she’s someone I definitely admire. She went to prison for writing a play about sex. She was sex positive in a time before it was popular. I mean, she wrote a play called Sex. I think she went to prison for like a week, but she loved it because she got to hang around all these other women, and write more material, and she felt like she came out better than ever because of it.
Tim Ferriss: Workshopped in the prison visit.
Dita Von Teese: She is a fascinating person. I’m glad there finally, there are some great books about her. One of my favorite ones is She Always Knew How, but she also wrote —
Tim Ferriss: That’s the name of the book?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, She Always Knew How, that’s a biography about her that I really like. There’s several, and of course she wrote an autobiography, and if you can ever get your hands on Love, Sex, and ESP. So love, sex, okay.
Tim Ferriss: Sex, Health, and…
Dita Von Teese: Sex, Health, and ESP, sorry. That book is great. I used to read aloud from that book and in Paris I’d get my — I lived in Paris for a short time and I’d get my friends together and we’d all drink champagne and read aloud from that book because it’s so crazy. Great.
Tim Ferriss: Do you have a favorite, do you have a favorite film of hers?
Dita Von Teese: Not really, it’s like —
Tim Ferriss: Or one that you would suggest people start with?
Dita Von Teese: It’s hard to say. I would suggest anybody interested just go and start watching Mae West clips, like watching some best ofs, like reels of her quick one-liners of the things she would say. That’s what I would, because it’s one of those things where the clips are almost better than the films on their own.
Tim Ferriss: You were just talking about Mae West writing her own lines, and I read something that may or may not be true, you can tell me. Do you use stylists or do you not use stylists?
Dita Von Teese: I don’t in my personal life; I am forced to often in my professional life, like for photo shoots, for a magazine, and whatnot, but I am self-styled. When I go on the red carpet, I just pull from my own wardrobe, or I have direct relationships with the designers, which has kind of always been a good thing for me, is having that direct contact with the people that I want to be dressed by. That whole machine of hair, makeup, stylist, I can’t be bothered with all of it. I don’t need it. I feel like I know if it looks right, it is right. Also, that’s kind of what I built my whole career on, is being self-made, and in my books, empowering other women to be able to do whatever I can do.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t know if this is apocryphal or if it’s a real story, but I have read of some stylist picking up some very — I suppose classic vintage shoes and saying, “Oh, this would go great with jeans.” And you were like, “Okay, I think we’re done.”
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, “This interview is done here.” Yeah. It was actually Marilyn Manson’s stylist when we lived together, and she was like, “Oh, let’s go look in your wardrobe.” And she’s a good friend of mine now, and it’s all fine. It’s just that I always, I figured out early on that I didn’t need advice. I don’t need advice on what to wear; I know what to wear.
Tim Ferriss: Prep for your shows. Let’s talk about prep. So I had read that you arrive sometimes four, five hours in advance of your performances.
Dita Von Teese: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: And that you could prep, you could get ready very quickly, but you choose not to.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, it’s a nightmare.
Tim Ferriss: Why do you arrive, as someone who arrives to the airport like 17 hours early for domestic flights, I feel like we might be birds of a feather in that respect, but why do you arrive so early?
Dita Von Teese: Well, there are a lot of — yes, I can get ready within a certain timeframe, but when you start throwing in all of these things like answering text messages, and people asking you questions. When I’m doing my tours, I arrive like five, six hours before because there’s things like I want to look at the theater, I need to look at the stage. Sometimes I need to set where the props are going to go because the stage is a different size than usual. But mostly it’s like why rush? It’s part of the fun of it is getting ready. I love listening to music. I love listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast in my dressing room.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you for that.
Dita Von Teese: Particularly the ones about psychedelic drugs and I just like taking my time. I’m in such a better head space when I spend much too much time preparing. I have a lot of bad experiences with being rushed. I mean, most recently I was performing at this party for Anastasia Beverly Hills, and it was like all the Kardashians in presence, and I was sort of in the dressing room, and there were some Kardashians in there, and I was being kind of bombarded, and I get really stressed out when I’m being rushed to get ready. I kind of got like, “Can you go on stage in 15 minutes?” And I was like, “Ah.” It’s not how I want to do it, that’s not the way that I want to feel. I don’t want to feel stressed out or rushed because I feel like that’s when I start getting in my head, and I’ll be like, “I’m not good.” All the bad things in my head like, “I’m not good enough. I can’t. I don’t know what I’m doing. They’re going to find out I’m pretending to do this. They’re going to find out I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. The on-ramp to a lot of these experiences for me is as important as the so-called performance segment, right?
Dita Von Teese: Yes, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: It’s like the — I have always arrived so early. I mean, where we’re sitting right now is a case in point, right? I mean, I’m here for a 45- or 60-minute panel tomorrow. I could’ve arrived a few hours beforehand, but I want to know the venue, I want to feel comfortable on the time zone, I want to know what I’m going to be having for breakfast so that I don’t have any snafus. I want to know if the minibar has snacks. I want to know all of those details, even though I will probably not need any of those contingency plans. It just gives me a level of calm and feeling as though I’ve checked the boxes so that the only thing occupying my mind is what I am going to do once I get on stage.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Otherwise — and I have friends, I envy them, who they almost make it a game to see how close they can cut it at the airport with their flight. That is so much, it’s just so anathema to my programming. I think it makes a whole lot of sense to arrive really, really, really early. So for those people who are making stress a sport with things like transportation, I encourage you to consider the alternative, which is not arriving just like an hour beforehand, but with an excess of time.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Dita Von Teese: Stress sport is a good word.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah. Who needs it? Who needs it?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: There’s enough unavoidable, unpredictable stress. I feel no compulsion to add optional stress of my own volition. What would you say are any new behaviors or beliefs that have really positively impacted your life in the last year, two, or three? Is there anything that you’ve really changed for yourself, added or removed, that has had a significant impact on your well being would you say?
Dita Von Teese: Well, I know a lot of people say this, but learning to meditate, which I’m not a great and amazing model meditator. I use it when I need it, and that’s kind of helped me in a lot of ways.
Tim Ferriss: What type of meditation [crosstalk 00:59:11]?
Dita Von Teese: Transcendental Meditation. I feel like when I, it was always intimidating to me. I think I dropped into a Buddhist meditation center once, and I was like, “Oh my god. Sitting here for an hour with your own thoughts.” And it scared me away, and then someone introduced me to Transcendental Meditation, and I learned with this amazing lady, and she had all these great stories about teaching Elizabeth Taylor to meditate, and Michael Jackson, and all these people, and she had great stories, so it made it fun for me to see her for all the training. Every day I was like, “Oh, what story are you going to tell me now?” And then she also just took the pressure off, and when I would say like, “I don’t think I can sit there for 20 minutes twice a day.” She said, “Why don’t you try 10?” And I was like, “Okay.” So having that pressure off, and even now just realizing five minutes is good. That seemed to help a lot, and I’m trying to be better at it, and it’s something that gives me a goal to achieve. To try to make sure I block out the time.
Tim Ferriss: What differences have you seen since starting to experiment with the meditation?
Dita Von Teese: Well, I think it’s mostly regaining focus and having — besides Transcendental, clearing my mind, I also love to schedule a massage or something that puts me in a relaxed state but still a thinking state, because I don’t like, it’s not like I’m trying to just tune out. Then I start actually thinking about what I’m going to do. That’s where I come up with my good ideas, where I’m like, “What’s my new tour going to be called?” So I love to set aside that time of not doing and racing around, and not trying to accomplish things and just like, “I’m going to lay here for an hour and think about this thing that I need to figure out.” I can do that at the dentist too sometimes actually.
Tim Ferriss: At the dentist?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah. I kind of don’t mind really going to the dentist, and it kind of makes me close my eyes and think about things. Yeah, so it’s more like taking a time out because I have always these to-do lists and I realize I’m trying to chip away at it and doing too many things, and I think I just need to — it makes my life better when I stop and I focus, clear my mind, close my eyes, meditate. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, the Transcendental Meditation is a fantastic option for people who have developed a very well-earned I think, or well-deserved on the part of meditation, allergy to meditation because the way that meditation is often sold is very all or nothing and extremely intimidating, and like all right, you’re going to sit on this hard floor for an hour with a perfectly straight back and do X. whereas TM, especially with a good teacher, can keep lowering the bar until it’s easy to step over. It’s not something you have to do an Olympic high jump over. They make it less and less intimidating until you can get started, right?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And once you’re staying there for 10 minutes you’re like, “Okay.” Oftentimes you’re like, “Okay, I can go 15, okay, I can go 20.” But it’s really just getting your ass to sit down and do it.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, and the first, for me the first five minutes is brutal, and then suddenly I go into the zone, I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is what I came here for.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, and it really does, as a mantra-based concentration practice, train you, at least it, and this has been in my experience, you said helping with focus, to return to something over and over again. You’ll end up drifting off and thinking about your to-do list, or porn, or whatever, and then you’re like, “Oh wait, I’m supposed to be meditating.” And then you go back to your mantra. When you sit down in front of a computer, you sit down with a notebook, that’s also what you’re going to be doing, right? So it’s the reeling back is the repetition of lifting the weight in the gym, and it’s a very beneficial gateway drug into meditation.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I think.
Dita Von Teese: I also love taking a timeout during the day actually by myself and sipping a little magic mushroom tea and go, “Oh, okay, this is what kind of gets to the essence of things.” Like a simplistic appreciation for the beauty of the world. I just, I can look in the garden and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, okay.” Do this once in a while.
Tim Ferriss: That’ll definitely do it.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: There’s advice I referred to earlier to your younger self, and the advice that you gave in Tribe of Mentors was — actually, no, it wasn’t in Tribe of Mentors. I take it back. This was in an interview. Was in effect to be a little bit more vigilant, right? To look over your books, to pay attention so that you wouldn’t be taken advantage of because the world we live in, it’s full contact, for better or for worse. If you’re going to be on the playing field, there are going to be people who want to separate you from your money and many other things. Is there any other advice that you would give to your, actually yes, to your younger self, and you can pick the age. So that’s the thing, so it could be yourself from five years ago, it could be yourself at age six, it could be any age. How old would you be and what advice would you give that version of yourself?
Dita Von Teese: I think in my mid 20s I would have told myself to try to maybe buy a house, even if it was something small I would’ve done that, and I would’ve also warned myself about signing model releases, because although there are lots of people that really are kind, and like did — I didn’t know I was going to be famous, but there are some people that took advantage of that. Suddenly I was in ad campaigns with a watch photoshopped on my hand because someone took a portrait of me when I was like 25 and then they used it 10 years later. So there were things like that which I just, I didn’t really, I didn’t have any anticipation that that kind of thing would happen to me. I was just like, “Oh yeah, that’s fine.” Sign whatever was in front of me. But I guess people could’ve taken advantage of me no matter what if they wanted.
Tim Ferriss: What advice do you think yourself 10 years from now would give your current self?
Dita Von Teese: No one’s ever asked that. Gosh, it’s hard to take advice from your younger self.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, well if you were giving, if your older self were giving your current self advice, meaning you right now were getting advice from your older self. What do you think your older self would say?
Dita Von Teese: Oh god. I’m worried that my older self might say that I should’ve had a child, that I’m concerned about that. I’m not concerned about it right now, but sometimes I go, “Oh god, I really hope that doesn’t happen.” And then I think, “Well, there’s always remedies for that too, though.” You can adopt any time, because it’s really one of those things where sometimes I wish, when it comes to children and people that have children, I don’t really envy any of my friends with children, except for adult children. I’m like, “Oh that’s so cool that you have this great adult child that’s doing amazing things that is probably fun to hang out with.” But it doesn’t always work out like that, you know?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dita Von Teese: Doesn’t always work out like that. It’s hard when you’re in the line of work that I’m in. I can’t think of a time where I ever could have stopped and said, “Oh, I think I’ll just have a baby.” And then I think about who I would’ve had a baby with back then, like probably not the best idea.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dita Von Teese: So you know, it’s a real “What can you do?” I feel like I chose my path. I don’t necessarily feel like it’s the right time for everyone to bring children into the world in any way.
Tim Ferriss: I think that, I have friends who have kids who are very happy, I have friends who have kids who are totally miserable, and I have friends without kids who are both very happy and some who are very miserable.
Dita Von Teese: Right, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So I think it’s kind of another variable.
Dita Von Teese: Are you having children? Interested?
Tim Ferriss: You know, I appreciate you asking. I don’t have kids that I’m aware of currently. There was a long period of time where I did not plan on having kids, in part because I was afraid of fucking them up in some way. I felt like the risk, that the decision to bring a child into the world was inherently a selfish one in a way, right? Like you’re not doing it for your kids in a sense, you’re doing it because you want kids, number one, and that if there were potential risk of, or almost a guarantee that you’re going to damage your kids in some way, and certainly I don’t know anyone who’s made it out of childhood unscathed. Shit goes sideways. That I didn’t feel like that was a risk I wanted to take, if that makes any sense. I’ve started to feel differently about it.
Dita Von Teese: Is it because you are newly in love, though? Because that’s the thing. You got to get past that new love thing and then.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah.
Dita Von Teese: Because it’s like a science of like, “I should have a baby. I’m in love.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, you get kind of slap-happy.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I am with a wonderful woman, my girlfriend. That’s a piece of it for sure. I think that also I’ve done just a lot of work in the last handful of years and have come to a place where I feel confident that I could be a, at the very least, like a B plus parent. I don’t know if I’d be an A plus parent, but I think I can be at least a B plus parent, and also I think that there may just be a biological imperative and sort of existential itch that is hard to scratch without having kids, right?
A friend of mine said to me recently, he said, “You can find meaning by finding god or having kids. Having kids is easier.” So there may be an element of sort of an inevitability in a sense, but I think I’ve also just come to accept that part of the human experience is making mistakes, and if — every parent makes mistakes, and it’s going to condition their kids in ways they don’t want to consciously or I should say subconsciously, and that if you’re going to sign up for having kids, you should just accept on the front end that you’re going to do damage, and hopefully you could help them undo it later and you’ll have a level of self-awareness to do that.
I would — like the have-kids-o-meter is kind of leaning more towards having kids at this point.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, it moves a lot for me, but ultimately I just think mostly about adoption or —
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dita Von Teese: I love animals.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Me too.
Dita Von Teese: I know it’s not the same thing, but it is like.
Tim Ferriss: It’s not the same thing but.
Dita Von Teese: It’s not the same thing, but it is.
Tim Ferriss: This is going to piss off a lot of parents.
Dita Von Teese: I know, god.
Tim Ferriss: It’s not the same thing, but there are a lot of parallels. This is going to upset a lot of folks.
Dita Von Teese: I know.
Tim Ferriss: Because they’re like, “Little children are not animals.” Or whatever. I’m like, “Technically they are exactly animals, being mammals and all.” There’s a great book called Don’t Shoot The Dog, which is terribly titled, but a fantastic book on in effect training of mammals, and it talks a lot about — I’m going to get so much shit for this, but that’s okay — training of dolphins, because you can only really effectively use positive reinforcement. Let’s say dolphins are aquatic mammals because you’re not going to hit them with a rolled up newspaper. It doesn’t work. They’re just going to swim away from you, so you have to get very good at using cues, like a whistle or something like that to indicate the behavior as a marker, and then rewarding. It turns out you can use that for training just about anything, and one of the quotes, I believe it was in that book that I loved so much was, “If you can’t train a chicken, you shouldn’t be allowed to have a child.” I tend to believe that. If you can’t be aware of your impact on another animal and how it shapes that animal’s behavior, I don’t think on some level, and of course legally this has no, holds no water whatsoever, but ethically perhaps you shouldn’t be allowed to have kids. You should be able to pass that test.
I have a dog now, adopted her a few years ago, about three and a half years ago. I’ve satisfied for myself that I can at least keep a medium-sized mammal alive and healthy for that period of time. So we’ll see. Anyway, I’m talking too much, I think that’s in part because it’s been on the brain, and like you, it flips and flops.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: When I go to the airport and I see kids having a complete meltdown and their parents pulling their hair out and just having a hellish time of going through the process, I’m like, “I’m not sure.”
Dita Von Teese: I just think like, also I’ve been asked about it my whole adult life, and I think wow, in interviews, and I just always thought like, “What if you were asking someone that could not have children?”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah.
Dita Von Teese: And why do we have to put so much emphasis on if you don’t have children your life isn’t full and you haven’t done the most important job there is in the world, because there are lots of people that can’t have children for different reasons. Does that make them less of a person? So that’s one of the problems I have with people always putting so much emphasis on the importance of being a mother. It’s kind of, when you think about it, it’s kind of not very cool to ask people about that or to make that statement that it’s the most important job in the world.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I don’t think it’s — I don’t think it should be the number one priority for everyone. I don’t think any one thing should be, that I can think of, should be the number one priority for everyone, right? It just doesn’t make any sense, and like you said, there are many cases in which for physical, medical, or other reasons, it makes a whole lot of sense not to take the sort of biological birthing route, or necessarily adopt. I know people who — I’ve met friends of my parents and others who went their entire lives without kids and had very, very deep, rich fulfilling lives and did a lot of good in the world. Yeah, in my case, TBD. Still TBD.
Dita Von Teese: One thing I love in life is knowing women much older than me and asking for their advice. Like the thing that you asked me about earlier about watching my finances, that advice came from 1950s movie star and pin-up model who is still around now, Mamie Van Doren. She’s like a blonde bombshell. She was kind of like a Marilyn Monroe but, she was a big star back then, but anyway. I know her and I love to sit down with her and have her give me advice, and that was one of her things is like, “Watch your money, I know it’s not fun, it’s not fun to look at numbers and challenge people, but watch it all.” And she also had said to me, she has one son, and she was like, “I love my son, but it wasn’t the most important thing I did in life. It’s not something you have to do if you don’t feel inclined.” And she said, “And if I’m looking at the world today the way I’m looking at the world today compared to how it was in the ’50s, and ’60s, and ’70s,” she’s like, “I wouldn’t do it now.” So I thought that was interesting. I like talking to — I have another friend named Ilona Royce Smithkin who’s a hundred years old, and I love getting on the phone with her and hearing. She still has amazing advice.
Tim Ferriss: Any advice come to mind that she’s given you?
Dita Von Teese: From her, well, she just has little pearls of wisdom. She has an Instagram that I love to follow, and she just puts it out there all the time, but mostly —
Tim Ferriss: She’s a hundred and has an Instagram account?
Dita Von Teese: She’s a hundred. Yeah, she does. Well, she’s an amazing lady. I learned about her from a book called Advanced Style by my friend Ari Seth Cohen. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this book, but it’s about, he was obsessed with finding older ladies that dress in eccentric ways and wear eccentric makeup, and that are fashion icons in their own right, eccentric people, and I learned about her because she’s like four feet tall, she has this flaming orange hair, and she makes her own eyelashes, like long red eyelashes, blue eyeshadow, and she’s an artist. She has a show I think too. She’s a singer, like in Provincetown.
Tim Ferriss: [crosstalk]
Dita Von Teese: Anyway, she’s like [crosstalk 01:18:04].
Tim Ferriss: What was her name again?
Dita Von Teese: Her name is Ilona Royce Smithkin.
Tim Ferriss: Oh boy. How do you spell Ilona?
Dita Von Teese: I-L-O-N-A, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: All right, and we’ll put it in the show notes as well for her Instagram and so on.
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, but she’s an — but his book in general is amazing because it spotlights all these elderly people, and there’s a lot of talk about “You shouldn’t wear that because you’re of a certain age.” And these are ladies that are colorful, and amazing, and fashion icons, and living their lives. I think it’s important to have people like this spotlighted. I was just actually reading this horrific article yesterday that my friend Liz Goldwyn pointed out to me. This writer, she was actually an editor of Vogue, and I was, so I was shocked that she wrote something like this. She was saying that Helena Christensen, who’s 50, went to a party and she was wearing jeans and a strapless bustier, and she said it was completely inappropriate for her to be flaunting that much skin at her age, and mind you, she looks fantastic. When I’m hearing about this article I googled it and I read it, it’s a Daily Mail article, which is obviously clickbait, so I chose not to share it because I was like, “Oh yes, I’m offended and outraged, but that’s exactly what they want from us.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, totally.
Dita Von Teese: They want me to have everyone read it and be outraged. But I did find it disturbing because they were basically saying, she was saying that once you’re past childbearing age you shouldn’t be wearing clothes like that, or you should let the other, the young people have their chance. And I mean, if you can see this picture of Helena Christensen, you’d be like, “She looks so hot and she’s perfect.” And she says things in this article like, “No matter how invisible your bingo wings are.”
Tim Ferriss: I don’t even know what that means.
Dita Von Teese: Well you know like when — you know, this. What is that?
Tim Ferriss: Oh, your tricep?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah, but I was like, “What are you talking about?” She said that it’s okay for men because they can procreate at any age essentially, but once you are beyond childbearing years you shouldn’t dress like that, and I just found it amazing that she used to be the editor in British Vogue for like in the ’90s.
Tim Ferriss: Wow, that’s a very Victorian perspective of that.
Dita Von Teese: It was really shocking and you know, anyway, I just … It’s a real interesting conversation though about ageism and how we treat women of a certain age, and it’s one of those things that I feel like it is important to stand up for. I almost retired a few years ago thinking like, “Oh, I’m 40. I should stop doing striptease. What if I don’t look as good as used to?” And then I thought like, “Wait, you have to. I have female followers and I have to stand for something.” And I think it’s important to have examples of eroticism and sensuality in all different phases of life and to set examples for that because I look to people that are older than me, like Jennifer Lopez, and Gwen Stefani, and all these people that I’m like, “Oh, she’s sexy.” I can be like that too, so I think it’s important as much as it’s — it’s not always easy and you open yourself up to criticism. It’s important to some people to see examples of this.
Tim Ferriss: Hear, hear. Well, Dita, this has been so fun. I really appreciate you taking the time, and we’re going to link to everything that you mentioned in the show notes so people can find all of that very easily, and for people listening that’s just at tim.blog/podcast and if you search Dita, D-I-T-A, it’ll pop right up. Now, I mentioned the social accounts where people can learn what you’re up to, see what you’re up to also more accurately in terms of @ditavonteese on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Are you more active on one than the others?
Dita Von Teese: I’m mostly active on Instagram I have to say, but I definitely use Facebook and a little bit of Twitter. I can’t help it. It was the first one. Still good.
Tim Ferriss: Do you have any current projects or upcoming projects that you would like people to check out or keep an eye out for?
Dita Von Teese: Yeah. Well, I have my lingerie line which is at like Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, and a lot of online retailers. I’m working on another book called Fashioning the Femme Totale, which will come out, it’s a follow-up to my beauty book that I wrote, and that one will come out I think in September 2020. This year I’m touring with a new show kicking off in Australia in November, and then doing like eight weeks in Europe, March 2020 through April, and then I think I’ll do the US sometime in 2020 as well.
Tim Ferriss: Well, you have a very exciting year, two years, and many years ahead of you. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Dita Von Teese: No, thanks for talking to me.
Tim Ferriss: This is really fun. Do you have any closing comments, requests, anything at all that you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Dita Von Teese: I can’t think of anything.
Tim Ferriss: Which is the most common response.
Dita Von Teese: That’s what [crosstalk 01:23:19].
Tim Ferriss: I think we covered plenty. I really hope people stay tuned and I will provide everything that we spoke about in the show notes as I mentioned. So thanks to you for being here, and thanks to everyone for tuning in, and until next time, craft your own path. Do not try to be the best of someone else. Try to discover and also piece together the unique path that only you can forge. So on that note, until next time. Bye, bye.
Posted on: July 31, 2019.
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Who was interviewed? Here's a very partial list: tech icons (founders of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Craigslist, Pinterest, Spotify, Salesforce, Dropbox, and more), Jimmy Fallon, Arianna Huffington, Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York), Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ben Stiller, Maurice Ashley (first African-American Grandmaster of chess), Brené Brown (researcher and bestselling author), Rick Rubin (legendary music producer), Temple Grandin (animal behavior expert and autism activist), Franklin Leonard (The Black List), Dara Torres (12-time Olympic medalist in swimming), David Lynch (director), Kelly Slater (surfing legend), Bozoma Saint John (Beats/Apple/Uber), Lewis Cantley (famed cancer researcher), Maria Sharapova, Chris Anderson (curator of TED), Terry Crews, Greg Norman (golf icon), Vitalik Buterin (creator of Ethereum), and nearly 100 more. Check it all out by clicking here.