Pole dancer performing on a pole within an ancient church


Rachel Marshall

Pole dancer, Filthy Em, on why veganism doesn’t get her in a twist

Em is an XPERT 1&2 pole instructor based in London who teaches beginners pole dancing at Jade Roxanne Studios and is a staunch ally to anyone facing social injustice.

V-Land UK (V-L): Hello Em! Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. We here at V-Land love your account and how you promote body positivity, and of course, also love that you’re vegan so please, introduce yourself.

Filthy Em (FE): My name is Emma and I’m 32. I have been vegan for seven years. I have been pole dancing for around six years and I teach beginners pole as well. I am someone who fiercely speaks out against social justice and promotes body positivity.

V-L: What inspired you to adopt a vegan lifestyle?

FE: I have an unusual history as I used to have an eating disorder and I randomly stumbled across documentaries like What the Health on Netflix one day. At that point, I was in that toxic gym fitness mindset where I was really tracking everything and hiding my eating disorder in plain sight under the guise of “it’s fine, it’s fitness”. I watched the documentaries, and I was like “Oh, food is fuel and I need it for my body to work”.

V-L: How did you break through that toxic gym mindset?

FE: Well, I know that a lot of people will say that they transitioned over a while or were vegetarian for a couple of years before they went vegan, but I’m a weird case in that I watched the documentaries in one weekend, and when I say that I was carnivorous before, I mean that I would eat meat five times a day and would have meat with every meal.

I tried veganism for a week and found it a lot easier than I thought it would be. Then I had a weekend blowout where I ate everything and anything, and then on Monday, I never touched it again. It completely changed overnight and suddenly I didn’t want animal products in my body and at first, I was like “I’m plant-based, not vegan”, and I gave myself until Christmas to see if I noticed any benefits with exercising, sleeping, and training. Within a few months, I realised I could never eat another animal ever again. I became a full-blown vegan and accepted that I’ll have to make my own Christmas dinner in future!

V-L: Do you find that a vegan diet helps with your strength training and pole dancing?

FE: So, I started pole around six months after I transitioned to a vegan lifestyle, and I believe 100% that it really helped to strengthen my body. I hadn’t done too much pole before I turned vegan so I can’t quite comment on whether there’s a difference between the two, but in the gym, I only ever get delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) when I have a week of rest or a holiday break - I very rarely get DOMS anymore at all and I do a lot with my body. I tend to do between 12-15 hours of exercise a week. I had a shift where instead of focusing on macros, I started focusing on micros and was like, “am I getting omega 3’s and all the things that, as an adult, I need to survive”.

V-L: With the toxic gym culture (and in everyday life), you tend to find that everybody asks, “where do you get your protein from?” so what are your go-to protein products?

FE: So, I try not to use supplements too much because I’d rather eat food, there’s no better substitution than food itself. I love food, and as for protein bars, I tend to buy the Free Soul protein bars which are nice and very low in sugar. I’m more of a savoury person than a sweet person so I’d much rather smash a bag of crisps over a bar of chocolate. I get my protein powder from the Vegan Supplement Store and then I tend to think of it, not as a medicine as such, but more of a boost. 

I’m not a particularly great breakfast person, so I got into the habit of making overnight oats in jars which tend to include oats, protein powder, flax seed, chia seed, hemp seed, cinnamon, nutmeg, walnuts, raisin, and then occasionally the vanilla flavoured protein powder with some Biscoff spread! I tend to make them and put them in the fridge and it’s all ready for when I need it to be. 

V-L: Do you find meal-prepping helps with your lifestyle as well as with nutrition?

FE: Definitely - but in a more healthy and balanced way than how I used to approach food. At the height of my eating disorder, I would weigh every single thing and I could tell you exactly how many calories were in my food, whereas now I use a mix of my own cooking (something I’ve been expanding on recently) and I also get frozen meals from allplants, so I always have something ready to eat. I teach quite late on a Monday, so it’s really handy to have a healthy, nutritious meal ready to be cooked. I work from home so I don’t need to meal prep lunches and dinners like I did before Covid, and I’ve got to that point now where my cooking is better than most takeaways, so I could either spend a minimum of £30/£40 on a takeaway, or spend a little bit of time cooking my own food knowing exactly what is in the food.

V-L: There’s always that fear when you order from a takeaway that you’re not certain that they know about allergens and processes with vegan food, so do you ever worry a little bit about ordering from takeaways?

FE: Yeah, that’s another issue. I’ve had two bad encounters; once with a Pizza Express - I was at an aerial convention in Manchester and I started devouring a pizza having travelled and worked all day, and I got halfway through and realised that the cheese was far too good, and I’d been given dairy cheese, so I was really unwell that weekend. 

A couple of weeks ago, we were at one of those ping-pong bar places, and even though the pizza was marked as vegan and it tasted like vegan cheese, I was very unwell afterwards, so you never truly know about cross-contamination and whether food has been handled correctly.

V-L: What has been the biggest struggle you have had with recovery, veganism, and pole dancing?

FE: I know a few vegans who turned vegan because of their eating disorders so they stopped eating everything because they ended up in the mindset of “I can/can’t eat this because I’m vegan” whereas I had the opposite. I don’t see a plant-based diet as restrictive - I can eat things now that I would never have chosen to eat before, and throughout childhood, on holiday, I would always be asking for “sausage and chips” whereas now I eat such a variety of beans, vegetables, salads, fruits, and I’m much more open to trying things. I’m quite lucky in London because most of the time I can support a vegan only place and it’s a lot easier. 

I haven’t travelled too much, but if I did more travelling, accessing vegan food would worry me. Before Covid, I visited my brothers who live in Hong Kong and travelled to Vietnam too, and so many Asian countries already have so many vegan options, so I actually found it really easy to eat there - and I got to overload on spring rolls so that was perfect!

V-L: There are quite a lot of misconceptions surrounding both veganism and pole dancing so do you ever receive any negativity or are people generally quite supportive?

FE: When I first started pole, there was a lot of stigma around it but it kind of went too far. The thing with pole is that it originated from strippers in the United States, and it became almost appropriated and turned into a pole fitness and you suddenly saw the hashtags and backlash with people saying #NotAStripper and it’s now quite mainstream in terms of seeing pole dancing on TV, at shows, and it’s become much more accepted. You tend to find people saying that you don’t respect strippers if you’re anti-sex work because that’s initially where the pole dancing originated from. There’s a whole debate on where it originated, and some people claim that it started in India with men climbing poles but that’s just not true. I am very happy about speaking to anyone about any kind of social justice that I can support and be an ally of. So, if somebody, judgmentally says, “oh you do pole dancing?” my response is generally “yes, and?”

I have been quite lucky in terms of negativity, and I have had people describe me as quite intimidating when they first meet me, so I don’t really have many people question what I do in a bad way, it’s generally more curiosity over judgement or negativity. 

Maybe there’s a bit of miseducation on their side but generally they just want to find out a bit more about pole dancing. There are social media platforms that are removing sex worker and stripper accounts, and that’s a huge issue, but I haven’t had anything that bad happen to me. I have my stage name and my professional name at work and try not to blur the boundaries - don’t get me wrong, they all know that I do pole, but I like to keep those boundaries in place.

Pole dancer performing on a pole in a shop full of fluorescent lights

Rachel Marshall

V-L: Absolutely - professional boundaries are vital to protect yourself both in and outside of the workplace! 

FE: Absolutely. I did also want to mention how large the vegan population of pole dancers is. There are some accounts with huge followings, and I find it fascinating that there is such a huge link between veganism and pole dancing. I find it incredibly interesting when a company wants to introduce new products into the pole world, but the products aren’t vegan! There’s so much equipment to be aware of - some of the pole grips aren’t vegan, but when you look at the clothing, there’s an abundance of faux leather and faux suede.

V-L: Do you think that the increase in veganism amongst pole dancers might be because as vegans, we tend to be more open to things that stray from the standard, socially acceptable ‘norm’?

FE: I think that could be a contributing factor and I also think that adopting a plant-based diet is a good way to support your body. Your body goes through a lot in pole, whether you're dancing, training, or you’re teaching, you’re using every muscle, so you need to be fuelling yourself properly. The risk of injury is so high - there are things you have to do with your shoulders that in a gym, or running, you would never do. It would be interesting to research this and explore the link between veganism and pole dancing further. 

If you enjoyed this article, check out our article with Aaron Calder about how a vegan diet can help the body to recover from addiction and illness, and if you want to learn more about vegan protein, check out our article on vegan protein shakes made for vegans, by vegans.

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