When Marilyn Bersey was hit with the overwhelming grief of losing her beloved husband, she also lost her identity as a wife and carer – leaving her struggling to move on.
Now, the 70-year-old has revealed how she’s undergone a dramatic transformation in the years since, losing almost half her body weight and discovering a passion for burlesque dancing that has unlocked her sexuality – finally making her feel beautiful and sexy for the first time in 20 years.
The loving Isle of Wight gran has battled weight issues throughout her life and was mercilessly bullied as a child as she struggled to slim down.
“One girl poured salt in my hair one day. I said, ‘Why have you done that?’ And she said, ‘My dad puts salt on fat slugs to get rid of them’,” she recalled in an exclusive chat with Starts at 60.
It started off a string of insecurities that Marilyn carried with her right through adulthood.
“I was always the class clown because I was so insecure, I became an extrovert – I was covering up the insecurities by being stupid and silly, and laughing at myself,” she explained.
Marrying her first husband at just 22, Marilyn soon welcomed two children and continued to battle with weight gain throughout the years that followed.
“We eventually drifted apart and I divorced him when I was in my forties,” she said. “I was alone then for about 16 years, because I vowed I would never have anyone else, mainly for my children’s sake.”
Eventually, after dedicating herself to her kids as they grew up, Marilyn met her second husband David on a holiday to China after they wound up on the same tour.
Tragically, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s shortly after they wed, cementing Marilyn’s future as his full-time carer.
“The last thing I was thinking about was losing weight and it knocked a bit of confidence out of me,” she said. “I was expecting to have a second marriage, as a relationship, but it changed into me being a carer rather than his wife.”
David’s condition meant he’d often fall over during the day while Marilyn was working, and she admitted: “I got to the stage where I didn’t want to go home because I didn’t know what I was finding when I got home. I was just existing, I wasn’t living.”
Marilyn cared for her husband for around 15 years. He was eventually taken into a care home before he passed away at Christmas 2014.
Having had some of her own time freed up when her husband was taken into care, Marilyn managed to start cooking for herself properly again and started to lose weight. In fact, while she’d been 95kg at her heaviest (while measuring around 155cm tall), she soon dropped down to just 57kg.
Sadly, her weight loss went too far after David’s death and she became extremely thin through grief.
“I just lost it, it fell off. I just wasn’t eating and trying to get things sorted. I got down to 8 stone 7 (55kg),” she admitted. Asked how she felt then, she said: “I didn’t feel feminine anymore. I also felt like I didn’t want to do anything, not caring for myself, I’d gone back to just functioning, not living.”
While dealing with the grief was a long process, Marilyn eventually made the brave decision to move out of her home and into a new town after some trouble with her neighbours.
She explained: “Everything had got stripped away [at that point]. I was still a mother, but not a working mother, so that role had been stripped away. My wife role had been stripped away. I was just me again, and I didn’t know who I was.”
Desperate to find a new passion and hobby, she began searching online and came across a burlesque class. While she was worried she may be too old at first, she took the bull by the horns and went along for a trial.
Describing the moment she first attended a class, Marilyn said: “I went along and thought, well there’s nothing more feminine than burlesque! I crept in while they were mid-routine and I was worried because they all seemed to know it so well.”
Most of the group were aged between 20 and early-50s, making her the oldest by about 20 years – something that only concerned her because she was worried she might not be able to do all the moves.
“I needn’t have worried, I slipped into the routine, I was moving with the music, I thought, ‘This is it’!”
Marilyn began with just one session a week and by Christmas last year, she was addicted.
As she’s continued to practice, it’s unlocked her own sexuality – something she gave up on 20 years ago when her husband first became ill.
“Any intimacy was out the window,” she said. “We knew we loved each other but there was no way of expressing that other than a cuddle or a kiss… It was chipping away at that woman, wife, feminine role. Now the dancing has brought it back threefold!”
“You have to remember you’re a woman. You don’t need to not feel sexy at all,” she added. “There’s nothing wrong with feeling sexy. It’s not about a man attraction for me, it’s feeling feminine and happy.”
Marilyn now does her own burlesque work and chooses comedy routines for herself. She’s even begun making her own ‘comedy’ nipple tassels, with her latest routine following the theme of ‘Ghostbusters’.
She dances as part of Burlesque Chair Dance Isle of Wight. To find out more, see their official Facebook page here.
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