Olive von Topp: “Self-Love”

Women disruptors are seen as a threat in ways that male disruptors aren’t. We expect men to disrupt, in fact, in some ways, we encourage it. But we don’t expect women to. And as a society we don’t like it. It goes against our internalized belief that women should be nice, accommodating, stay small and […]

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Women disruptors are seen as a threat in ways that male disruptors aren’t. We expect men to disrupt, in fact, in some ways, we encourage it. But we don’t expect women to. And as a society we don’t like it. It goes against our internalized belief that women should be nice, accommodating, stay small and not upset anyone. When women disrupt, they challenge our world view. And when we feel threatened, we often attack. I think women disruptors are subject to way more scrutiny and negative backlash than their male counterparts.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Olive von Topp.

Olive von Topp is a burlesque performer & empowerment coach hailing from Guelph, ON. She helps women unleash their inner badass and build loving relationships with themselves so they can live joyful, vibrant, wildly fulfilling lives. Her life goals include helping people, living fully, and taking down the patriarchy one self-loving woman at a time.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Yes! I would love to. It hasn’t exactly been a straight-line to get here.

I’ve always known I wanted to help people, but wasn’t entirely sure how. I had wanted to be a therapist at one point or a teacher, but I found a love for sociology and pursued that instead. I ended up in the social side of health care and worked primarily with marginalized folks experiencing stigma and other barriers to health, with a particular focus on mental health.

Not long into my first “big girl job”, I started doing burlesque. It was everything I had wanted and combined my love of dance, theatre, humour, storytelling, dress-up, and sensuality. Performing, teaching, and producing burlesque has been intensely cathartic and rewarding.

When I started teaching burlesque, I began to realize that my students weren’t attracted to it simply because they wanted to learn the dance moves. They wanted something more. They wanted to gain confidence. To feel sexy. To have permission to explore a side of themselves they don’t usually explore. Unlearn shame. Challenge themselves. Burlesque was a great vehicle for these learnings, but I realized I could go deeper. This is when I began taking on personal clients as an Empowerment Coach.

Coaching was a natural transition from the support work I was doing at the time, and allowed me to work in depth with people on these topics and on establishing a more loving relationship with themselves. I also started running ‘Sexy Ed’, a local sex & pleasure workshop series, to give a platform to other local sex experts and resources. Every step in my journey has helped expand and deepen my work in self-love, pleasure, and personal empowerment.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I think all of it. I help women learn to take up space in a society and system that has told them they are “too much” and to stay small. I help women become aware of and ask for their needs, in a world that conditions them to put everyone else’s needs before their own. I help women tune into their desires and access more pleasure when they are actively taught they shouldn’t have them or that pursing pleasure makes them selfish, frivolous, and a Jezebel. I help women learn to accept their bodies, to feel confident in them, sexy even, and to define sexuality on their own terms in a world that has a very narrow view on what that can look like; a world that is hell bent on controlling women’s bodies and sexuality. I help women to love themselves

fiercely in a society that profits off them hating themselves. I think all of that is disruptive to the status quo, really.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In burlesque there are many: not rehearsing my acts properly in my costumes that led to costume malfunctions on stage that could have been avoided. Performing awkwardly in front of small audiences or audiences who weren’t expecting burlesque. Driving ridiculous distances, changing in dimly-lit hallways, all for little pay, just because I wanted to perform.

Lessons I have learned from these experiences: Always be prepared, but be adaptable, because nothing will ever go as planned. Know your audience and demand that they know you (I don’t perform in shows where people don’t know they will be seeing burlesque any more). Know your worth and enforce your boundaries. And of course, don’t take yourself too seriously.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’ve had so many incredible women in my life who have influenced me immensely. My mother, my dear friends, my belly dance teacher and women in our troupe, my burlesque troupe mates & women in the burlesque community. They’ve taught me strength, resilience, and the power of vulnerability (as well as the ins and outs of the biz).

Oddly enough, my brothers have both been instrumental in shaping me. My eldest brother taught me so much about systemic oppression, supporting people where they are at and not judging people, mental health, art and gratitude. He committed suicide when I was 20. Even in his death, he taught me about the impermanence of everything and the importance of living in the moment. How I understand the world, how I treat people, and my desire to live life fully have been hugely shaped by him.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

This is a difficult question to answer because as a sociologist and disruptor, I’m prone to thinking about how systems don’t function and how they can be improved. Most of the work I do with my clients is about understanding these systems and how they play out in our self-perceptions and relationships with ourselves.

However, I would say most community led initiatives, who have people who have been marginalized at the helm, are ‘industries’ that should not be disrupted. Any real, effective, positive change has been led by these types of initiatives.

So by these standards, I think asking yourself who benefits from the “industry” and who suffers is a good determiner if the industry should be disrupted. If only a few people benefit and a lot of people (or animals/environment) suffer, then disrupting is positive. If many people benefit and the goal is to continue to diminish suffering, then disrupting is “not so positive”.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

My mother told me since I was young to never rely on anyone else for your own happiness and that is something that has really stuck with me and guided my life. No one else can make you happy. Not a partner. Not a child. Just you.

I now know that happiness is not only a moment in time, but also a thought. It is available to us at any point. And we create it. That’s why people who think they will be happy when they get the job, the partner, the house, etc. never are when they get there, because they still have the same thinking. Except now they are even more sad because the thing(s) that they thought would bring them happiness, the golden carrot dangled in front of them, don’t. You create your happiness. Inside your head. Which is actually really empowering.

Someone once told me that someone else out there with half my talent is living my dream simply because they believed in themselves and had the confidence to take the risks necessary. I think about that all the time when I am making decisions in my business or doubting myself. It really goes to show, it’s all in your mind.

When I started in support work a colleague told me, “If you want to save people, become a priest”. I think about that all the time too (not becoming a priest thing). You can’t save people. I spent 8.5 years in an unhealthy relationship because I thought I could save them, but the only person I could save was myself. You can help people. You can support people. You can inspire. You can even help empower or heal people. But you can’t save them. And it isn’t my job to save people. It is my job to save myself.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Oh so much. Besides my general plan of taking down the patriarchy one self-loving woman/femmes/feminine-leaning person at a time, I have lots planned. I just launched a self-love course on perfectionism where we deconstruct our perfectionist scripts and utilize elements of burlesque to access our inner badass. I plan to develop more courses out of this, plus a membership site, get on more stages (when we can do that again) and one day in the not- so-distant future, write a book.

In the further future, create more; perhaps a school or social enterprise.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women disruptors are seen as a threat in ways that male disruptors aren’t. We expect men to disrupt, in fact, in some ways, we encourage it. But we don’t expect women to. And as a society we don’t like it. It goes against our internalized belief that women should be nice, accommodating, stay small and not upset anyone. When women disrupt, they challenge our world view. And when we feel threatened, we often attack. I think women disruptors are subject to way more scrutiny and negative backlash than their male counterparts.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

There have been many (like I think Lord of the Flies, Jonathan Livingston Seagull & The Handmaid’s Tale really impacted my thinking when I was young). But a book that has really impacted my thinking and life as of late is “When the Body Says No” by Gabor Maté. I suffer from chronic pain and this book just made me think about the connection between things like trauma, family relations, poor boundaries and physical health in whole new ways. It actually helped me realize the impact working in (what I believe is) a broken mental health care system was having on my health and inspired me to get out of it. It really helped me on my healing journey and in tuning into my own body more/listening to its cues, a practice which I use a lot now in coaching with my clients.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Self-Love. Hands down. If people loved themselves wholly, they wouldn’t feel the need to hurt others. Or be jealous. Or to try and control them. Hurt people, hurt people and it becomes so much easier to love others when we have love for ourselves. The world would be a better place.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Phew, that is tough. There are so many. I love Mae West’s quote, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough” (close contenders are “Comparison is the thief of joy”, and “what other people think of you is none of your business”). You have one life, how do you want to spend it? What do you want to experience? What difference do you want to make? These are the questions that guide me. The voice that drives my decisions. The reason I left that unhealthy relationship. The reason I left a job that was killing me. The reason I got on stage. The reason I do the work I do. The reason I keep pushing myself to face my fears. Because a life unlived, is the biggest waste of all.

As mentioned, I think losing my brother (and other people I love) has really solidified for me the importance of living your life fully. My brother was not here long, but he was so alive while he was.

This knowledge that nothing is promised, that at any time things could change, something or someone could be taken away from you, reminds me to live mindfully and fully.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can sign up for my newsletter, get in touch with me, work with me at www.olivevontopp.com

I’m also active on Instagram @olivevontopp

And less active on

Facebook, Tik Tok, Twitter, Youtube @olivevontopp

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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