Stripper Mom Sheila Hageman's Addiction Began With Dad's Porn Chest

PHOTO: Sheila Hageman of Stratford, Conn., tackles motherhood now that she has left stripping.
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Kyrie [Eleison] is Greek for "Lord Have Mercy," and it was the name Sheila Hageman took when she abandoned any notion of going to college and became a stripper at the age of 18.

For seven years, Hageman had a split identity: the good girl who appeared in local theater productions, and the naughty one who writhed before men in dark and dingy strip clubs.

"Through my teen years, everyone knew me as a sweet girl, smart, a writer -- and there was part of me creating this other side," said the Connecticut author. "It was a place where I could hide everything I hated about myself -- all in a detached way."

She became obsessed with her body image, becoming nearly anorexic as a teen, then turned to stripping.

Today, Hageman, 40, is the mother of three children, but she is unapologetic.

In her new memoir, "Stripping Down," she writes that the mistakes she made along the journey to self-discovery may have ultimately made her a better parent.

Hageman's book, like her life, doesn't follow a straight path, but weaves between her stripper days, her mother's death from breast cancer and, finally, her role as mother of three children, now 7, 3 and 18 months old.

Hageman believes her obsession with her body began at the age of 12, just after her parents' divorce, when she stumbled across a trunk-full of her father's pornography hidden in a chest in their Connecticut basement.

Women in erotic poses gave her the first glimpses of what a woman could do with her body and how it could please men.

"I think a lot had to do with my age," she said. "I was a scrawny little kid who was confused and depressed and had gotten forgotten in the divorce mess. I hooked on to some role -- some image that seemed to promise something."

She kept returning to the porn and to images of women she tried to emulate.

"I was coming into my sexuality and, instead, I split off and didn't integrate," she said. "I saw it as a separate self."

When Hageman was about 13, she did some modeling and her body-image issues escalated. She became borderline anorexic, wanting to be "perfect and beautiful."

"Although deep down I knew there were more important things than my looks, I got caught up in wanting and needing to be the prettiest, the best," she said. "I thought that would bring me the love I longed for."

Nowhere was her lean figure more appreciated than at the strip clubs where she was known as Kyrie [pronounced like Perrier].

After graduation from high school, much to her mother's disapproval, Hageman decided to pursue acting, where she could create a new life for herself. Stripping provided her with the cash to pursue her dream.

Her first gig, while Hageman was still living at home, was at The Hideaway, a club tucked away in an industrial park off Interstate 95. There, she earned $32 for just a half hour's work.

"So, as a naive 18-year-old, I stepped onto a stage and took my clothes off," she said. "I did it for years, reminding myself that I was only playing a part -- that just because I worked as an exotic dancer, that didn't 'make' me an exotic dancer."

But every once in awhile she would scribble down notes as she noticed the sexual world around her.

"I knew there would come a point in my life when I would have escaped the dingy changing rooms to a better life," she said, "a life where I could flesh out my story."

By the time she was 21, she had been stripping for three years to support a move to New York City for her acting career. A few weeks before her birthday, not even legally old enough to drink, she married Tim.

Hageman cheated on her new husband while on the road touring and they separated after two years.

"I loved him deeply," she said. "But I was too busy acting out my inner demons through my sexuality to remain faithful."

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