queer perspectives : the power of pin-up
Image via Flickr
What comes to your mind when you hear the term ‘pin-up girls?’ Do you think of objectification or old fashioned and out of dates values? Or do you think of a celebration of women, of the female form, of a time filled with glamour, femininity and a more simple life? For me it is the latter.
Since my late teens I have admired, emulated and been a little obsessed with the pin-up girls of the 1940s and 1950s. My love of vintage pin-up girls is inextricably linked to a passionate interest in the history, fashion and movies of the 1940s. It all began with a semester of Year 11 modern history devoted to World War II and its social, economic and political impacts. Of the many topics we covered, one in particular fascinated me and shaped my early feminist mind, that of women’s involvement and the changing roles of women. Women joined the armed forces, took on traditionally male jobs and had the opportunity to contemplate a career beyond being a housewife and mother. We studied the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter and all that it symbolised. She was a pin-up for feminist and working women, saying ‘we can do it!’ My interest in the lives and roles of women in the 1940’s soon extended to fashion, movies and music from the era. Inspired by the glamour of Hollywood leading ladies I wore a vintage styled black silk halter-neck gown to my high school formal. In this lovely gown I felt wonderfully unique amongst the late 1990s fashions.
I was in my second year of university when my fascination with the glamorous women of the 1940s, and their seductive sexuality, began to transform me. The pin-up girls, the femme fatales of hardboiled film noir movies, and the actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood embodied the woman I wanted to be. I copied their make-up (red lipstick, long eyelashes and flushed checks), coiffured hairstyles, long painted nails and glamorous/kitsch outfits. I practised poses, languid speech and confident, seductive personas in front of the mirror. I became more aware of my body and how clothes looked upon it. I discovered my female sexuality, the sexual ‘energy’ my body could convey and what effect this could have on others.
Although I wanted to be like a femme fatale, I was too shy, self conscious and sexually inexperienced to succeed at it. What resonated more with me and my personality was the subtle female sexuality of the pin-ups girls. There was something magically enthralling about these women. A combination of beauty, sophistication, self awareness, a subtle yet confident female sexuality and a touch of nostalgia and old fashioned femininity. I wanted to be a modern day version of a pin-up, exuding confidence, beauty and sensuality.
At first it was the airbrushed wartime beauties of Alberto Vargas (also know simply as Varga) that were my idols, filling my imagination and my bedroom walls. I poured over art books on Varga from the university library. I inadvertently shocked a mature aged student friend when she saw the cover of one of these books stating in big letters ‘introduction by Hugh Hefner!’ It wasn’t pornography. It was art and wonderful renditions of the female form. As the years passed, I discovered the works of other pin-up artists and the enthralling cheesecake, fetish and nude photos of the ‘Queen of Pin-up,’ Bettie Page. The buxom 1950s pin-ups of Gil Elvegren and the works of modern day pin-up artist Olivia De Berardinis featuring Bettie Page, Dita Von Teese and Playboy Playmates became my favourites.
As I began to realise my attraction to women at the age of twenty-five, I found myself desiring the beautiful pin-ups I had been admiring for years. I loved this artistic homage to the beauty of women, to the female form and to femininity/femaleness. Although I have conflicting opinions on the term ‘femininity,’ I am aware of my own femininity and it is an integral part of who I am as a woman. I don’t really identify as femme, but when I want to express both my sexual orientation and femininity I seek to emulate the style, clothes and female sexuality of the pin-up girls.
With all my admiring, emulating and desiring pin-up girls I harboured a dream of becoming a pin-up girl and having my own photo-shoot. Late last year this dream finally became a reality. In my next article I will describe the fabulously empowering experience of being a pin-up for a day.