Bettie page, the poster girl for pin up, the model of the 50s. She was an icon, first appearing in men’s magazines and later becoming a role model to the women around her, Exuding confidence and femininity. Page was praised for her modeling career and her unapologetic sexuality, but that is not to be said without also mentioning her struggles growing up and even far into her adulthood. The media has created a place for page to be remembered and idolized, even though she passed in 2008. During the 50’s and even still today, Bettie page challenged sexual norms, taught women how to embrace their sensual femininity and curves, as well as influencing so many other forms or pop culture.
“No one said she was an outstandingly beautiful child – that came later.” ( Essex, 17) Betty Mae page was born April 22nd 1923. The second addition to the page family, contributing to 6 siblings in total. Page was a docile girl, obedient and naive. In her early years she was poor, staying with relatives and even in an orphanage with her 2 sisters. Roy page, Bettie’s father although present did not prove to be the brilliant father figure all girls need. In The Life of a Pinup Legend, page says, “‘ my father was a womanizer. He could never get enough of woman and enough of sex.’” (17) her father often cheated on page’s mother and eventually began grooming bettie for sexual favors at the age of 13.
High School was a turning point, page began taking a serious interest in her education, “Determined to win the full scholarship to vanderbilt university that was awarded to the class valedictorian, she threw herself into both scholastics and extracurriculars.” (Essex, 29) page was devoted to her school work, and although she did not become valedictorian, due to receiving a B in her art class she was awarded the opportunity to give the opening speech at her graduation, as the salutatorian. Page went on to go to college at Peabody, there she met her first boyfriend Billy Neal. In 1943 they got married.
Bettie page got her first modeling gig in the newspaper, “ One day a visitor introduced himself as Art Grayson, president of Hollywood Commercial Motion Pictures, and asked her if she’d like to model for local newspaper ads.” (Essex, 42) Nothing special came out of this though, leaving bettie feeling hopeless. Until she decided to enter into a modeling competition, where she got her first official job with Geary Furries, modeling coats. Soon after, Neal came home, bettie was not looking forward to seeing him and even admitted that she had fallen in love with a sailor Bob Mulligan. Page went on to live with Neal at his parents house, but they never got a long. At one point she was even pregnant and Neal refused to believe the child was his, bettie later miscarried. “In 1947, deeply depressed about repeating the patterns of her parents’ failed marriage, she left nashville.” (Essex, 47) leaving everything behind to start anew.
Her time in miami and new york were short lived, returning to her abusive relationship with her Husband Neal. Eventually, she filed for divorce, moving back to New York. Then later to washington D.C after a failed relationship with another man. But, in the year of 1950 Page met the man that would make her a legend, Jerry Tibbs. Pages popularity skyrocketed from there, working for various camera clubs. During a party page was encouraged to take some drinks and ended up posing nude. “Later the police confiscated the photos when one of the men tried to sell them.” (Essex, 76) the Officer questioned page, calling the nude photos pornographic, despite containing no sexual intercourse. Bettie continued to do photoshoots scantily clad in bikinis or nothing at all.
“ In late 1951 or early 1952… bettie began modeling for Irving Klaw, New York’s pin-up and bondage king.” (Essex, 143) Page soon began her career of fetish photography. Even more scandalous than before, making her mark on the sexualy repressive 50’s. Page continued to model for the klaws until the end of her career in 1957. Betties era would soon end after being linked to the death of a 17 year old boy. “His Father found his body, tied up coincidentally in much the same position as one of bettie’s pictures.” (Essex, 216) Page and klaw were both brought in for questioning. Klaw plead the 5th on all questions and refused say anything about the supposed “lewd” material, Bettie did the same. Due to the controversy Klaw discontinued his Pin-up business, leaving bettie without work.
After her modeling career bettie lived in solitude, becoming very reserved and vanishing completely from the public. She went on to get married again and and then divorced. Page suffered from serious mental illness in her later years, serving some time in a penitentiary. Bettie lived until the age of 85, dying in Los Angeles after a heart attack. Her legacy continued to live on and grow far after her modeling days ended and even still after her death in 2008.
Page set the stage for the sexual revolution of the 60’s and this is not to be said lightly. In the forward written by bettie page, in Life Of a Pinup Legend, she says, “ I was not trying to be shocking, or to be a pioneer. I wasn’t trying to change society, or to be ahead of my time.” (8) but that’s just it, she did all these things without even trying! She embraced sexuality in a way that showed pride instead of shame. Bettie lived during a sexually repressive era, but she never let it hinder her spirit. “‘By identifying with her, women are able to access a sense of sexual confidence and the freedom to express it.’” (Rodriguez) page shed a new light on sexuallity during her time, she showed other woman that it was ok to be proud of their bodies and not be afraid of their sexuality.
This photo is only one of 1,000 photos taken by bunny yeager. Photos of this nature would be considered mild by today’s standards, but back in the 50’s these were over the top scandalous. Then around 1952, when modeling for Irving Klaw, bettie did many bondage and fetish shoots, causing major outrage and controversy. The photos were considered pornographic and had to be sold illegally. After the court case against Irving Klaw, bettie quite modeling and became a recluse. But it was not all in vain, the controversy surrounding bettie’s modeling career and the fetish photos she took, made people rethink their stance on the subject matter, it got people talking about what was important, paving the way to a sexual revolution.
The pinup stars femininity and curves changed the way the world viewed the female physique and helped other woman find self-confidence. During her modeling career Page showed of her voluptuous body with pride. She helped bring about a change of the ideal body type. In an article, written by CNN it says, “ The rise of the 1920s flapper reflected this shift toward the Western world desiring a more slim physique.” (The History of the ‘Ideal’ Woman and Where That Has Left Us) during the 20’s and into the 30’s slim boyish figures were the most sought after. For many women this caused serious eating disorders, as mentioned in the article above. Only during the 40’s and 50’s did things change. We saw many more models with fuller hips and big busts, Bettie Page being one of the most popular.
Bettie had curves for day and she had no shame in showing them off. She often posed semi and even fully nude for her photoshoots. In the photo above Bettie exudes confidence and sensuality, while still appearing feminine and innocent in a way. She was an example for other ladies; confidence and femininity could go hand in hand and in fact worked marvelously together. But pages fantastic body was not the only thing that helped women gain their own confidence.
The girls and women that idolized Bettie were often drawn in by her looks, but admired her for her attitude and accomplishments. In one article angelica luna said, “‘She just had a darkness to her that I’d never seen before in a celeb or pinup from the past’” (Rodriguez) For many woman bettie was a rockstar and a feminist icon, they saw her as a strong confident queen that they could look up to. She was the courage and defiance that hid within every woman’s heart. Along with Bettie’s confident demeanor came great accomplishments as a person. “Page wasn’t only a model but an artist; she styled her own hair and makeup for shoots, and handmade most of the clothes and bikinis she wore when modeling.” (Rodriguez) Page was an extremely talented and bright young lady, she was more than just a pretty face. This fact helped other woman realize that they could be just as badass as page; a triple threat, pretty, talented and smart. Though Bettie’s popularity skyrocketed due to her unique looks, her confidence and efforts in life were highly admired.
During and after her career, page had a major influence in pop culture. Many artists used betties image to create fantastical pieces of their own. “ While many painters, sculptures, photographers, and comic continued to celebrate her image, Blue, Stevens and Olivia explore strikingly different aspects of her enduring appeal.” (Essex, 239) Robert Blue had found bettie at a young age and knew the moment that he say her she was his muse. He wanted to create paintings of her that explained and exhibited her free spirit and sexuality. Dave Stevens was another artist greatly inspired by bettie after finding her in a men’s magazine as a teen. He was invited to a comic press to work on filler pages, but ended up quitting soon after and secluding himself. Not to long after he began forming a new idea for the comic press. “He returned to the studio and drew quickly, scripting the story and calling it The Rocketeer. He immortalized Bettie as the hero’s girlfriend…”(Essex, 249) Stevens say Bettie as a bold and empowering woman, a girl who came alive for the camera and radiated joy, trumping all other models of the time. Oliva was a fetish and erotica model and who better a muse than bettie. “ An endless supply of perfectly proportioned female flesh. Yet she continues to put paintings of a 1950’s icon on the covers of her yearly calendars and her greetings cards.”(Essex, 253) to olivia Page was more than just a model she was the original, she was a natural. Even going as far to say that modern day models have all the resources right at their fingers, when bettie had no role models. Page was a huge inspiration the artists and made her break through as a pop culture icon after her career had ended.
Most notably was pages huge influence on the fashion industry back then and even now today. “In the 1990’s fashion magazines from around the world — including France, Germany, Spain, Italy and England — published look-alike tributes that credited bettie page for defining her era, for reviving the pin-up style in fashion and even inspiring the “Pulp Fiction” look.” (Essex, 261) Page was renowned worldwide for her style and fashion sense, fabricating the iconic pin-up trend. In The Life of a Pin-up Legend, the fashion designer Chantal Thomas says, “‘ The pin-up look is popular again because people need beauty. Now all the models are are very sexy… we can have both. We can be business women and also seductive women. That’s why Bettie Page will never go out of style.’”(264) an actor, Debi Mazar says, “‘ The girl could pose! She was ahead of her time and wasn’t afraid of her sexuality.’” (267) Bettie was revolutionary, praised for her impeccable fashion sense, her ability to be natural and and fantastic in front of the camera her unabashed sexuality. These were all things that gained her the popularity she has now in the fashion industry. She is and will continue to remain a pop culture icon.
Page was ahead of her time without even trying, she was a natural at what she did and exacerbated joy and confidence. She started as a playmate, but moved her way up as a model expressing her free spirit and sexuality as she please. Leading up to her as a role model for other woman of her time looking for their own confidence. Page continues to live on as an icon and role model to woman and teens today. Despite her hardships in life her modeling career was a great accomplishment for both her and the society that would come after and look back and dote on her. Bettie page set the stage for the sexual revolution of the 60’s, helped woman find their own confidence and had a major impact on popular culture.