Pinup articles, body love/hate, and pornography

Two national magazines have published articles about my Pinup Workshops and Photoshoots so far in 2008! Curve Magazine published an article chronicling the adventures of three staffers as they participate in a private workshop for their Jan/Feb issue.

A few days ago, a friend in an online social website sent me a message telling me that he’d read about me in the April issue of Skin&Ink Magazine. This was a little surprising to me, because I had originally expected the article to run in the March 2007 issue – a full year ago! You can read the article here (sorry, I don’t know how to make it into one PDF document): Page 1, 2, 3 and 4. It is a great article, I think. For some reason though, whether due to misquotes or changed ideas in the year and a half since I interviewed for this article, a couple of my quotes don’t really express my perspective on a couple of touchy subjects, so I’d like to expand and clarify what I think about two subjects mentioned: very thin fashion models and pornography.

First of all, I don’t think fashion models are personally responsible for the eating disorder epidemic that is taking place in the United States, accompanied by misogyny and body hating from both men and women. Fashion models have as little control over their genes and overall body type as the rest of us do, and they are under considerable pressure from their industry to maintain extremely low body weights in order to get work.

And THAT is where the problem comes from. The industry pressure. To be fair, the fashion industry has recently started making efforts to change this. In the last few years, some countries have banned models that they deem unhealthily underweight (read about it here), and Jean Paul Gaultier recently featured a plus size model, Velvet D’Amour on the runway in Paris. You can read a couple of opinions about Gaultier’s gesture here and here.

I’m not sure what Gaultier’s intention was or whether there will be any real changes in the fashion industry standards, and to be honest, I think that in recent years more of this body scrutiny and criticism has come from Hollywood and the tabloids than from Paris or Milan. Tabloid magazine headlines are constantly screaming about celebrity weight fluctuations – whether real or imagined – as if they are really national news. Actresses are constantly attacked and pressured, which makes them lose more and more weight to keep up with expectations, and then the women who read these magazines and hear these reports compare themselves with the supposedly “fat” actresses, and translate the criticism into self-hate. Enough already!

This is what I love about the modern burlesque resurgence, and one of the things I love most about the pinup movement as well. These communities are creating a space for women (and men!) to come together in all of their shapes, sizes, ages and races and be seen as sexy, powerful and beautiful! Pinup artists like Coop and Big Al celebrate voluptuous women. Women of all body types and ages come to my burlesque classes and pinup workshops, and start to feel good about their bodies. Not in a few months when they lose 15 pounds. Now. Just as they are. I have heard other burlesque performers talk about how participating in the burlesque scene has given them this confidence, too.

In a recent article, Margaret Cho discussed how burlesque has changed her views of her body:

Along with her identity as an Asian-America, Cho has struggled with her identity as a woman, particularly her personal struggles with eating disorders. As a young woman growing up in her family, Cho was susceptible to sexist messages that told her she had to be “small, petite, and skinny” to be beautiful. As a result, Cho developed a devastating eating disorder, and went through dramatic periods of anorexia and bulimia. After being told to lose weight while working on her television show All-American Girl, Cho starved herself for several weeks, eventually becoming hospitalized for kidney failure.

A breakthrough for Cho came when she saw burlesque being performed for the first time. “I was so amazed when I saw the performance. There were women with all different body types, ages, races, and you could tell they were so happy and comfortable with their bodies,” she said. “I was crying when I saw it, it really cured me.” For Cho, who performed burlesque on her tour “The Sensuous Woman,” burlesque was not about sexualizing herself as much as it was about emancipating her from the idea that her body is a prison. “We are so conditioned to a certain look that models have, and people think that’s the only kind of body that can be beautiful and sexual, and that’s not true, everybody has that ability.” Cho believed that performing burlesque allowed her to see that ability.

* * *

Another issue from the Skin and Ink article that I’d like to address is pornography and the degradation of women. I do not believe that all porn is degrading to women. Some is, some is great, and some I probably just don’t get, so I don’t like to make blanket statements about it. As Mae West said, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.”

I’ll wind this up with my favorite quote of all time regarding pornography:

“I don’t know what the definition of pornography is and nobody else does either. Pornography is somebody else’s erotica that you don’t like. People are interested in their own sexuality and they’ve always reflected it in their art. End of story.” – Erica Jong



Filed under Body Image, Burlesque, In Print, Personal, Pin-Up

12 responses to “Pinup articles, body love/hate, and pornography

  1. mynx

    I love it! Good to see the article finally came out. I’d nearly forgotten about it.

    Another great article, Betty. Especially in correcting your quotes about fashion and body issues. I can’t imagine you saying that, even back then. We may be missing some context there.

    I have to say that this post couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve been working on writing about my own personal body issues– having gained weight during my hiatus from performing. I’ll be posting that soon.


  2. Pingback: Must Read: Bombshell Betty on Body Issues | mynxadventures

  3. Fantastic, go Betty go!

  4. You quote Erica Jong as saying “Pornography is somebody else’s erotica that you don’t like,” but that’s exactly what pornography isn’t.

    Part of the legal definition of pornography is that it’s prurient in nature. In other words, if it gets you all hot and bothered, it *might* be pornography, but if you don’t, it definitely isn’t.

    I’ve always thought that before the right judge, a lawyer could argue, “This isn’t porn, this is *disgusting*, and there ain’t no law against disgusting.” But as a rule, judges don’t let the law interfere with their own ideas of right and wrong; they’d agree that it’s disgusting, not arousing, and convict the guy anyhow.

    (BTW, I’m one of those guys who thinks fat women are hot – and not just BBWs, but SSBBWs as well. Yes, skinny women can be sexy, if they have the right attitude; it’s just that they’ve got to work harder at it.)

    Response from Bombshell Betty: Honestly, I’m not very interested in the legal definition of pornography. The vagaries of the legal system are often illogical and have very little to do with the normal people they are in place to govern. It seems ridiculous to say that if I’m not turned on, it’s not porn. There is a lot of porn that doesn’t turn me on, and there are things that aren’t commonly considered porn that DO turn me on. So, I am much more interested in the common, social definition of pornography, which is, roughly “explicitly sexual content having little or no artistic merit.” It is the act of judging the content to have (or not have) artistic merit that sparks the debate about what is and isn’t porn. Who gets to decide artistic merit? In some cases, the government, yes. But in our lives and our relationship with erotic material? This is why I love Jong’s quote so much.

  5. Elizabeth

    Amen sister! I’m 39 and I’m more confident about my sexuality and femininity at 220 lbs than I was when I was in my late teens and early 20’s and only 180 lbs (I’m 6 ft so I carry a lot of weight in muscle because of my manual labor background for years in the family business).

    Until the Victorian age (see this very enlightening article on dieting only coming into fashion in the Victorian age:
    a skinny woman was a sign of poverty, sickness and reminders that famine was just a couple lousy crops away.

    And given the fashion of having a boyish figure in the 20’s, it seems to have been a lingering fashion (read, no curves and pre-pubescent) with rejuevination of the trend courtesy of Twiggy. At least there have been some timeless feminine icons that make men drool that we can still find inspiration: Mae West, Jane Russel & Marilyn Monroe.

    I must look into your pin-up class ASAP.

    Response from Bombshell Betty: Great points! It’s so true that ideal body types have shifted over the centuries. Curves were in when they were a sign of wealth. Now, being super thin means you can afford a personal trainer! Ha! There were hundreds of years in Europe where your attractiveness was directly judged by your hip-waist ratio, as created by extreme waist training. (mmm, corsets…)

    I was just having a great conversation with Mynx D’Meanor about this. I’ve gained 20-30 pounds in the last year and a half, and I’m feeling great! Mynxie has promised me a blog post about her recent weight gain and accompanying body issues as well.

  6. love love love..this… and thanks for not blaming the models….the ones in magazines are sooo photoshopped that they are hardly recognizable…and that really…isnt their fault!!! preaching self love over self hate seems like such an obvious thing…but …umm for whatever reason… the message doesnt get out enough

    Response from Bombshell Betty: You’re so right! I remember an interview with Isabella Rosselini where she talked about how people would come up to her and tell her that her sister was so beautiful! It does seem like body self-love should be so obvious, but it’s not very common at all. Yet.

  7. Wow. That was incredibly well written. You totally just summed up my feelings about porn. GET OUT OF MY HEAD WOMAN.

    Ha. Whew.

  8. Pingback: More on body love/hate « It’s a Bombshell’s World

  9. I’m a chick who digs fat chicks. I LOVED the pinup story in Curve (where I am also a Contributing Writer). I must say, my colleagues at the publication (none of whom I have ever met in person) looked fantastic, especially executive editor Diane Anderson-Minshall. That big sister totally rocked it as a bomshell!

  10. Sabrina Kilmer

    This was a wonderful blog. Thank you for clarifying, because it IS the industry. I struggled with Anorexia for a long long while and when I came to your class it really helped me move along with my recovery as far as confidence goes. So I thank you again, for the class. I’m curvy and that’s sexy!

  11. Ray

    Girls girls girls, I am from The Netherlands, Please note that more and more young girls weare tight clothes that do not hide any curves….. and we love it! Be yourself, be confidend and happy with who you are, and it shows! and that is what we man are looking for, twinkeling eyes, confidend steps….. and a woman that looks like a woman. We are not looking for “bones”.

  12. Valuable info. Fortunate me I found your site by chance, and I’m surprised why this twist of fate did not happened in advance! I bookmarked it.

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