Bettie gets a lickin' from an unnamed model
Ah, geez. Bettie Page is dead.
What was it about her, anyway? I have a friend who’s so Page-oriented he even has a Bettie lookalike girlfriend. I know women who wear their hair in that Bettie-bangs cut … come to think of it, I know someone with a big Bettie Page tattoo on his back.
So what was it about this pinup girl, this bikini-clad temptress whose bondage-oriented photo sessions made her a household name nobody was allowed to mention? I think, in the end, it was her smile. Whether she was spanking or being spanked, clothed or naked, tied up or tying someone else up, Bettie Page smiled out at the world like everyone’s friend. It was an irresistable image, a wholesome slice of Americana topping all that cheesy sleaze.
Bettie Page was a secretary with a killer body who was spotted one day by a photographer. Before long, she was a popular model, working for a few years in the mainstream before someone came up with a novel idea: put a whip in her hand.
“I never thought it was shameful,” Bettie told Playboy in a 1998 interview. “I felt normal. It’s just that it was much better than pounding a typewriter eight hours a day, which gets monotonous.”
And being naked? “God approves of nudity. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they were naked as jaybirds.”
She changed the world, I would argue. Her photographs helped knock down the barriers of the paranoid 1950s, helping carve out a path that would lead to the 1960s and a sexual revolution that is still going on today. She herself was forced into seclusion after a congressional investigation was launched to probe her body of work, but the sexual torch was passed to new generations.
Bettie Page took a lot of heat, and still does. Her legacy will be argued about for years to come. I suspect there are feminists who embrace her and feminists who believe she set the cause back. I know there’s a whole conservative slice of middle America that’s still, 50 years later, shuddering at the thought of what those pictures showed. And yeah, the pictures were racy. But while they showed a lot of skin and a lot more, they also showed a woman in control of her own sexuality — something unusual for that time.
I can’t say I’m a Bettie Page fan. Not really my cup of tea, shall we say. But I respect what she accomplished. I think she was a real pioneer, a woman of power and influence whose true impact would not be felt for a long time — but once it was, it hit like the crack of a whip on skin.