Bettie Page, fifties pinup queen and sexual pioneer, passed away yesterday at the age of 85. She wasn’t as hugely popular as Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield or other sex symbols of her generation, but still managed to develop a huge cult-like following, despite giving up the business in 1959 to devote herself to God.
I’ve been a fan of Bettie since my early 20s. My admiration and devotion to her wasn’t as manic as what I felt for Marilyn in my teens. Perhaps it was because I was older and could better appreciate what Bettie stood for. Unlike Marilyn, Bettie represented a strong, potent female sexuality – unbridled, unabashed and fun. Looking at her cheesy pinup photos or bondage shots, it was clear she enjoyed her work and took great pride in it.
“I never thought it was shameful. I felt normal. It’s just that it was much better than pounding a typewriter eight hours a day, which gets monotonous.” – Bettie Page, Playboy interview, 1998
If Marilyn was the fragile, bruised child, Bettie was the aggressive, confident woman. Marilyn was the woman men wanted to take care of and protect. Page was the one they were slightly afraid of; she knew how to wield a riding crop.
I’ve always aspired to be a Bettie, rather than a Marilyn.
Celebrity deaths tend to attract a new group of followers, curious about this now-faded icon they are too young to remember. I hope a lot of these new admirers are young women who see in Bettie what they want to see in themselves – a confident woman, comfortable with her body. In this age where Barbie doll starlets with plastic breasts and body dysmorphia are held up as standards of attractiveness (hey Hollywood – since when is a size 2 “curvy”?), Bettie (and even Marilyn, for that matter) represents a time when an hourglass figure was something to be admired and drooled over.
Bettie, we’ll miss you. I think God’s view just got a whole lot better.