Pin-up art generally has a better rep than straight-up porn, but it's definitely supposed to be titillating. So is this a lady-friendly art form, or just another way for guys to drool over chicks?
That's the debate going on over at deviantART, where techgnotic writes that since the sixties and seventies, "pin-up art has greatly evolved not only from how idealized females are depicted, but also in that so many women themselves are now the artists creating pin-up art." Techgnotic adds,
Furthermore, the pin-up models themselves are no longer mute, anonymous "objects" for manipulation –- they have their own identities, websites and businesses based on how they choose to represent their female form.
When young men choose pin up totems of their preferred pop culture prey to adorn their man-caves these days, the "pin-up girl" ideal is more likely to be closer to Lara Croft or Gina Carano or the Kate Beckinsale character in "Underworld" or Milla Jovovich in "Resident Evil" than to some full bodied but otherwise expressionless model. Even the most macho men today seem to want their "dream girl" to be smart and tough and resourceful.
Some commenters agreed with Techgnotic's generally pro-pinup stance. Ink-and-Sugar wrote,
Pin up art is a big part of who I am, and is in part born from my love of airplanes as a kid. That classic nose art is such a wonderful representation of the genre. I don't believe there's anything wrong with anyone creating pin-up art, be it through photographs or paintings, so long as it's done tastefully and with respect. To me, appreciating the beauty of women is no more objectifying than appreciating the beauty of landscapes, wildlife, or automobiles. Clearly some people go beyond the innocence and tantalization of pin-up and veer off into porn territory, which is something else entirely. I think a lot of people would do well to understand that distinction.
Others weren't buying it. Ninjerina wrote,
"Pinup art" is not empowering, at least IMO. Its made with the intent to be a sexy lady for people to gawk at. T&A and legs. Never mind the persona behind it. Anything that takes a woman down to her body parts for sexualization aint empowering. Its only empowering depictions of what society expects a woman to look like. I think one thing that bothers me especially about modern pinup art is everyone is its massively photoshopped. At least back in the day photographs depicted woman as they actually were, other than maybe some camera tricks/touchups.
The empowering-versus-objectifying debate can be kind of a dead end (both tend to be in the eye of the beholder), but it is interesting to consider how pinups are different from other sexy pics of ladies. First of all, while most of the early pinup artists were men, a few were women — Lingerie Addict has a great rundown of lady pinup-ists through the ages. Today, pinup is an art form that's been reclaimed in a lot of ways by women. Says pinup and guru von Hottie,
I think modern pinup photos, by which I mean photos and models styled in the fashion of vintage cheesecake, is largely created by and for women. (I have no actual data on this, it's just my general impression). I think it's similar to the new burlesque movement, where women are re-claiming old forms of objectification and oppression and using them as tools for creative expression of femininity and empowerment. It's also tied to a general cultural nostalgia for low-tech forms that evoke carefree, simpler and more innocent times.
She adds that ladies might get different things from pinups than men do — to the extent that dudes are now into Lara Croft-style images, she says, "men are surrounding themselves with images of a woman who is acceptable to modern cultural norms — independent, capable and equal to her male counterpart." For women, though, the pinup may be a form of escape:
[W]omen, who in real life and the modern world are more like the Lara Croft pinups — kicking ass, having important jobs, running the home and the world — are creating fantasy images of themselves that have a more traditional female form (curvier), and seemingly no responsibility other than to match their underwear to their shoes. BUT, I think what the pinups evoke, and what is drawing women to this art form, is the pinups' easy and absolute confidence in herself and her femininity. In this current age, where a modern woman is expected to play so many roles and juggle so many different areas of responsibility, sometimes it's hard to know just what you're supposed to do and what kind of woman you're supposed to be. And so I think pinup creates a form of escapism for women, where in the moment they pose, they feel absolutely beautiful, they know exactly what they're doing, and they're using their femininity in a powerful way. Women are often objectified in circumstances where they have no control over how or why they are admired/objectified, and pinup provides a moment where they can turn and "take the reins" of their sexuality, present themselves as they would like to be seen, and wield a momentary control over how a man sees them.
Pinup painter Olivia de Berardinis agrees that today's pinups tend to convey a lady in all her sexual agency:
Most of my models use pinup is a form of art, self-expression. So what I am seeing today is a more assertive, powerful woman, more sexually aware. The look is different, the purpose used to be more of the "giving" now it's more of the "getting."
Even old-style, non-reclaimed pinups have some assets (sorry) that Maxim spreads don't — the models often wear interesting lingerie or other outfits, rather than the formulaic falling-off shirt/towel/bra of your typical lad-mag cover. What's more, the women in classic pinups seem to display a bigger vocabulary of expression than your average magazine cheesecake model. Look, here's a Vargas girl grinning and flashing a V for Victory. Here's one immersed in an intimate phone call. Here's one ready to eat you alive. Lingerie Addict has photos of Bettie Page by lady photographer Bunny Yeager — these show a model clearly engaging with the camera in a way that goes beyond today's standard-issue sexyface.
There's little point in judging what turns people on, and when terabytes of live-action porn are at everybody's fingertips, I doubt many are turning to pinups for actual JO material. Still, there's something to be said for an art form that offers an alternative to the most mainstream views of women's sexuality, especially one that's at least a little bit lady-directed. In a lot of magazine photos — even those aimed at women — it can be hard to see anything but the male gaze. But in some pinups, you can actually see the woman looking back.
Pin-Up: From Objectification to Empowerment [DeviantART]
Image by Jim Cooke, photos by Getty.