There are models, and then there was Bettie Page. What was it about the smiling girl with the pageboy that so captured the pop culture imagination? As the following pictures (some NSFW) show, a lot.
Few figures have amassed as wide-ranging a fanbase as this former secretary from Nashville. From the men who objectified her to the later generations of feminists, gay men and stylemakers who have embraced her as an icon, hers is a unique appeal.
First and perhaps foremost, Bettie was a natural model. She had a natural, wholesome beauty, but was also preternaturally photogenic. Says Mary Harron, director of The Notorious Bettie Page biopic, in an interview with Susie Bright, "she knew just how to position her face and body for the camera. More importantly,
she was so relaxed."
What people often talk about is the contradiction inherent in Bettie's pictures. Says Harron, "her sunny smiles and cheesecake poses are at variance with the pictures' supposed message of dark S&M. She was the first person to do bondage as fashion, because for her it really was all about dressing up."
Apparently, Bettie was a mystery even to those who knew her; people rarely knew her well. Says Harron, "Even her first husband, Billy Neal, found her a mystery. That suggests to me that she had sealed herself off: there was something blank and inaccessible about her." Like many so-called icons, Bettie could be many things to many people: instantly recognizable, but still a canvas for projection.
Perhaps more than anything, people are drawn to Page's comfort with her own body - a comfort with nudity that stripped her pictures of anything sordid, even at their tawdriest. She displayed a pride in her body unusual for the times, a sense that it was something to be celebrated. It's this, as much as her treatment of bondage themes, which is often cited as culturally important in ushering in the sexual revolution.
Interview: The Bettie Page Story [Susie Bright]