Sunday, December 14th, 2008 • No Comments on So Blue Just Thinking About You
Bettie Page died last Thursday. She was 85. It’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t know who Bettie Page is, but even if there are people who don’t recognize the name they are sure to recognize the famous jet-black hair and coy smile. She was a beauty, but she was so much more. An icon for an era, reinvented for every generation. Searching Google images for “Bettie Page” brings up thousands of images related to Bettie—old black and white photographs of the real Bettie and posters from recent movies (though I didn’t enjoy The Notorious Bettie Page as much as I had hoped I would) and everything from tattoos to lingerie inspired by her image. Bettie is all over the internet over fifty years after she first graced the pages of the men’s magazines.
This comes from her online memorial:
Images of Bettie Page continue to inspire imitation by curious young girls who somehow – probably through the internet – discover this “Dark Angel” whose personality reflected the lethal combination of sweet apple pie, as well as dangerous forbidden fruit. Judging by the hundreds of millions of hits registered at her authorized website, the magnetic appeal of Bettie Page to young men, and women, appears to be timeless.
“Young women write me untold numbers of letters,” Page explained in 2005. “They look up to me. They thank me for helping them see how they can be themselves, or how they can reinvent themselves, assert themselves, lose their inhibitions, and come out of their shells. Of course just posing for pictures I never intended to do any part of that, but I am gratified to see that what I did so long ago has meant something to so many.”
Apparently what resonates with young women is how Page owned her own sexuality. Whether projecting innocence, or being completely wild and uninhibited, it seemed to be her choice, and either choice, wholesome or edgy, was fine with her, and she embraced them both. She was confident her audience did as well.
Every generation likes to think they invented sex, but one look at Bettie’s 1950s pinups leaves no doubt that sex—kinky, naughty, playful sex—was alive and well in grandma’s time. I first became aware of Bettie Page when I was in high school in the 80s. Years later, I mentioned her in a couple of papers I wrote during graduate school, placing her in the same category with other female icons such as Wonder Woman, the Vargas Girls and Rosie the Riveter. Of course, Bettie was a real person. Yet her image became larger-than-life. She was the “dark angel” to Marilyn’s Monroe’s “blonde angel.” The good girl gone bad—or the bad girl with a heart of gold. I like to think there’s a little bit of Bettie in me. (Maybe all women do?)
Bettie Page lived a long—and hopefully happy—life after she hung up her leopard print bikini, but it’s her youthful, sexy images that everyone will remember. I have no doubt the next generation will once again reinvent her image and Bettie’s smile will live on forever.