Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pin Ups and Flappers

I am a huge fan of the pin up girl. I have one tattooed on my left thigh and our 2012 calendar was Gil Elvgrin, one of the more famous pin up artists of the early 1900's. I love their confident smiles and their gorgeous outfits and the way there is overt sexuality, and always just shy of risque. They were scandalous in their time but with a society now that wants more and more exposure and the illusion of a naked body isn't enough, I find the pin up girl lovely and refreshing.

She is gorgeous, obviously. Posed and preening, of course. These aren't Olan Mills photographs with the faux library shelves in the background. She is the image of female beauty not hiding demurely behind anything but in your face and daring you to look away. You can't, she is beautiful. But she is always alone. I'm sure there are variations of pin up photography that have men in them, taking her sexuality and femininity from something she owns to something she is giving away. Her heels and lipstick now something that someone else would like.

But the classic pin up is just her. Maybe a breeze catching her skirt or a wave pulling down her top. But its all about her. Confidently owning the body of a woman and daring you not to at least look twice.

It isn't about size or color or pose. These women were doing exactly as they pleased. Challenging the societal idea of hiding women away behind corsets or floor length skirts or parasols.

Their older sisters were the flappers. Marvelous women who simply did what they wanted. Smoke in public, dance the night away, take lovers. They wore shorter skirts, makeup, feathers in their hair, and drove men crazy. I would argue the most appealing thing about the flapper was not the exposed skin or brawdy behavior, but the attitude that told the world that they could ask for what they wanted. And because they became a culture, the word spread. And introduced the "radical idea that women are people". (Rebecca West)

I have been thinking about this idea since reading the blog post about what feminism is by Jezebel blogger Lindy West. Thinking about what I want to tell Purslane about what being a woman does and does not mean. The things worth fighting for and the things she should not waste her time on. But more than that, I have been thinking about my own view of womanhood. After all, how I carry myself as a woman will speak more to her about what I believe than any theory will. Am I a feminist? I don't think I know what that means anymore.

 I do know that when I think about what it means to view women as people I don't think about what we look like near as much as I think about how we act. So what will I tell my daughter as she grows up in a culture that is sure to be even more demanding of how women are to look and act then it is now?

I will tell Pursy that she is loved deeply and without reservation by her Dad and I. I will tell her that no one can make her feel any way about herself without her permission. I will tell her that she owes no one anything and is responsible for everyone who has not been given as much. That being a woman means noticing when her strength is needed to pick up someone weaker. When her courage is needed to make a wrong into something right. When her humor can bring healing to something unfixable. And she can be whoever she wants and know I could not be more proud of her.

I pray over her every night that she will know she is loved by God and she is lovely because He loves her. Her worth is tied to nothing other than that.

The flapper and the pin up girl had something to teach us if we can get past the lingering idea that they were just all about sex. These girls were colorful and beautiful and unafraid of a society that tried to define them. They were shamed and labeled and denied things the other girls who played by the rules were given. If Pursy chooses to move with the rhythm of her culture and let herself be defined by their ideas, there are many fabulous women who have used that smoother path to make a great impact. But if she chooses to be a modern day flapper, I will be right there handing her pearls and telling all the critics to watch out.

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