Note: I told a friend I was going to post this awhile ago, and he didn’t even know who Bettie Page is. I guess there are a few of you out there who aren’t hip to the rockabilly world and vintage pinup girls and roller derby revivals and such. So I thought I would take a moment to educate a little bit. Please be advised that this blog will not hold back on certain kinds of information and that if I had to give it a rating, it would be a solid R for strong sexual content and references to all kinds of crap. Read at your own risk.
As some people reading this may have heard by now, Bettie Page, the pinup girl of the 50s, passed away last month. What you may not know is that she claimed to be a Christian, and had a “religious epiphany” in her late 30s and turned from her modelling career. But even with her association with Billy Graham and missionary organizations, she licensed her name and image to bring new life to the classic pinup models in more recent years, and is probably more popular today throughout the world than she ever was in her prime, thanks to the internet and all the retro craze that seems to be all hip with the kids. if you see a girl with heavy bangs and black hair, you can thank bettie page for the style.
what interests me most about her is that she has been quoted as saying she saw nothing wrong with what she did (posing nude and suggestively, including whips and gasp! corsets!) she was unashamed of her body and didn’t really see the connection between it and (whisper) sex. as I said,… interesting.
without falling into r-rated territory, i will say that as a christian single woman in my mid 30s, I have struggled with sex issues for a very long time. When the show Sex and the City came out, I alternated between laughing at every single episode and crying my eyes out over the guilt and torture of my soul for the life I had been leading. there aren’t a lot of books or people out there who can really speak in any significant way to Christian single 30-somethings who are not virgins and can’t really forgive themselves for it. (although in some ways, it’s not a matter of forgiving yourself. As a friend of mine put it, it’s more about claiming the grace of God in your life and moving on from it. to leave the past as the past, to walk on.) I know I am supposed to write that book, but it will have to wait until I finish the “other” book as my mom said, hopefully sometime in her lifetime.
In the meantime, I read stories like Ms. Page’s and I think about how there is so much more to a woman than what you can fit on a poster. Her story is one not without struggles and insecurities. She was married and divorced a few times and had no children. She had been gang raped as a young adult, and survived the terrible experience only to find herself succumbing througout her life to depression and schizophrenia. She also dove headfirst into darker territory, including pornography and hardcore S&M. Years later she would distance herself from this somewhat and even tried to become a missionary. You know what stopped her? She was rejected by the board because she was DIVORCED!!! that’s just kinda crazy really, but whatever. (I had promised a loyal reader that I would not bash Christians any more for awhile, but now that it’s 2009, all bets are off, baby!)
Toward the end of her life, Ms. Page had become a recluse and had nervous breakdowns multiple times. By the end of her days, she was camera shy and paranoid. The “official” biography is set to come out in 2009 so I’d imagine that some more information on her will be released in that and in the near future. She was a fascinating woman to say the least.
Anyway, I truly believe that God welcomed Bettie with open arms with all the Grace and Mercy He showers on us all. may she rest in peace.
The question of female sexuality makes me ponderous. There are some who would like to draw straight lines from trauma (such as molestation, rape, incest, etc) to rebellion (for example, sleeping around or giving sexual favors to get attention) to exhibitionism or outright deviance (stripping, prostitution, pornography). There have been studies done to show that there is a distinct correlation between women in the industry in any form and such traumatic incidents, but can that alone identify potential future “deviant” behaviors? There are plenty of women who have such things happen to them who never travel down that path, and there are those who do all those things good girls don’t do who weren’t molested or raped or otherwise sexually attacked. Aren’t there???
So where ARE the numbers indicating either conclusion? I’ll tell you where. In the same place that explains the reason for the Big Bang, the origin of the Abominable Snowman, and the reason people eat cotton candy – namely, Conjecture Land. There will never be any solid numbers because such traumas go largely unreported and denied altogether. A conclusion you could logically draw is that those women who become strippers and prostitutes and such are the ones most likely to admit to their past demons and closet skeletons, and have reached a resting place, of sorts, with them. Or at least they are using their current occupations (and preoccupations) to work out these issues for themselves. A stepping stone to empowerment and “wholeness” if you will.
One of the main reasons I embarked on writing this series of blogs was to help those who have lived fairly sheltered lives begin to glimpse a true picture of those of us who have been on the other side. For many of the religious right, the lines of sexuality and promiscuity are clear as the nose on their faces (usually in the stuck up positions) and there is no room for error in their calculations of purity.
But where does that leave the rest of us? Where does that leave the Bettie Page’s of the world who were so obviously crying out for appreciation and compassion?
I cannot help but think of Jesus Christ Himself. Of all the stories that could have been told through His lifetime (and there had to be a zillion at least) the Gospels are clear on at least one encounter with a woman of ill repute. So why her? Was it so we Christians centuries later can again, stick our noses up and say, what a despicable woman! Look, how great Jesus is that He cared for even one like her?
Well, yes. In some ways, sure. That’s exactly the point. But more than that, I believe, He puts her sins on the same level and makes clear she is no worse of a sinner than all the self-righteous “god-fearing” men surrounding her with stones in their hands. We are forced again and again to look within, to see the depth any of us can fall. Only to realize it is not so deep for Him to see us clearly and love us all the same.
So there is comfort for people like me in Bettie Page. Not that I’ll run out and buy all her paraphernalia, of which there is plenty, mind you. But I do come across her image now and then and smile wide. I can imagine Jesus having dinner with her right now, and maybe she is wiping His feet with her gorgeous black hair.
And there is salvation for people like me in Bettie Page, in the here and now. A constant reminder of places I’ve been and actions I’ve taken. I look back now and could weep, and have done so, in the reality of it all. But I look at someone like her and what she’s been through, and I thank God that I am farther along, that I have faced my demons and continue to do so, in a healing way. And I know deep in my soul that everything I have experienced so far in this life completes the whole puzzle of me and I embrace it fully. I have to. It is me, and makes me the woman I am right now typing this blog. Grammatical errors and all.
Here is the least “offensive” picture I could find… you can do a google image search if you want, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. She got fairly hardcore for the times.