I am I the only who feels sad whenever I see Bettie Page? Or any of the myriad of crap that bears her likeness?
I’m not sure how she became an icon for feminists reclaiming their sexual power. I guess because she’s strongly built, has a hearty smile and is usually holding a whip. But seriously, have you read about her life?
|No Slut Walks in Bettie’s day…just sluts.|
First off, any woman of the pre-sexual revolution-era who did erotica and pornography makes me a little sad. Because…it’s not like Suicide Girls and Slut Walks back then. If you went down that path, it was most likely because you were in a bad way. Because you were hurt, or lost. Exhibit A, Page was brought up in poverty, being raped by her father, and spent years in an orphanage after he went to prison. Her mom worked two jobs and wasn’t around.
She went to college on a scholarship! But she wanted to be an actress. So she started modeling for “camera clubs,” which were the 1950’s way of getting around pornography laws. They were “art photos” taken by drooling pervs. We like to think she did it because she was large and in charge of her sexuality. Not because she was desperate or had trouble with her self-worth.
And then came the career we all associate with her. But seriously…I don’t think she liked it so much. She renounced it all in 1959 and became a born-again Christian. She tried to become a missionary to Africa and began working with Billy Graham. As if she was trying to distance herself as far as possible from that old life. Like she wasn’t at all proud of it.
|Pretty Christian Bettie|
But Christianity didn’t really “save” her, either. By 1970 she had a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed schizophrenic. She was alone, in and out of mental institutions, and had violent altercations. She was also broke, having no royalties from her legion of work, which for some reason was mostly in the public domain.
|Arrested for assault, but found not guilty by reason of insanity.|
In the 90’s everyone started idolizing and fetishizing her; her image was just perfectly spicy retro and pro-sex (that great smile again). This was belated news to Bettie, as she had become a recluse. She was nudged out of isolation and paraded around a bit, although she didn’t like to be seen because, of course, her value was in her appearance, and it had changed.
She only managed to get royalties for a few years before her death in 2008. Now her estate is one of the top posthumous earners. Yay.
Bettie Page. Every time I see another cheeky retro cigarette case with her posed on it, I just can’t think sex or sass. I just think, abuse, exploitation, regret. I want to put a blanket around her shoulders and give her some warm soup.
Even though she helped inspire something strong, I’m not sure she chose to. Doesn’t that undo it, just a little?