Pinups, the intro

Background on pinups / pin-ups (I’ll use the two spellings interchangeably), in preparation for creating a Page on postings about them and (eventually) a new posting, on pinup-girl conventions carried over into, oh my, ads for premium men’s underwear. Stay tuned.

From Wikipedia:

A pin-up model (known as a pin-up girl for a female and less commonly male pin-up for a male) is a model whose mass-produced pictures see widespread appeal as part of popular culture. Pin-up models were variously glamour models, fashion models, or actresses. Pin-ups are intended for informal display, i.e. meant to be “pinned-up” on a wall, which is the basis for the etymology of the phrase. These pictures are also sometimes known as cheesecake photos. Cheesecake was an American slang word that became a publicly acceptable term for scantily-clad, semi-nude, or nude photos of women because pin-up was considered taboo in the early 20th century.

(#1) A classic pinup photo: Betty Grable in 1943

(#2) A classic pin-up artist: Alberto Vargas

The term pin-up may refer to drawings, paintings, and other illustrations as well as photographs … The term was first attested to in English in 1941 even though the practice is documented at least back to the 1890s. Pin-up images could be cut out of magazines or newspapers, or they could be on a postcard or lithograph. Such pictures often appear on walls, desks, or calendars. Posters of these types of images were mass-produced and became popular starting from the mid-20th century.

Male pin-ups (known as beefcake) were less common than their female counterparts throughout the 20th century, but they have always been around. In particular, pictures of popular male celebrities were targeted at women or girls; examples include James Dean and Jim Morrison.

(#3) Celebrity beefcake: Charlie Hunnam

(#4) Beefcake for the gay male gaze: photography by Bob Mizer from Physique Pictorial

Further in the Wikipedia entry, an essay on the history of the pin-up:

Beginning in the early 19th century, pin-up modeling had “theatrical origins”; burlesque performers and actresses sometimes used photographic advertisement as business cards to advertise shows. These promotion and business cards could often be found backstage in almost every theater’s green room, pinned-up or stuck into “frames of the looking-glasses, in the joints of the gas-burners, and sometimes lying on-top of the sacred cast-case itself.” “To understand both the complicated identity and the subversive nature of the 19th-century actress, one must also understand that the era’s views on women’s potential were inextricably tied to their sexuality, which in turn was tied to their level of visibility in the public sphere: regardless of race, class or background, it was generally assumed that the more public the woman, the more ‘public,’ or available, her sexuality”, according to historian Maria Elena Buszek. Being sexually fantasized, famous actresses in early-20th-century film were both drawn and photographed and put on posters to be sold for personal entertainment. Among the celebrities who were considered sex symbols, one of the most popular early pin-up girls was Betty Grable, whose poster was ubiquitous in the lockers of G.I.s during World War II.

In Europe, prior to the First World War, the likes of “Miss Fernande” (who some identify as Fernande Barrey), were arguably the world’s first pin-ups in the modern sense. Miss Fernande displayed ample cleavage and full frontal nudity, and her pictures were cherished by soldiers on both sides of the First World War conflict.

Other pin-ups were artwork depicting idealized versions of what some thought a particularly beautiful or attractive woman should look like. An early example of the latter type was the Gibson Girl, a representation of the New Woman drawn by Charles Dana Gibson. “Because the New Woman was symbolic of her new ideas about her sex, it was inevitable that she would also come to symbolize new ideas about sexuality.” Unlike the photographed actresses and dancers generations earlier, fantasy gave artists the freedom to draw women in many different ways. The 1932 Esquire “men’s” magazine featured many drawings and “girlie” cartoons but was most famous for its Vargas girls. Prior to World War II they were praised for their beauty and less focus was on their sexuality. However, during the war, the drawings transformed into women playing dress-up in military drag and drawn in seductive manners, like that of a child playing with a doll. The Vargas girls became so popular that from 1942–46, owing to a high volume of military demand, “9 million copies of the magazine – without adverts and free of charge – was sent to American troops stationed overseas and in domestic bases.” The Vargas Girls were adapted as nose art on many World War II bomber and fighter aircraft; Generally, they were considered inspiring, and not seen negatively, or as prostitutes, but mostly as inspiring female patriots that were helpful for good luck.

Among the other well-known artists specializing in the field were Earle K. Bergey, Enoch Bolles, Gil Elvgren, George Petty, Rolf Armstrong, Zoë Mozert, Duane Bryers and Art Frahm. Notable contemporary pin-up artists include Olivia De Berardinis, known for her pin-up art of Bettie Page and her pieces in Playboy.

Further notes. Pinups are photography and graphic art with erotic intent, but softcore; and the works are intended for informal display.

Two fundamental variables here have to do with the sex of the participants in the pinup scenario: who’s depicted; and who the intended audience is (whose gaze is relevant) — women for men (pinup girls / female pinups), the major genre; men for women (male pinups, with exaggerated masculinity to match the exaggerated femininity of female pinups), a minor genre; men for men (another variety of male pinups, again with exaggerated masculinity), another minor genre, not mentioned in the Wikipedia entry (no doubt there is a pinup genre of women for women, but I’m not familiar with it); and then there are plays on the pinup girl genre for various purposes — at least, in jokey queer versions (pinup boys, with gender-reversal play), and in playful allusions borrowing some of the pinup-boy conventions (including in some of the men’s underwear ads I post about).

No doubt the production of erotic visual material depicting women, created for the pleasure of men, is widespread, but most of the conventions described above are obviously quite culture-specific, and tied to particular times and places.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: