Through her titillating photoshoots, Bettie Page showed a pious and restrictive mid-century society how fun and freeing a woman’s sexuality could be.
When it comes to pinup models, Bettie Page is one — if not the pioneer of the industry. As these Bettie Page photos show, the historic model was renowned as much for her scintillating black hair and rebellious spirit as she was for her ability to tell a story wordlessly.
Indeed, many photographers noted how Page could communicate through a photograph with just her eyes or a pose. From simple bikini shots to fully nude and bondage role-play photoshoots, the way she brought pinups to life is the essence of her popularity.
Even now, 70 years later, Bettie Page still shines as a frontrunner among pinup models and an usher to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and '70s.
How Bettie Page Become A Pinup Icon
Throughout the early 1930s and '40s, Bettie Page tried to live a humble life. After a short stint of school teaching and a brief marriage that ended in 1947, Page moved to New York to pursue a career in acting and modeling.
While visiting Coney Island one day, Page fatefully met a photographer who asked her to model for his camera club. She accepted the invitation, and the rest — as they say — is history.
When the photographer suggested she try wearing bangs, Page agreed and went home and cut them herself. The trademark of her iconic look was born.
By 1951, Page had joined up with premiere fetish photographer Irving Klaw, who made her into the first famous bondage model. Klaw also featured her in 8 mm short films requested by his clientele. Page enjoyed the work, but she resented being pigeon-holed as a fetish model.
"They keep referring to me in the magazines and newspapers and everywhere else as the 'Queen of Bondage,'" Page once said. "I never had any inkling along that line. I don't really disapprove of it. I think you can do your own thing as long as you're not hurting anybody else — that's been my philosophy ever since I was a little girl."
In 1954, during a vacation in Miami, Page met photographer Bunny Yeager, who invited Page for a photoshoot at the wildlife park Africa USA in Boca Raton. The photos that resulted from the "Jungle Bettie" shoot are among her most popular, as Page is featured alongside a pair of cheetahs in a leopard-skin outfit or in the nude.
Page designed her leopard-print jungle outfit for this shoot herself, as well as a lot of her other lingerie. Although she did often pose nude, she never appeared in anything with explicit sexual content.
An Icon's Unexpected Retirement
Page didn't begin her modeling career until she was 27, and people tended to assume that she was younger than she was. For several years, writers quoted her age as 22. By the time she was 34, Page was already starting to feel like the market was saturated with Bettie Page photos.
Between growing older and a scandalous court case involving the effects of pornography on youths, Page thought it best to step away from the spotlight. Her six-year career as one of the top pinup models ever was over. She all but disappeared from the public eye completely.
That isn't to say her pictures fell out of favor. In fact, Page has had several resurgences in popularity as new generations discover the sensual perfection that was her body of work. She's spawned more copycats than perhaps any pinup model of all time.
The instantly recognizable pinup had some troubles with mental illness and the law in her later years. However, she always wanted to be remembered in her prime; as in these enticing Bettie Page photos.