An Appraisal of Bettie Page’s sex appeal

Manohla Dargis explores the Bettie Page mystique in The New York Times:

Ms. Yeager’s photographs are more in the style of classic cheesecake than the images Ms. Page produced with the Klaws, which were made hastily, often at the rate of hundreds of photos a day. Ms. Yeager took a shot of Ms. Page wearing a wink and a Santa hat (that landed in Playboy), along with some embarrassing images of the model with a black man in face paint with a (ahem) spear. But she also took a series of vibrant beachfront shots of Ms. Page, including a candid image of her on a boat in nothing but a small smile, her profile to the camera. She’s entirely naked and so seemingly at ease in her own bare skin that the shot seems less like a professional opportunity and more like a private message.

To look at these photographs is to enter another world. I don’t think for a minute it was a more innocent world, but it was one in which sexualized images of women, even trussed up in rope, seemed somehow, well, charming. I’m sure there are plenty of women and some men who would disagree, saying that one generation’s erotica is another’s pornographic exploitation. But the sheer volume of images that wash over us now have blunted our sensibilities, I think, and made us less alive to the beauty, the poetry and the mysteries of the naked body. We are surrounded by visuals that are far more explicit than any Bettie Page pinup, images of oiled and sculptured flesh that promise the universe and deliver so little.


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