I Spent A Day As A Pin-Up Girl And I Feel So Much Better About Myself

I'm sure that in previous lifetime I was dancing in an all-night contest with a sailor on leave in New York, in a dance hall, wearing wedge heels, garters, and that swingy red dress.
Publish date:
June 11, 2013
40s, confidence, pin up, photo shoot

I remember the moment I saw the Vanity Fair cover photo of Tina Fey as an All-American Pin-Up girl. It was stunning, gorgeous, and spoke to the part of me that has always wanted to wear my hair rolled back in a retro ‘do, snappy garter belts peeking from underneath a swingy red dress.

So, when my best friend presented me with a birthday Groupon for “one Pin-Up Girl photo session” I flipped.

“We’re doing it!” she said. “You have six weeks. Get ready!” After a month or so of Zumba and sculpt classes, I felt good enough to strip down to my skivvies in front of a photographer (and his lens).

It was seriously one of the best days of my life.

There’s a part of me that has always been fascinated by the forties (and fifties) -- the hats, the dresses, the gloves! But, it’s not just fashion and style that dazzle. It’s a spirit, a vibe: there is just something about the era that inspires me. I'm sure that in previous lifetime I was dancing in an all-night contest with a sailor on leave in New York, in a dance hall, wearing wedge heels, garters, and that swingy red dress.

It’s the music, too. Glenn Miller, Louis Prima--I dare you to put on a recording of “Sing Sing Sing” and succumb to a bad mood. “In the Mood” is another great one. Put on the soundtrack to Swingkids and I dare you to mope.

Over the phone, the photographer was sure to differentiate between a Pin Up and a Boudoir photo shoot. (Pin-Up: think public. Boudoir: think private). The Pin Up shoot is meant to capture the kind of kitschy, wholesome brand of sexy that is characteristic of the era. Sure, it’s sexy, but it’s sexy with a wink.

Maybe it’s that wink, the humor and whimsy of the famous Vargas Girl or Elvgren paintings, that gave me the confidence and self-permission to do it. (Personally, I can claim the trait “funny” much more easily that I can claim the trait “sexy.”)

Often in Pin-Up artwork, the artist and subject use a kind of “oopsie!” response and reason to expose the flesh. It’s accidental or humorous, coy and playful, like the one with the subject on top of the table, fearing the toy alligator beneath; a woman quickly putting out a fire using her skirt to fan away the puff of smoke. Others feature a falling phone book, a mischievous dog playing with yarn, or a gust of wind that accidentally lifts a bit of skirt.

My best friend, Debra, and I started by Googling all things Pin-Up, and chose a few paintings to inspire us. Then, we got busy, tearing through our closets and through thrift stores in search of retro looking garb.

The night before the shoot, we made Cosmos and tried on zillion combinations of lingerie, dresses, exchanging scenario and theme ideas. My favorite moment was when we both realized that Debra had the matching garter belt to a pink and black bra and panty set of mine. The store had run out of them when I bought them the year before. What are the odds?

We arrived at the studio with big bags of clothing options. The photographer introduced himself and made us completely at ease. Hair and make-up ladies whisked us away, transforming us completely while we noshed on fruit, cheese and champagne.

In my curlers while others fussed over me, I wonder, Is this the life of a model (uh…minus the cheese?). Imagine getting paid for this! I briefly fancy myself an actual, paid model. Then, I remember I am paying for the pleasure of it, not getting paid for it. Oh, well.

I am dressed in pink satin, and ready for my close-up. Any initial awkwardness falls away as I intuitively start to follow the photographer’s direction. Something happens and I feel amazing. Part of this might by my feeling that my body type lends itself to the Pin-Up girl prototype. For me, it’s usually a confidence-killer to page through magazines and see women with very celebrated skinny-minnie bodies like Keira Knightley, Kate Bosworth, and Jennifer Aniston. I’d think, hmph. If that’s “what sexy is” today then I haven’t got a chance.

The Pin-Up world is different. All of a sudden curves are wow! Hips are hot! A certain softness to the body reads as feminine, not fat. For a second, I think, Damn, if I had lived in that era, I’d be really hot!

Wait a minute, it occurred to me after. What if I could shift my mindset? Let go of the standards of beauty of today (or the perception of them) and just be happy with my body? Let go of the desire to be mega thin, have killer arms or abs, or any other symbol of hotness today, and just be happy in my body? I’ll never be skinny-skinny. And, I’ve always had hips. But in Pin Up Land all that is fabulous.

Maybe I can’t do a Pin-Up shoot everyday, but I will always have these pictures to remind me how confident and beautiful I felt. And, I might be stealing this idea from my yoga teacher, but it’s a little bit like they say when you find peace in meditation, it’s important to remember that the feeling is available to me any and all of the time, if I let go of the b.s. and self-judgment and just let myself feel it.