Today we mourn the death of Bettie Page, unquestionably the queen of pin-ups. In her obituary in today's New York Times, Bettie is quoted as saying, "I want to be remembered as a woman who changed people's perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form."
I think she did. One of the great things about Bettie is how natural she looks--no implants, no tanning. Her trademark hairstyle is often a little frizzy, and her locks are never ramrod straight. I imagine she rolled out of bed, showered, and let her hair air-dry as she drove to a shoot. She doesn't wear lots of make-up, and generally isn't dripping in jewels and rhinestones. More or less, she's wearing underwear that happens to match.
Another thing I take from her referring to "nudity in its natural form" is her SM photography, although I am sure that is not what she meant. Nudity inspires different feelings and thoughts for everyone, many of which stem from a culture that treats nudity as taboo. Her work helped to make it okay for people to have their dirty thoughts, partially because she herself was so clean and tasteful. One thing that can be very difficult about enjoying SM play is that most people go through various stages of denial, in much the same way that I imagine gay men and women do as they come to realize their homosexuality. It's hard to admit that you enjoy being spanked or tied up, or to confront an innate desire to inflict pain on someone you love. Bettie helped make SM public, and it became part of the sexual revolution she inadvertently helped launch.
It's my belief that there is still an awful lot of prejudice and misunderstanding about SM and the people who practice it. I myself am extremely private about it, whereas my man is not, because I am very sensitive to the criticism I anticipate from others. But the message Bettie sends has helped me be at ease with my own desires. Sex is fun, and it's fun in a lot of different ways; there's really no right or wrong way to enjoy it and assumptions to the contrary are thrown out when you look at the scope of Bettie's photos. Like Bettie, you can be a good girl in soft lace some of the time and still be the bad girl in leather at other times. Because come on, admit it--you are a little bit of both.