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Pin Up! The Subculture

Negotiating Agency, Representation & Sexuality with Vintage Style

Kathleen M. Ryan

Dangerous. Sexy. All-American—or rather All-World—Girl. Pin Up! The Subculture is the first book to explore the contemporary international subculture of pin up, women (and men) who embrace vintage style, but not vintage values.

Award-winning filmmaker and author Kathleen M. Ryan spent more than five years in the subculture. It’s a world of cat eye makeup, carefully constructed hairstyles, and retro-inspired fashions. But it’s also a world that embraces the ideals of feminism. Beauty, according to the pin up, is found not in body type or skin color, but in the confidence and sexual agency of the individual. Pin ups see their subculture as a way to exert empowerment and control of their own sexual and social identities—something that is part of the pin up’s historical legacy.

This lavishly illustrated book includes interviews with more than fifty international pin ups and helps readers to understand how they use social media and personal interactions to navigate thorny issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia, sizeism, and other difficult topics. Ryan demonstrates how even within subcultures, identity is far from homogeneous. Pin ups use the safety of their shared subcultural values to advocate for social and political change.

A fascinating combination of cultural history, media studies, and oral history, Pin Up! The Subculture is the story about how a subculture is subverting and reviving an historic aesthetic for the twenty-first century.

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A recent post on Instagram looks like something that could just have easily been found in the pages of a magazine 60-plus years ago, or adorning the locker of a soldier during World War II. The model lays reclined atop a draped swath of blue velvet, dressed in an ivory satin robe. Red mule slippers adorned with a fluff of boa are on her feet; a matching red belt cinches the robe at her waist. She holds notepaper in her right hand and her left is cupped behind her bleached white-blonde hair. Her lips, of course, are a rich red. She winks at the audience.

The London-based model Ria Fend is a contemporary pin up,1 a woman who uses vintage or vintage-inspired fashion as part of a social media persona (See Figure i.1). She models for fashion companies in runway shows, appears in advertisements, participates in pin up contests at car shows and other events that celebrate a vintage aesthetic, and has an active social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She is also not a person who attempts to “return” to the 1950s. She is a working woman, a self-described feminist, and a fan of death metal music.

Or consider Ashleeta, an African American pin up and burlesque dancer who uses her social media platforms to call for better representation for women of color. Or Kat Stroud, a pin up and body positive activist who wrote a viral post about how her husband...

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