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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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4 The “F” Word


Visual Pleasure, Agency, and Feminism

The image of the pin up model is striking. She lays, nude except for burgundy-bowed leopard-print peep-toed d’Orsay platforms, atop a 1950s-era television set. A tattooed young man in boxers and suspenders, his back to the camera, adjusts the antennas for the television—which are strategically placed to cover the nipples of her breasts. She stares, mouth-slightly agape, at the viewer. The television is pulling in a program, I Dream of Dapper Dan Doll; Dapper Dan Doll is the woman’s pin up alter ego.

This chapter explores via textual analysis photographic representations of the contemporary pin up, using three images as case studies. Two of the images are of women photographed by female photographers; the third is taken by a male photographer but using a set and concept designed by the female model. Unlike some contemporary pin up poses, which often feature women wearing vintage-inspired dresses or other outerwear, these images all feature women in various stages of undress. The women are seemingly inviting the gaze; they are the bearers of the look. But the women all described the images as empowering. I wanted to explore why images such as these might not be considered problematic by the women involved, and if that conception was a valid—or misguided—expression of agency, depending upon the woman’s own self-identification as a feminist or not.

The chapter argues that the women are engaged in a complicated act of performance. While to...

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