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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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7 “Go Eat a Cheeseburger,” “Gorditas,” and Other Sizeist Fandangos


Controlling the Circuit of Culture in Pin Up

On public social media pages, many pin ups are quick to shut down critics who judge a woman based upon her figure or body type. Australian pin up Miss Victory Violet serves as an example of how this works. A fan posted a seeming compliment to her: “Pay attention, folks. This is what a real woman looks like.” She responded that she appreciated that he was trying to compliment her but then added, “I don’t believe in the whole ‘real woman’ fandango. All women are real no matter what their size/ethnicity/shape etc there’s no wrong way to be a woman or look like a woman.”1 When he refused to back down, she blocked him from her page.

Pin up claims to be a body positive community and seeks to push back against the fashion industry standards of beauty as epitomized by supermodels and fashion magazines. This includes even supposed “plus-sized” models, such as Ashley Graham, who while larger than traditional models still fall at the low end of the plus-sized range.2 Pin up instead says that all women, irregardless of size, are beautiful. But given that pin up is also open to fans coming from outside the subculture, disputes similar to the one experienced by Violet play out frequently in the spheres of Facebook and Instagram. A fan in 2015 jokingly called Pinup Little Bit a “fat ass” on her personal Facebook page for saying she was...

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