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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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9 When Best Intentions Go Awry


In 2015, Delicious Ruckus, a Colorado-based Asian American pin up, posted a long inquiry for her followers on Facebook (see Figure 9.1). She was seeking to frame a discussion about representation in pin up magazines. She outlined the lack of representation for Asian pin ups in a specific publication (without naming names), where only four of 136 covers featured an Asian model and three of those covers were of the same person. She worried that the magazines promoted a “generalized standard of beauty” that is against the goal of pin up. The post had 21 likes and 25 comments in the 14 hours after it was posted.1

In this post, she identifies a problem, and then voices her concern that as pin up is becoming more popular in mainstream media, the “overly hyped up and sexualized pinup” will become the norm. She then presents her own personal goal “to push back and challenge and fight and ruffle feathers” with the realization that editors will have their own preferences, that magazines are expected to make money, and that the editorial choice may “hinder the pinup self-esteem movement.” She then says she will be finding magazines that think beyond the stereotypical norm by publishing models of color and plus-sized pin ups, ending by saying “we HAVE to take back the true identity of pin up.” She didn’t write the post in response to a negative comment from someone else. She didn’t publicly shame a business or individual. This may ←223...

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