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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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Finding a Way Forward

So does pin up live up to its claims of inclusivity and diversity? The answer, like much of the subculture, is complicated. One of the ways forward is for women who are in positions of privilege in the subculture to, as Elizabeth Tequila puts it, “read the room.” She says as a White woman it is not her place to be “piling on behalf of somebody else,” but she also knows that as a White woman she will be listened to. That, she says, is a double edged sword:

Having people listen to you that wouldn’t listen to people of color suddenly speaking for people of color, you’re speaking over them and that’s absolutely not what I want to do … It’s not about me. And I feel like when you say it’s not about you as a White woman you’re trying to do your best to not center yourself but at the same time then you say well it’s not about me. “Oh but you don’t care?” It’s complex. It really is.

She says that she knows as a White woman that she is “not particularly trusted or seen as an important person on these issues” and she needs to tread lightly. In this comment, Tequila recognizes, but also wants to ensure that she doesn’t replicate, systems of “epistemic violence” against women of color.1 She is trying to make sure that any discussions aren’t centered around her experience as a...

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