Why Do Modern Women Love Vintage Babes?
The adoration of the female form is not a pleasure reserved only for straight men, lesbian women, & drag queens.
When Java asked me to write about why women 'love the vintage babes,' I first thought he was joking. After all, he's The Java Bachelor for God's sake, what can I possibly tell a man with this level of discriminatory taste that he, or his readers, don't already know?
Can I impress upon him further the divine female form? (Well, only if I press myself, or one of his lovely Cheesecake Gals up against him!)
Can I reiterate how the standards of beauty in female form & face were idealized in days gone by? (Surely he doesn't want a lesson in Western History--unless it's a wanton lesson including samples in the flesh!)
But then it occurred to me, the adoration of the female form is not a pleasure reserved only for straight men, lesbian women, & drag queens. These women are adored & admired for more than their heightened & glossed cultural standards of beauty. To be sure, we wish to emulate those legendary looks, in order to get those lusty looks, but there is so much more to it than that.
For the feminists among us, these legends mark cultural moments in our societies. Each legendary 'babe' may have had the spotlight on the stage & a flashlight on her photo under the covers, but she is also a beacon of light into the roles of women.
As her figure & face set standards of beauty, her behaviors broke the rules. Even the masters of the innocent girl next door look were viewed as scandalous as strippers--Any model showing skin & smile was sexually aggressive to pose for such publications. She was provocative in the true sense of the word, stimulating controversy along with arousal. But as she used her sexuality to move herself forward, was she pushing the women's movement back at the same time?
Mae West & Jean Harlow made names for themselves based on their sexual aggression. They pushed the envelope, sending a message that women were not prey to men, but that women were hunters as well. These women are said to have 'exploited' their sexuality for fame & power, for personal gain. Some believe they were feminists, claiming their sexuality. Others see them as pawns of men--the money they earned lining the male pockets of studio heads. Were West & Harlow claiming their own sexuality, or were they only rationalizing male control? When a woman claims her sexuality, is she claiming it? Is she the 'exploiter' or the 'exploited?' Today many wonder about those very things with Third Wave Feminism.
But these women are more than examples in some feminist herstory book. They are more than fodder for Humanists. For each legend was also a real, live human being. Each with a story of her own.
Female fans of femme fatales try to find the real stories of love, happiness & success. We look at their photographs and wonder, 'Was her smile real, or pasted on for self-protection?' We search through clippings, biographies & tell-all books, hoping for clues to the answers.
Did Marilyn Monroe own her sexuality, or did it own her? She began her ascent to stardom reveling in the attention of her sex symbol status, but somewhere along the way, the confines of audience & studio conditional love were restraining to say the least. And her status as a sex goddess also limited her love life. Men flocked to her as Monroe the goddess, yet no lover, no husband, could live with & accept Norma Jean the person. Not even Monroe herself seemed to know what her role as a real flesh & blood woman should be.
Was Brigitte Bardot a femme fatale, or a lost lamb? While she has lured many, she also has had three failed marriages & several suicide attempts.
Did these women beckon or plead from these covers? As a sexpot she teased & flirted for the camera, yes. But when she broke hearts, was her own included in the tally? The lives of Bardot & Monroe says 'yes.'
And how did these women cope with changing cultural attitudes, changing times & and the passing of time itself? They lived in a youth obsessed culture, in a beauty fixated business, & the swish of hips does not sway the passing of time. Did stars like Bettie Page walk away from the limelight before it could reveal her dimming beauty? Or did she simply walk away, relieved to end that chapter & begin another? Some, like Mamie Van Doren, Rita Moreno, Sally Rand & Raquel Welch continued their careers. Others, like Bunny Yeager, switched to the other side of the camera. And still others, such as April Daye & Jane Dolinger, went on their ways, no longer shaking or showing their earlier money makers, living full lives away from their babe status. Sometimes they moved on with new names, seeming to just vanish.
We search their lives for answers to our own questions & fears of the future. Stories of tragedies & triumph, not always together. Stories of stereotypes & spirits. For these women have been both icon & individual, public figure & private being. We are still pulled in by their provocative photos--but now it is the search for answers that seduces. A photo here, a clipping there...
Their lives play peek-a-boo with us now as their bodies did in costumes then.
We hunt for clues to their lives, but more often than not, what we find is bits of our own. Their struggles are our struggles. Their fears, our fears.
We like to think now, as we look back, that they had some plan, that they knew what they were doing. That each woman faced her archetypal role with steely determination--an iron fist in that velvet glove--determined to be herself not just her gender. But as she lived her life in the lushness of youth, she was like anyone else, unaware of how her choices would affect her or 'women' at large. She may have cared about the future rights of women, just as we do today, but I doubt she made choices in name of feminism. Just as it is with today, her first concern was the mouths she was responsible for feeding, including her own.
We'd like to believe that these legends could be both a goddess claiming her sexuality & a woman claiming her human frailty--capable of causing mortals to swoon yet happily living among them. Even after the bloom of youth has wilted.
We'd like to look back at those glossy photos, at those fading films, and feel that all that glitters was not only gold, but that she got to keep it. If not in the monetary sense, then in a life well lived. In wisdom gained. In love obtained.
We keep searching for clues to their lives in order to understand our own.
They tease & tantalize now, as they did then... Luring us in, bringing us closer, yet leaving us wanting more, always more.
So who were they? Candid cover girls or burdened bombshells? Vivacious vamps or vulnerable vixens? Femme fatale or femmes fatalistic?
The truth is, collectively they were all these 'things' and more: They were women.
Just like us.