When the Bettie Page biopic The Notorious Bettie Page came out in 2005 I remember being surprised at just how innocent Bettie was portrayed as being. While it was plausible to think of a sheltered Christian girl from Tennessee being rather naïve about sex and what might be considered – even now – deviant behaviour, it seems slightly less plausible to think she would happily pose in thigh high boots and a whip no questions asked. Lalala.
Considering the content it is a very sweet film – it has to be because oh boy, do we love a little girl lost saga. I would wager this is the trick of how Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe have become and remained popular icons for girls and women as well as men. The girl can't help it! The steamy, sexy image they project is set off with a wide eyed, childish innocence. Marilyn often looks like a surprised puppy and Bettie always looks like she's having the time of her life. Both have their successes offset with tragic pasts and traumatic childhoods. I wonder if these are seen as excuses by some – not that they need one.
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"I never had any problem thinking what to do with my body."
The story of Bettie Page is often couched in amusement over the McCarthy era prudery. Now often the joke of a TV scandal in which a singer has flashed her pants is that the people complaining loudest haven't seen the offending material. We live in such different times.
Directed by her friend Mark Mori, Bettie laughs in the film that: "I never had any problem thinking what to do with my body." Even now she's a fascinating figure due to her carefree, joyous posing style that nobody else can emulate, mixed with her mysterious life. As Dita Von Teese noted "it's sort of confusing whether she was a real person or not." But Bettie Page said to Mori "they say I opened up the sexual revolution. But I was just doing my job and enjoying every bit of it."
I know Bettie Page's last shocking act was to die on 2008, when most of my friends thought she was long dead. But I like to remember her best for her quote to a judge: "I'm not indecent, I will not plead guilty to it!" Perhaps that's a quote more of us should take on. We like Bettie Page because she knew she had a body to celebrate, not shame.