But on to the most interesting and, for me, the most mind-bending:
I watched an amazing documentary entitled PAPER DOLLS on the SBS channel in Australia, about the rise to prominence of the pin-up girl in WWII, and how those women were seen generally, and the reason for the phenomenon to begin with. (For some amazing images from PIX and MAN magazines at the time, you can go here, and this one is my absolute favorite – the model, Adelie, continued on to become one of the best photographers in Australia of her day, man or woman.)
What made this documentary so fascinating was that they were able to talk to three of the pin-up models themselves – how they came to be photographed (almost always pure chance!) and how being a pin-up girl affected them. It seems both Man and Pix magazines would publish the girls’ addresses, along with their names, under their photograph. To us today, absolutely UNTHINKABLE. Then, common practice.
What it meant to these women was that they began to receive a heap of mail from Australian soldiers fighting in the war. Units would choose a pin-up girl to be their mascot, and in one case, a unit wrote numerous letters to one of the girls, and she wrote back to all of them, becoming a friend and confidant to them. Almost every single one of them was killed in an engagement. She had tears in her eyes as she spoke about hearing the news, even though it was over 60 years ago. As she said, they became your friends. She had become part of their unit, and it was as if she was the sole survivor.
Soldiers looked to the pin-up girls for news from home, for an outlet from the dismal conditions they were fighting in. The embodiment of home, and everything that was familiar, and feminine and safe.
For me, this turned what I previously thought of pin-up girls on its head. I thought it was all about sex, and the objectification of the female form, but like most things in life, there was a lot of grey in there. Yes, it obviously was about sex. The army, navy and airforce encouraged and allowed magazines like Man and Pix to circulate, because they knew most of the men were sexually frustrated. But it wasn’t only about sex. It was far deeper than that, and the women took on a meaning way beyond a pretty picture of a girl.
Pix Magazine, in particular, chose women who were literally the girl next door. Some of them went on to become sophisticated icons of an era, but many of them, and I loved the way the SBS documentary found so many of them to talk to, were truly just ordinary girls, who had no ambitions for fame at all. They rightly felt that they contributed a great deal to the war effort, writing hundreds of letters a week to the service men that sent them fan mail.
I’ve been interested in writing a couple of WWII-set novels for a while, and have a few outlines already, but after this documentary, I am really so eager to get writing.
What are your thoughts on pin-ups? And have you ever had a vague idea about something, and then were surprised to learn how much more there was to it?