Retro (Black) Glamour Featuring Bettie Page Lingerie by Playful Promises
Disclosure: This article is sponsored by Bettie Page Lingerie by Playful Promises.
Josephine Baker. Dorothy Dandridge. Eartha Kitt. Lena Horne. Joyce Bryant. Billie Holiday. Tina Turner. Iman. These women were the faces of glamour in my childhood. Beautiful, iconic women who were not only Black, but also massively talented and gorgeous to boot. They were a balm to me, an answer to a society and a culture that made it clear girls and women who looked like me could never be "good enough."
Though pinup culture is stronger today than it's probably been since the 1950s, the history of Black pinups is largely unsung and unwritten. Images of Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, and yes, Bettie Page, are everywhere, but photos of vintage black pinup models are few and far between. Even the art of the era, which includes greats like Gil Elvgren, Bill Ward, and Earl Moran, is a largely white iconography. It would be easy, if one were so inclined, to believe Black women didn't exist as pinups. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.
Often, when this disparity is brought into the open, whether in reference to vintage art or even modern day art and pinup photography, people respond with the claim that it's "impossible" to find Black models. There's a belief that Black women, both then and now, simply aren't photogenic enough or "pinup" enough to represent the genre. Of course, that reasoning is ridiculous. More than that, when we're talking about images are meant to be seen as an ideals or interpretations of beauty, what does it mean when that vision of beauty is exclusively white?
As we've talked about time and time again on TLA, there is power in representation and visibility. The word "empowerment" gets tossed around in reference to most anything nowadays, but there truly is something quite powerful when people who were largely unseen become visible.
I remember the first time I ran across photos of women like Lottie the Body, Miss Topsy, Jean Idelle, Joyce Bryant and Ethelyn Butler. It was a revelation to me. Yet mixed in with that elation was also a sense of shock. Why hadn't I seen these pictures before? Why was that part of pinup - and, relatedly, burlesque - history hidden?
There are lots of reasons I like Playful Promises, but one reason - perhaps the most important one - is because this brand actively pushes against many conventions others take as a given. From speaking out on centering entire campaigns around older women, to manufacturing their lingerie in core, plus, and full bust sizes (and shooting on models from each size range), to campaigns highlighting trans models, Playful Promises, a self-identified feminist lingerie brand, has made responding to, unpacking, and defusing industry tropes an inherent part of what they do - all while creating stunningly gorgeous lingerie.
When Playful Promises first asked me to the face of this Bettie Page Lingerie campaign, I was flattered, of course. Playful Promises and I have a very long history. Among other things, they were the first brand to sponsor a giveaway here as well as one of TLA's very first advertisers. Now, they're the first brand to ever ask me to be a model for them, and I couldn't be more honored.
However, the opportunity to model for one of my favorite lingerie brands wasn't the only reason I said yes. I also said yes because Emma, the founder and director of Playful Promises, made it clear that she wanted me - afro, dark skin, full lips and all - to show another idea of what a pinup could look like.
For me, this shoot is a collaboration and a celebration, not just of Playful Promises and their wildly successful Bettie Page line, but also of glamour. And of showing that glamour can take many forms. Glamour doesn't have to be traditional. It doesn't have to conform to others' standards.
You - yes, you - can be a gloriously decadent, sensual, powerful human in amazing lingerie...even if the way you look isn't valued by the mainstream. And I love that Playful Promises is here for that. Because everyone who wants it should have gorgeous lingerie.
Being visibly yourself in a world that insists you should be invisible is a marvelous, extraordinary thing. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Bettie Page is an icon, and it's largely because of the lingering power of her photographs. Well something similar can be true for any of us. Show up, be yourself, incorporate beauty and pleasure and joy into your life...and maybe take a few photos along the way. Because you are good enough. And you deserve happiness.
For me, this collaboration with Bettie Page Lingerie is a way of connecting with my history. It's a way of paying tribute to all those unnamed and unremembered fashionable women of past eras and decades. It's also about shifting the story on what pinups can look like. And, lastly, it's about thanking Playful Promises for believing in this Black pinup all those years ago.
If you've tried Playful Promises for Bettie Page, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. And if you have more specific questions about a certain item, feel free to ask in the comments! I'm happy to answer them.