By Guest Contributor Tiara the Merch Girl, originally published at The Merch Girl
I wrote this for AO (Adults Only) Magazine in mid-October last year, for Issue 3 that was meant to come out…now. I haven’t heard anything beyond “yes we got it”, and since some people have asked, I figure I’ll post my original article here. There weren’t pictures in the original submission, mainly due to copyright issues, but I’ll see if I can add some pics here.
Thank you to everyone who helped with research and quotes. Feel free to share!
No one is jerkin’ while looking at my merkin, my skin is cracked like a shoddy creme brulee; not even a Prozac milkshake can shake my blues away – oh no, no no, it’s not a pretty princess day!
– Kitten on the Keys
My first taste of burlesque and pinup style was on my 21st birthday in Melbourne. A close friend had brought me to the Royal Melbourne Show (a massive carnival and agricultural show) as his present to me, and while there I spotted a tent advertising Old-Style Photos. I ducked in, put on a saloon girl costume – red bustier with white “boning”, a poofy red and black skirt, fishnets and a garter holding up a set of cards – and hammed up for a set of sepia photos that placed me in the Wild Wild West. I loved the outfit (which was surprising as I don’t normally like many things girly) and ever since then I had been hunting out for anything reminiscent of saloon-girl style.
My foray into burlesque as an apprentice performer and enthusiast meant many hours of looking up photos and art of burlesque performers, many echoing the pin up art of people like Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vagras. Around this time rockabilly and alternative modelling also came in vogue, with many pinups sporting cherry A-line dresses and full-sleeve tattoos. Hollywood and mainstream pop culture also caught on to the cheesecake, with Vanity Fair continuing the tradition of casting upcoming movie starlets in classic poses as part of their annual Vanities Girls series.
While quite a number of the photos and performers were eye-catching, and often inspiring (that dress! that fascinator! THOSE PASTIES!), after a while they started to all look the same. The same poses, the same tropes – naughty teacher, just out of bed, exotic princess – the same look. The same tattoos on the same curvy bodies. The same buxom blondes, devillish redheads, sultry brunettes. Hardly anyone darker than milk chocolate – though if they were they either fit the same poses or had animal print thrown onto them.
Burlesque and pinup has been celebrated lately for its acceptance of diverse body images, and for its openness towards amateurs and hobbyists. There’s no need to look like the models in those magazines, no need for trim bellies and thin thighs; anyone can be beautiful. But does the current scene have standards of its own? What happens if you’d rather not be in a cherry A-line dress or have a tattoo, would prefer your waist be set free than wrapped in a corset, can’t stand a couquettish smile and would rather hold a sneaky sneer?