Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World - Ann Shen (2016)
Discovered on the beach at Coney Island, Bettie Page (1923-2008) went from salutatorian of her high school class to the most famous pinup girl in history. She grew up in poverty in Nashville; her single mom neglected Page and her two sisters, and they spent time in orphanages. After a brief marriage to a high school boyfriend that ended in divorce, Page moved to New York to pursue that 1950s single girl life. She tried her hand at secretarial work and modeling while attending acting classes. That’s when Jerry Tibbs, a police officer and pinup photographer, discovered her and helped her assemble a modeling portfolio.
In 1952, she started working with sibling team Irving and Paula Klaw, who shot mail-order photos by request for the bondage and fetish world. She developed her “Dark Angel” look, debuting her sharp, signature U-shaped bangs and six-inch black fetish heels. With the Klaws, Page started appearing in the burlesque films that made her a star. Outside of their studio, she also started appearing in off-Broadway productions and shooting with Bunny Yeager, which ultimately landed her a gig as one of the first Playmates of the Month in Playboy.
At the height of her career in 1957, Page disappeared from the limelight. Some credit this to her conversion to Christianity; others cite the FBI investigation into pornography distribution. Although her work was originally made for men, Page developed a huge cult following of female fans, starting in the 1980s, because of her fuller figure and body-positive confidence; she always seemed to be in on the joke with a wink and a smile.
When reporters tracked her down in the ’90s, she was surprised by the renewed interest but remained unashamed about her modeling career. Page said that being nude was nothing to be ashamed of, pointing out that even the Lord put Adam and Eve on earth without a stitch of clothing. Her unabashed confidence helped usher in the sexual liberation of women in the 1960s and beyond.