Bettie Page. An unfamiliar name to many but, and humour me here, type her name into a generic search engine and wait for the images to load. Welcome then to the first internationally recognised ‘alternative model’.
Whilst the ‘pin up girl’ can be traced right back to the 1910’s it was during the 1940’s and the Second World War that saw them come to prominence, adorning the side of many aircraft as a good luck symbol to their air crews. Bettie Page was not the ‘girl next door type’ like these girls though and in the early 50’s posed for photos ranging from bondage to sadomasochistic themes to fetish themes. They all had an ‘underground feel’ to them, America still not willing to embrace the darker aspects of their nation’s sexual appetites, but Page quickly established herself in a completely unique niche of the modelling world.
Page’s photos brought her into Hollywood’s view and she was cast in three burlesque films, all three displaying exotic dance routines but no nudity (pity!). The roles on screen, whilst not long in length, secured her fame and during the 50’s went onto win “Miss Pin up Girl of the World” and feature in two best selling copies of Playboy.
For all her successes and fame, the alternative model world was still one that was not widely accepted by the mainstream media and it was to take a further 50 years and more tragic incident to open the world’s eyes to that of the Alternative model.
In November 2006 model Ana Carolina Reston died weighing 6 stones (88 pounds) as a result of a pro-longed battle with anorexia. This tragic incident was arguably the spark that lead to a change sweeping internationally across the modelling world. This resulted in designers looking away from what had long been considered the only staple look for a model, that of a ‘White waifish girl’, to new and more unconventional looks to showcase their collections. Models previously shunned by the mainstream fashion world for having tattoo’s, piercings or uncompromising images were actively being sought out by designers, keen to use not only healthy looking models but also ones that do not conform to the stereotypes associated with the industry.
To those outside the culture, finding an alternative model can look daunting – you can’t just approach hot girls in the street and ask them to pose for photos (believe me, I’ve tried). Suicidegirls.com is a website that has many imitators but no equals. Billed as a site “With a vibrant, sex positive community of women (and men), SuicideGirls was founded on the belief that creativity, personality and intelligence are not incompatible with sexy, compelling entertainment” Suicidegirls.com not only offers the opportunity for alternative models to post their portfolios but also allows members to share photos, talk and make friends with likeminded individuals from across the globe.
Suicidegirls.com not only offers the models invaluable experience and exposure but also does it in a way to allow everyone to feel comfortable. They are not open to wide spread criticism and are secure in the knowledge that those looking at their pictures share a similar outlook on life. This introduction to what is widely considered a harsh industry allows the models to create a portfolio which they can use for future opportunities.
I don’t believe that we will ever see the catwalks or fashion magazines awash with alternative models – modern society still not being as open minded as they would like to think – but I do think that now, more than ever, an Alternative model has the chance to really shine and with Suicidegirls.com leading the charge, who would bet against seeing an Alternative model on the catwalks of Milan and Paris before long..
Words: Brian McKay