WHEN PIN-UPS WENT TO WAR
By Bill Dobbins
World War II involved a commitment from the entire country never seen before or since. After Pearl Harbor we found ourself in a two front war – in the Pacific against Japan and in Europe and elsewhere fighting Nazi Germany. More than 16 million Americans served in the armed forces during the war. 405,000 were killed and 672,000 were wounded. Domestically, American industry converted from building cars and other products to war production, making tanks, planes, ships, guns, ammunition and other necessary materials. Women entered the military in unprecedented numbers and civilian women were recruited to fill jobs in industry vacated by men serving in the armed forces.
With so many Americans under arms and with the rest of the population dealing with rationing, shortages, bond and scrap metal drives, it is no wonder that the entertainment industry went into high gear to provide aid and comfort and to raise moral. Hollywood actors and directors, some actively serving in the military, helped to produce propaganda films. Ronald Regan worked on making training and propaganda films for the military from a studio in Culver City. Entertainers like Bob Hope and others entertained the troops in USO shows.
Among the things that provided comfort and raised morale among the troops was the pin-up. Pin-ups were photos or illustrations of curvaceous young women, frequently movie stars, that were sexy but within limits – showing a lot of the body but not too much. Pin-ups were often captioned with phrases like “what we are fighting for.”
A pin-up model (known as a pin-up girl for a female and less commonly male pin-up for a male) is a model whose mass-produced pictures see wide appeal as popular culture. Pin-ups are intended for informal display, i.e. meant to be “pinned-up” on a wall. Pin-up models may be glamour models, fashion models, or actors. These pictures are also sometimes known as cheesecake photos.[a] Cheesecake was an American slang word, that was considered a publicly acceptable term for seminude women because pin-up was considered taboo in the early twentieth century.
The term pin-up may refer to drawings, paintings, and other illustrations as well as photographs (see the list of pin-up artists). The term was first attested to in English in 1941; however, the practice is documented back at least to the 1890s. Pin-up images could be cut out of magazines or newspapers, or on a postcard or lithograph. Such pictures often appear on walls, desks, or calendars. Posters of pin-ups were mass-produced, and became popular from the mid 20th century. – Wikipedia
Pin-ups were published in magazines and also as very popular posters. There were also pin-ups designed decorating military aircraft. Two of the most popular pin-up models were movie stars Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth. In those days before television almost everybody went to the movies and film stars were among the most famous people in the world. Actresses were all to happy to lend their images to an effort to help raise morale among those serving in the armed forced and the general public as well.
There have always been sexy images of women, whether paintings, drawings or – since the middle 19th century – photographs. But there has also been an evolution in the degree to which more erotic material was accepted for public display and to what degree it was only acceptable in private. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart is famous for saying he couldn’t define pornography but he knew it when he saw it. This is actually because pornography (like art) is not a thing – it is somebody’s personal reaction to a thing.
The WWII pin-up was fairly daring for it’s time. That was the whole point. Nowadays, images like this are more quaint than sexy. But take a 1944 pin-up and try to publish it in 1844 and it would certainly be considered pornographic. Given the proliferation of images on the Internet nowadays and the fact that teens and younger have access to this material, who knows what kind of erotic imagery will become totally acceptable in the future?
PIN-UP THE MOVIE: TRAILER
Bill Dobbins is a pro photographer located in Los Angeles. He is a veteran photographer and videographer who has exhibited his fine art in two museums and a number of galleries and who has published eight books, including two fine art photo books:
The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan)
Modern Amazons (Tashen)
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