This blog is for every fan of pinup art that has wished they could look like 1950’s icon Bettie Page.
From the bangs to the banging body to the delicious confidence that oozed out of every pore, women want to embody her femininity. The anti-Marilyn, her purpose was not traditional fame but to emote what a beautiful and confident woman can do with her body.
“I want to be remembered as the woman who changed people’s perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form.” -Bettie Page
A photo shoot where your model’s goal is to look like Bettie Page is a complicated and delicate matter.
A photographer does not snub her photographic nose at an icon. Not just anyone can look like Bettie Page. I never seek to recreate another’s work, unless a client requests it. Then I do my best to emulate without copying.
Merhia discovered me while searching for the best pinup photographer to complete her dream of a photo shoot where she could look like Bettie Page. She is the great-niece of Dame Eleanor. Dame Eleanor is the mother of Matthew, a man who saw my piece on Denver’s 9 News several years ago. When Eleanor passed, he wasn’t sure what do with her meticulously kept belongings. He emailed me and we started correspondence back and forth. He brought everything over one afternoon and spent hours telling me his mother’s stories. Every single time a client visits my studio, they hear her stories. When they wear her shoes, when the don her hats, when they twirl in her dresses… It makes me feel like I’m honoring her spirit.
So I believe it is kismet that Merhia discovered me when she did. She followed me on Facebook and decided to book her shoot when saw me announce my (fast approaching!) move to Raleigh-Durham, NC. When she told me by phone that she wanted to look like Bettie Page I had my reservations. Until she walked into my studio. Tall, beautiful with a lovely loud laugh, she already looked a lot like Bettie Page. Merhia, when you put on the corset, fishnets and have that whip in hand… You look like Bettie Page. Even before I’ve taken a photo.
I think this shoot is best explained in my beautiful and brave client’s words. Followed by my image. I hope that Bettie would be proud that her legacy has helped another woman find her inner power and sensuality.
Iman: I’d like to post this photo and give a brief introduction about Dame Eleanor’s Collection. Her son goes by Matthew, yes? And he’s your cousin? She’s your great-aunt?
Merhia: Dame Eleanor’s son is Matthew, he is my uncle by marriage, and I call him “Uncle Matt”. Eleanor was my great aunt… and she was one of the funniest, caring and charismatic women I have ever known.
Iman: You mentioned that ten years ago you started looking for a photographer to do a Bettie Page themed shoot.
Merhia: Ten years ago when I was 30, I had just had my second child. I was suffering from the “baby blues” and was fat and sad. I have suffered from eating disorders and low self-esteem for over 20 years. This was a very hard time in my life. I saw an Oprah episode about looking sexy at 40! I decided then that I was going to look sexier at 40 than I was at 30.
Iman: Tell me more about what you love about her, why she resonates with you and why you wanted to look like Bettie Page?
Merhia: I’ve always been the “good girl” with a “bad girl” side to my personality. A super responsible punk rocker… kind of an oxymoron. I fought the “man” without ever breaking the law or hurting anyone. Bettie struck a cord with me because she was a good girl that portrayed a bad girl image. She was a strong woman who had no inhibitions about her body. I wanted to feel that way. It didn’t hurt that the longer my hair got, the more I looked like her. In 2005, after I saw the movie about Bettie Page my mind was made up. Our lives are remarkably similar.
Iman: How did you feel during the photo shoot?
Merhia: The photo shoot was hard. I was hoping it would have felt different, but my inner voice kept me from relaxing. Hearing people give me compliments is very hard. You were great.
Iman: I honestly couldn’t tell, so you pushed past that uncomfortable space quite well. The final photo expresses that. How did you feel after your photo shoot?
Merhia: After the shoot was better. I turned off my inner voice and got to relive the excitement in the voices of my close friends, and how much fun they were having, the tears my best friend Diana shed out of happiness for me.
Iman: How did you feel when you first saw this photograph?
Merhia: I was shocked when I saw that image. It didn’t look like me. I mean, it looked like me, but it didn’t. I was very pleased. I can’t wait to see my friends images. They are going to be SO happy!!
Iman: Any thoughts you’d like to add?
Merhia: You are an amazing photographer… that’s why I chose you to do this for us. One thought… I had NO idea that my uncle Matt had given you Dame Eleanor’s things… pure serendipity. Or, Eleanor wanted me there.
Iman Woods is an American artist who specializes in pin-up photography. Through a unique and therapeutic process, she’s spent over a decade in perfecting, Iman helps women undo the damage from a negative self-image and unrealistic beauty industry expectations. She helps women embrace their own style of beauty and see themselves in a new light. You can find her on her website, Iman Woods.