October 20, 2011

Secret History of the Black Pin Up: From Tease to Sleaze

I recently wrote two blog posts regarding the lack of information on Black pin up or adult models from the 1950's here and here.

In response, a collector, historian and independent publisher named Jim Linderman contacted me and divulged that he'd written and self-published a book (laden with images) outlining the lives and experiences of Black pin up and porn models. 

He had amassed an impressive collection of vintage adult periodicals and pictures showing Black women in various stages of undress and poses. and included some rare finds in his paperback Secret History of the Black Pin Up, which is 118 pages and includes some brief, but  interesting, history with the visuals. 
"There is a whole generation of young women who idolize Bettie Page and such, but they have no idea how UN-glamorous it was for her and the others. I wanted to show some of that, as well as make some points about racism of course." Linderman said in an email exchange

The book explains the good, bad and shady sides of how these Black only periodicals came into existence; a tale that  includes exploitation, bigotry, ethnic fetishization and paltry pay. 
 Though the pay for posing for pornographic magazines wasn't much to begin with, Black women models received less than their white counterparts for appearing in spreads.  
And, to note, Black women's sexuality has always come under fire from intra-racial respectability politics, racio-misogyny and racism when juxtaposed against white womanhood; even presently in this culture of music video vixens and 'booty mags', where certain physical attributes ascribed to Black women are only ever lauded when presented on non-Black bodies. And, since time immemorial, 'white supremacist capitalist male patriarchy' [bell hooks] dictates beauty norms (as it does most other things) and media representation
"One of the first, if not THE first, slick magazine to display African-American women in the buff was Tan N' Terrific. Great name but a crappy magazine with no date and the publication information limited to a tiny WWNC logo, top right. World Wide News Corp. Cleveland, Ohio... which means Reuben Sturman
Sturman was no artist, and he was certainly not motivated by a desire to help African-American models achieve equality.  He was motivated by filthy dollars." Linderman noted in his book. 
We're also given some insight about prolific Black photographer Howard Morehead, who opted for a more artistic, elegant and less gratuitous approach to photographing Black women. While it's a quick read and not necessarily a comprehensive book, Secret History of the Black Pin Up definitely features compelling history and pictures about an era and industry that conveniently erases Black women; many of whom appeared nameless or under a made up moniker. 

Dig deep enough into the mechanics and history of Black female sexuality and you'll find a narrative riddled with the perpetuation of erroneous racial tropes and that dissuades Black women from claiming body agency and openly expressing sexual freedom. Notwithstanding, Jim Linderman's book is a good way to broach the topic and presents an interesting and honest study worth reading along with other source material.

  • The book can be purchased HERE.
  • Additional information about Jim Linderman, his other work and collection of rare finds, can be found at Dull Tool Dim Bulb and on his blog Vintage Sleaze.

5 comments:

KohlEyes said...

Great find! Interesting that the author mentions Bettie Page, especially since that is one of the few women that I've heard about in the industry in the last few years. I know that there had to be Black pin ups, but of course such information (though it's clearly been analyzed and compiled) has not been brought to mainstream attention. THANK YOU FOR DOING SO.

Coffey said...

Like the author of the book stated in an email, so many young women idolize Bettie Page, but she went through a LOT in an industry that was frowned upon. She essentially became a recluse who refused to be seen in her old age, in public before she passed, because she wanted to be remembered for having a certain aesthetic.

The fact that Black pin up models had to go through similar hardships in the industry... WORSE in many instances... and not have their stories recounted is a travesty. Thanks for reading!

Ms Afropolitan said...

Hi..first time here and really like! Enjoyed this post - interesting theme. Got me thinking about that uncomfortable place where because of a perceived lack of glamorous photos of black women in the 20th century, those that are found, no matter how subject to sexism, easily become thrilling to our generation. Bettie Page's life story seems a tragedy. The book sounds great

Coffey said...

Hi Afropolitan, Thanks for visiting and welcome!

I agree. While the history of the Black pin up model is rife with a lot of tragedy and exploitation, it's still thrilling (for me at least) to know that they actually were photographed during that era. I'd been wondering for a while, and Jim Linderman (the author of the book) contacted me after my initial blog post (after having stumbled on a few pictures, which I found on his site Vintage Sleaze). Most pin up/fetish models like Bettie Page and many of the Black models like her, were products of the seedier aspect of the genre, people should definitely explore some of the stories. It's an interesting history and cool book to check out. I believe most of the pictures featured are part of his own collection.

Candace Michelle said...

Hi my name is Candace Michelle and I want to invite you to my Facebook page, Black Pin Up Models. Like everyone else I was frustrated with the lack of black pinup models, past and present. I did a lot of researching and found as many pictures of pin up models from the past. I also have burlesque dancers, actresses, singers, and singers dressed as pin up models. So everyone please like my page. And spread the word. www.facebook.com/pages/Black-Pin-Up-Models/274448509280942