Bettie Page Story: The Fetish And Fashion Icon's Strange Biography

By Cyn Felthousen-Post

Bettie Page left an indelible mark on popular culture -- first as an in-demand model and later as a symbol or template of the mid-century American good girl/vixen -- yet saw little to no compensation or credit for it during her lifetime. The Bettie Page look, even just her trademark bangs, came to denote an edginess with fetish overtones, reflecting the free and subversive career of a '50s model who posed not only in swimsuits, but nude and in bondage settings as well. The image of Bettie Page shines like a beacon in an era known for its repressive social attitudes, not unlike magazine mogul Hugh Hefner and Sex And The Single Girl author Helen Gurley Brown, Page's persona seemed to ask what if? What if, in the midst of all these rules, we just... didn't follow the rules?

In famous photo sessions with Bunny Yeager, the appeal of Bettie Page found its clearest expression. Wearing leopard-print swimsuits and eyeing the camera hungrily, Page presented a woman who was a seductress, not a conquest. Rather than "Me Tarzan -- you Jane," this was "Me Bettie -- you'll do."

Tura Satana appropriated Page's look in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1966), though it wasn't until after Page was "rediscovered" in the '80s that the floodgates opened. Page inspired fifties revivalists, rockabilly fans and (later) Suicide Girl-type alternative models; her image was a favorite of comic-book artists including Jim Silke and Dave Stevens, the pinup/hot rod artist Coop, and latter day Vargas-style painter Olivia de Berardinis. 

Yet despite all the Bettie Page mania of the '80s, '90s and 2000s, Page herself was well off the grid, living a self-described "infamous and penniless" existence. Today, Page fans associate her look and choices with independence, empowerment and sexual self-determination, but the story of Bettie Page, the real person, is considerably different from, and less glamorous than, the legacy of Bettie Page, the icon.