Anatomy of a Pin-Up: A Genealogy of Sexualized Femininity Since the Industrial Age
Date: 19 November 2013
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
PhD in English
Pin-up images have played an important role in American culture, in both their illustrated and photographic configurations. The pin-up is viewed as a significant representational cultural artifact of idealistic and aspirational femininity and of consumerism and material wealth, especially reflective of the mid-twentieth century period ...
Pin-up images have played an important role in American culture, in both their illustrated and photographic configurations. The pin-up is viewed as a significant representational cultural artifact of idealistic and aspirational femininity and of consumerism and material wealth, especially reflective of the mid-twentieth century period in America spanning the 1930s to the 1960s. These images not only reflect great shifts in social mores and women’s social status, but also affected changes in both areas in turn. Furthermore, pin-up images internationally circulated in magazines, advertising and promotional material, contributed to the manner in which America was idealized in Europe and beyond. Crucially, they influenced how an eroticized and glamorous, yet unrealistic, example of femininity came to be generalized as a desirous model of femininity. In recent years there has been vital, though limited, scholarly research into the cultural and social impact of pin-up imagery, to which this thesis adds to. This thesis takes a genealogical approach, charting the development of popular female-centric “pin-up” imagery in America since the 1860s and up to the 1960s, and its resurgence since the 1980s onwards. In doing so this thesis aims to provide a social, political and cultural context to the emergence of a specific archetypal sexualized femininity, with the aim of challenging the tendency to dismiss sexualized imagery as “anti-feminist” or as trivial. Toward that end, I examine the complexity of intentions behind the production of “pin-up” images. In taking this revisionist approach I am better able to conclusively analyze the reasons for the resurgence and reappropriation of pin-up imagery in late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century popular culture, and consider what the gendered cultural implications may be.
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