Pop culture is full of icons and plenty of those icons are rooted in sex. You can't help but think of Bettie Page when it comes to those sexual icons. Bettie Page was a pin-up model that took the world by storm with her unique look. When she combined her look with the sexual context of her photo shoots Page quickly took on the mantle of an icon. As Page's life went on her fame only increased when the circumstances around her became shrouded in mystery and intrigue. However, a mysterious life tends to follow a chaotic childhood.
Bettie Page's Childhood
Bettie Page was born in Nashville, Tennessee during 1923. She was born into a big family of six kids with a single mother. The kids of Page's family were often put into orphanages when their mother ran out of money and needed to raise more funds. However, it is entirely possible that these difficult circumstances spurred Bettie forward and gave her ambition. Page wound up graduated at the top of her class in high school and went on to attend Peabody College. Bettie entered into her first marriage in 1943, this is also when she moved to San Francisco and began her modeling career. Page spent four years laying the foundation of a very successful career in California. She went through her first divorce in 1947 and that is when she moved to New York(1). The move to the east coast seems to be when her modeling career moved into it's next phase.
Bettie Page's Career
Bettie Page gained the majority of her fame after making the move to New York. While there she quickly gained the attention of many amateur photographers. This attention was eventually passed on to the professionals and Bettie Page burst her way into magazines. 1949 to 1957 seems to be the heyday of Page's career. The estimation is that there were 20,000 photos taken of her during this time period. These pictures showed her clad in bikinis, lingerie, bondage gear, or just being completely naked. As you might expect, that made a splash in the 1950's. By the time 1955 rolled around Bettie Page had become Ms. January for Playboy Magazine(2). Due to the provocative nature of her photos, and the time period that she lived in, Bettie Page is given credit for helping to open the doors of 1960's sexual revolution. In fact, her bondage themed photos were so outrageous that Page received a subpoena to testify at a congressional hearing. The powers that be thought that the bondage photographs violated the censorship laws of the time. Ultimately, Bettie Page was never required to testify(3). It very well may have been the storm of controversy that erupted around Page which pushed her out of the lime light.
Bettie Page's Retirement
After nearly a decade of modeling success Bettie Page needed a change. In 1958 she moved to Florida and married her second husband. Shortly after her move to Florida, Page completely removed herself from the public eye – there was never any reason given. She just quietly left and remained hidden for years. The mystery surrounding her disappearance only added to her fame, as people were left to speculate what happened to the provocative pin-up(1). Unfortunately, after she removed herself from a life of fame she went through a second divorce. After which she became a born again Christian and started working for the Billy Graham Crusade. With a newly found religious fervor Bettie Page walked down the aisle for a third time and was married again. However, by 1978 her third marriage also ended with divorce papers. It was after this marriage that Page's mental illness was fully revealed, she fell into a deep depression post divorce. It was a toxic concoction of that depression and other mental illnesses that led Page to attack her landlady with a knife. At that point Bettie Page was sentenced to ten years in a mental institution – she was not released until 1992(2). Page sat down for one of her final interviews with Playboy in 1998. In this interview she told Playboy that she had never been ashamed of her career, she saw being naked as normal. Although, she did admit that she was puzzled by the effect she had on American culture. She also said that posing nude was far superior to sitting at a typewriter all day(3). By the time of her death, in 2008, Bettie Page had inspired countless artists, helped begin the sexual revolution, had two movies made about her, a documentary was made posthumously, and had become known as a pin-up Queen(1) – despite all the turmoil in her life.
Bettie Page's chaotic life molded her into an icon. She had a tumultuous childhood where her mother was putting her and her six siblings into orphanages and then pulling them out – throughout those hardships she excelled in academics. After graduating Peabody College Page left to follow her dreams in California. After setting the foundations for her modeling career she left for New York. While in New York her fame blasted off into the stratosphere and she was crowned the Queen of the pin-ups. When the '60s came around Bettie Page decided to disappear completely and became shrouded in mystery. While off the radar, Page descended into mental illness and was committed to a mental institution for ten years. After getting released Page went back into the public eye by doing various interviews until her death in 2008. This eventful life is what formed the icon that will forever be known as Bettie Page.
“Bettie Page Biography: 1923 – 2008,” accessed on June 12, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20110907063933/http://www.biography.com/articles/Bettie-Paige-162972
“Pin-Up Bettie Page, Whose Poses Ushered In Sexual Revolution, Dies,” accessed on June, 12, 2017, http://www.theage.com.au/world/pinup-bettie-page-whose-poses-ushered-in-sexual-revolution-dies-20081212-6xn7.html?page=1
“50s Pin-Up Queen Bettie Page Dies,” accessed on June 12, 2017, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7778963.stm