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Notorious Page a Pioneer Of Sorts

By Gloria Diaz

Check out Gloria's Blog — Edge of Gloria!

Fort Wayne Reader


There are a lot of arguments on why pornography is bad: it exploits women, and supposedly leads to violent sex crimes, among other things. A stellar example of this is Linda Lovelace, whose autobiography, “Ordeal,” noted in disturbing detail of being forced to do things that horrifed her. She did these things, she said, because if she didn’t, her abusive husband Chuck Traynor would kill her. Forced into prostitution and later pornography, ironically it was the success of “Deep Throat” that would eventually deliver her from her living nightmare. The phenomenal popularity of that movie eventually led to more appealing ways to make money, and eventually Lovelace was able to persuade people who were working with her to help her escape.

Contrast that with Bettie Page, who probably was pornography’s pioneering woman. Not wanting to be a teacher, she left her husband and went to New York City. Her beauty led her to meet photographers, and eventually was asked (nicely) to take her top off during a shoot one day. She complied, and from then on, a star was born.

Page seemed comfortable with the modeling, but in the film, “The Notorious Bettie Page,” she really wanted to be an actress. Her modeling career seemed incredibly successful though, probably because there were two sides to it. One was the flirty, come-hither cheesecake shots, the other was the “special request” shots of customers who enjoyed seeing beautiful women bound, gagged and wearing crippling footwear.

Page seemed amused by it all. It didn’t really bother her wearing the black lacy corsets, panties and bondage gear because she saw it all as dress-up. Maybe another reason she was okay with it was that during the photo shoots, the photographers and assistants were respectful. On one early shoot, she arrives at the location and watches another model go through her paces. When a photographer touches the model’s leg to move it into another position, he is severely reprimanded by the guy overseeing the shoot. The pictures were naughty, but the shoots were taken seriously, and none of the models in the movie seemed forced into doing anything they weren’t comfortable with.

The law, though, was catching up to the business of naughty pictures. The firm Page worked for was taking the heat, and Page decided maybe it was time to do something else.

What I found interesting throughout the movie was Page’s Christian persona. Despite being molested by her father (the movie implies, rather than shows this) and sexually assulted by a group of men (this is implied also) Page remains a Christian, and probably to the consternation of all born-again Christians reading this or who see the movie, isn’t ashamed of her modeling days. When a man recognizes who she is while she is preaching the Gospel in a park, she points out that Adam and Eve were naked. But people sinned when they wore clothes. To Page, the outfits she was asked to wear were just “silly costumes.” She was playing dress-up, no one was forcing her to do anything she didn’t want to do, and she was paid for it.

The movie doesn’t focus on what happened to Page in her later years. As I write this, she’s still alive, and looks pretty good at the ripe old age of 80. She’s been married three times and had fallen on hard financial times at one point. Which isn’t really saying much these days. There are people out there who haven’t been connected in any way to sexually explicit material who have had worse problems.

Back then though, it probably wasn’t the most noble or wholesome way for a Southern Christian girl to make a living. In the movie, you get the idea that Page is not taking the modeling seriously; it’s just a way for her to eat and keep a roof over her head until her big acting break came along. However, in the film, she says God gives everyone a special talent or gift, and it’s up to us to make the most of it. Page never became a great actress, but as a female photographer (played by Lili Taylor) points out in the film, it takes all kinds to make the world. To some, Page’s legacy may be the birth of pornography. I see it as a woman who wasn’t ashamed of her body. And in this day and age when a majority of women hate their bodies, perhaps Page’s true legacy is learning to be comfortable in your own skin.

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