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Pinups of the Past (and What They Teach Us Today)

May 1934 from "Pinups of the Past" (from E. Phillips/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
May 1934 from “Pinups of the Past” (from E. Phillips/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

I wonder if there has ever been a time in history when human beings have not been fascinated by the human body – our own and others’.

According to various sources, the “mirror” was invented sometime around the first century.

Depending on how you define “camera,” the first one was invented either in 1000 A.D., 1827, or still later.

All that to say, human beings have had access to the means for examining our visual selves for thousands of years.

Even before mirrors or cameras (let alone “selfies”), there were ponds and paintings, poetry and prose.

Recently I came across a photo montage entitled “Rare Pinups: Vintage Bikini Models.”

The montage contains images from as early as 1902 – just a few decades after the camera itself became widely accessible.

Some of the models’  costumes must be seen to be believed. It is hard to imagine bathing in these outfits – even walking in some of them must have been difficult.

Alongside the usual assortment of film and show stars are un-named models. Very few appear to be re-touched after the fact (aka the widespread use of tools like Photoshop today).

The two photos that most captivated me are #30 and #34 (just scroll through the montage – each photo is numbered).

I noticed a few key things after I completed my viewing of the full montage.

  • I remembered #30 and #34 the best – and felt most moved by and connected to these images.
  • I felt more comfortable in my own skin.
  • I felt more body confidence.
  • I felt happier.

In a way, the montage had gently mentored me without me even realizing it – giving me a glimpse of what it might be like to live in a culture where beauty ideals more closely match my own body.

There was a time in my life when I thought my worth 100% relied upon my body shape and size. 

Its shape and size, how others perceived it, and (most importantly) how I perceived it, formed the foundation for the way I valued myself.

My eating disorder did not cause this erroneous assessment of my value, but it did not help matters.

Today, post-recovery, I would say that body shape and size compromises a much smaller percentage of my total “self worth assessment” – maybe 30%? 20%? 25%? It can change from day to day.

By that I mean, I still factor in my sense of myself as having a body, as existing within a form called a body, and I still perceive a direct relationship between my actions and my body’s health and wellbeing.

So if I do not take good care of my body one day – if I mistreat or neglect it, if it falls ill, if unresolved stress causes me to break out in hives (never fun) – that factors in to how I esteem myself.

I realize today that I only get one body, and how well it serves me is up to me. So today, and especially in light of the health impact of the eating disorder, I hold myself to a fairly high standard of self-care.

But I am also not immune to the near-continual barrage of airbrushed perfection in the magazines and on television. I may no longer believe my worth as a person depends on mirroring cultural beauty ideals, but my joy in and satisfaction with my own healthy body can be tarnished by them nonetheless.

I felt none of that while viewing the vintage bikini models montage.

Nearly all of the female models looked like me. At times, while viewing an image, I could even visualize myself as a “model” – wearing the same costumes, fitting in, being accepted, even being celebrated even – for my womanly curves.

It was such a lovely feeling.

In sharp contrast, when I view today’s fashion magazines, I feel like I’m looking in on an alien species.

Yes, they have eyes, noses, mouths, legs, arms, feet, hands, just like me – but otherwise my mind just can’t seem to make its peace with such airbrushed visual “perfection.”

But these vintage models – these are my people.

These gals – well, we could hang.

We could have fun together, forgetting all about our bodies and what we are wearing and what people might be thinking or saying, just splashing in the surf, laughing and chatting, enjoying the rare privilege of being alive, being healthy, and being together.

Ahh. I think I’m finally starting to understand the allure of the “good ol’ days” at last.

Today’s Takeaway: If you viewed the full vintage photo montage, how did you feel afterwards? What were your impressions of the photographs, the costumes, the scenes, the models? Do you feel your own sense of body satisfaction and comfort in your skin would be at all changed if these images were still part of mainstream life?


Pinups of the Past (and What They Teach Us Today)

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). Pinups of the Past (and What They Teach Us Today). Psych Central. Retrieved on November 14, 2019, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
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