When you think of a pin-up girl, chances are that the names that first come to mind are the white actresses from old Hollywood like Marilyn Monroe or modern Burlesque stars like Dita Von Teese. But, aside from a handful of names like Eartha Kitt and Dandridge, how often do you think of a Black woman when you think of a vintage glamour icon? Sadly, Black women’s roles in the history of pin-up girls has been all but erased, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t made an impact.
“Unfortunately before the mid 1960s, society and media rarely made an effort to showcase Black women as being beautiful or glamorous,” said Angelique Noire, a model known on Instagram as The Black Pinup. “Even more rare were images supplied to the mainstream of beautiful women with dark skin. So the fact that these women and loads of other Black women are not household names was because of society’s inability to see past color. To succeed in the movies (the largest form of exporting American beauty worldwide) was already difficult. For a Black woman, it was close to impossible to achieve worldwide recognition.”
Pin-up models originally became famous in the early 1920s and gained more recognition during World War II when photos and cartoons of pin-up girls were displayed in the lockers of U.S. Army soldiers and even on fighter jets. Popular pin-up girls included Betty Grable and Bettie Page, who was referred to as the “Queen of Pinups.” Page was known for her jet black hair, blue eyes and porcelain White skin, the ultimate standard of sexuality according to Western beauty ideals at the time.
However Grable, Page and other white models weren’t the only pin-up models of the early-mid 20th century. Black pin-up models and dancers existed as well, but they just weren’t as mass-marketed.
Lottie “The Body” Graves was a burlesque dancer who was probably one of the most known Black dancers who began her dance career in 1947 at the age of 17. Graves performed all over the country and even danced in a few White clubs during a time when most places were segregated. She was known for her dance style, costumes and most notably, her body.