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As James Brown once so rightly sang 'this is a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl.” Oh, how I love being a woman. Women are so influential, and I think there’s a lot of underestimation regarding their influence. But also Beyoncé was right when she sang Who Run the World. So on that note, let’s take a deep dive into the world of entertainment and how women have shaped it from the years of The World War to the age of TikTok.
We all have such a love-hate relationship with influencers but have you heard of the Gibson girls? The MOTHER of all influencers. Their successors, however, were and are the more known influencers, so to speak. The pin-up girls played a crucial role in shaping wars, body image and lifestyles. The invention of pin-up girls is rooted in the creation of calendar advertisements. The first calendar girl was not a girl, but it was, in fact, George Washington, who, as it turned out, was not a popular choice. The calendars, however, still guaranteed the year-long advertising space and thus led to the creation of the first calendar girl named Cosette in 1903.
Pin-up girls became influencers in their own right during the first world war and the propaganda that had sky-rocketed. The US President at the time, President Woodrow Wilson, founded the Division of Pictorial Publicity to push their pin-up propaganda. The division used women donning red, blue and white military ensembles with emasculating slogans like “Gee, I wish I were a man, man. I’d join the navy” and “Be a man” to get recruits.
The 1920s gave women the sweet, sweet taste of freedom in the form of jazz, shorter hemlines, alcohol probation and a roaring air of rebelliousness. The pin-up artists, such as Rolf Armstrong, joined the rebellion and responded with even more scantily clad women who paved the way for the cheeky pin-ups of the ‘40s — the era of the second world war. Look, by now, the propaganda had been perfected. They knew that sex sells. The pin-ups were portrayed as women posing flirtatiously with an American sweetheart aura surrounding them. These women reminded the soldiers overseas of what awaited them back home. The women went everywhere with them — barracks, submarines, the uniform pockets and even the fighter jets had the women painted across them.
So, what about women in entertainment has impacted lifestyles so majorly? Pin-up girls started as propaganda tools. However, as they gained notoriety, the word ‘pin-up’ became an umbrella tool. People saw the emergence of different women named after their creators. The petty girl, created by George Petty, was the girl next door but with unrealistic body dimensions. She was always illustrated doing mundane, male-dominated jobs so the soldiers at the front would feel a sense of normalcy and stay motivated. Gil Evgreen’s iteration had women doing domestic jobs and revealed much more, but under the garb of accidents.
The reason why pin-ups were so influential was that they catered to many people in a lot of different ways. For women, it was the air of rebellion they carried while simultaneously reminding the soldiers what they were fighting for and what they would come home to. They were also seen as the ‘idealistic’ women who sat at home and looked pretty while doing chores. But, from a capitalistic perspective, they were props that would sell out products. Women in entertainment have always done more than entertain. Their popularity soared and has never gone back down, with Zoe Mozert illustrating her pin-up women realistically created a want for real women.
Bettie Page helped bring pin-ups to the photography world. Around the same time, Hugh Hefner launched Playboy and understood the importance of photographs. The magazine’s popularity soared because of his vision for pin-ups and photography, where he pushed the limits. He also helped launch one of the biggest stars of the 20th century, Marilyn Monroe.
As immoral as Hugh Hefner and his ideals are, the conception of Playboy paved the way for the modelling industry. The models have always been present in the Gibson Girl, the Burlesque and Cabaret dancers and pin-up girls. The rise of photography helped bring it to the limelight and make it more mainstream. While Playboy’s imagination of pin-ups helped streamline modelling, it simultaneously made the familiarised pin-up illustrations and pin-ups, in general, die out.
While pin-ups were accepted by the masses, in 20 years from 1930 to the 1950s, Ms Lisa Fonssagrives laid the groundwork for the standards the supermodels of the ‘90s would have to follow. She and fashion magazines had a torrid love affair. She appeared on the cover of Vogue over 200 times, which helped boost the magazine’s presence and make her a famous face. This also helped set the standard of appearing in Vogue as the milestone of making it as a model.
The ‘60s saw the rise of models like Jean Shrimpton, who revolutionised the way women wore skirts, albeit accidentally. Twiggy, known for her slim figure, shifted the preference from curvier bodies to slender figures. Not only was Twiggy’s body a deviation from the norm, but for the youth, a revolution in itself. The societal norms of the 50s expected women to be prim and proper, and there were clear gender roles. Twiggy’s haircut was not just a haircut but a step towards blurring the lines between genders; it allowed people to be who they are and expanded the idea and vision of beauty. These are two examples of how models shaped the industry in the early days.
While the ‘60s saw models like Twiggy, the ‘80s and ‘90s saw the emergence of the supermodels of the 1990s — Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, among others. These women changed the way people saw models. Now they were not just hangers for clothes but people with immense influence, people that had gained celebrity status. They were powerful marketing tools, much like pin-ups in the 1950s. The supermodels’ fame let them launch fashion lines and host talk shows.
The holy trinity of supermodels in the ‘90s consisted of Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington. And later, Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer joined the original big three to form the Big Six. They became the go-to people for designers and magazines, and their influence was tremendous. Paraphrasing what Michael Kors said of Cindy Crawford, the perception of the American Girl shifted from blue eyes and blonde hair to a ‘beauty with brains’ brunette with extra professionalism. The physical attributes of the new American girl in the ‘90s reminisced of the pin-up girls in the ‘40s. The same influence was also seen through Linda Evangelista when she cut her hair in the late-80s. Although the brands were dropping her for a year, she returned with a bang a year later. Her short hair became popular among the average woman, leading to her hairstyle being called ‘The Linda.’
The Big Six had an image of being ultra-glamorous, they catered to men with their sex appeal and catered to women with their fashion, but their popularity started to decline when the dressed-down style came into fashion in the late-90s. The couturiers now favoured anonymous models and returned to when models were just the hangers to showcase the clothes. Magazines rarely featured models on their covers and editorials and favoured Hollywood actors and pop stars, which is still followed.
Fast forward a few years, and the digital revolution brought us a new wave of models that changed the game again. With social media platforms on the rise from the 2010s until now, models now control their narrative. In what the industry is today, being a big name does not matter as much because labels are still grasping the concept of having models as just a way to showcase the clothes. As mentioned, with social media platforms on the rise, this is truly where the models showcase themselves as people. Their audiences look up to them for style inspiration, life advice, humanitarian causes they can help and much more.
And now, a century later, we have TikTok, where models are even more liberated. With Instagram, all they had was a picture. Now, with our favourite cursed app, Gen Z models are utilising trends to show off more of their personalities. Just like the women before them, they are shaping trends and lifestyles. They’re connecting with a new generation in the way they want to be connected. They speak up for issues they believe in, hoping to get people to rally behind them and raise awareness. With the digital age Gen Z models, all these roles have been easier to play and not only do we see body ideals more positively, but the era of the supermodels also started a revolution in industry and pushed for inclusion. Looking at the past, I think we can only see positive changes and ideas and hope for future models to carry the legacies of the old forward.
While the pin-up girls and ‘90s supermodels have a lot in common in their roles, some things that connect them are beauty, body ideals, and fashion. Many fashion trends from the ‘40s have seen a comeback in the ‘90s, and the ‘90s have made a comeback in the 2020s. So from the Gibson Girl to the pin-ups to the Big Six and the current Gen Z models, women in entertainment have had to do much more than sit and look pretty. In the 1940s, illustrations of women helped bring recruits to the forces, boost morale, give citizens a sense of patriotism and give soldiers overseas a sense of purpose for what they were fighting for. In the 50s, the same illustrations became a marketing tool while perpetuating the ideal of domestic women, again a propaganda tool to let women stay home. In the 60s, we saw the models become a symbol of rebellious youth and someone people could follow. The era of supermodels showed us that reaching great heights can lead to a great downfall. Now, Gen Z models are displaying that people can control their narratives.
As we continue to see women make their mark in the industry using social media as a tool for new kinds of expression, it's exciting to think about the new directions entertainment will take in the future. What do you think? 💭
Any questions/suggestions as to what we should cover next? Reach out to us and we’re always here to chat!
— Written by Shaurya, Trends Reporter at The Z Link
Connect with Shaurya on Instagram where she shares great content and lives her best influencer life as a fashion student in Paris. And she writes all of these great issues too. What can’t she do??? 🧐 Thank you for reading!
Incredible! How do you know so much ?? 🤩