“I am what I am, I am my own special creation” – Gloria Gaynor
[Author’s Note: This post was originally published as an article in the first issue of Adore Pin Up Magazine, and has been altered.]
was sixteen when I first realised that it was possible to use eyeliner on top of my eyelids. It happened during class as I asked one of my friends how she managed to have such dark lashes and cat-like eyes. Not sure if I was making fun of her, she shared an amused look with another friend, and revealed to me the wonders of successfully applied make-up. That eyeliner could do more than just slowly melt down my face, was a personal epiphany.
Sadly, I am no longer in contact with this particular friend, but to this day I remember her as the woman who enthralled me with her unapologetic femininity, and who introduced me to the realm of personal taste, elegance, high-heels, corsets, and Dita Von Teese.
It didn’t take long for me to become obsessed with this newly revealed world and to want nothing more than to be part of its decadence, spectacle, glamour, confidence, titillation, and shameless self-love. I was hooked.
Nine years have passed since then, and I have spent a great deal of time exploring, testing, and trying on “femininity, “being a woman,” and wondering what that even means.
As I am sure you know, this process is an ongoing and complex one, but I wanted to share one crucial step on this journey with you because it changed a lot for me:
Getting involved with the Pin-Up lifestyle and community.
When I first encountered something called a “Pin-Up,” I only had Dita Von Teese, Google Images, and Gil Elvgren drawings to look up to.
For a long time it didn’t occur to me to actually figure out if there were any other women doing this, or if a community existed. However, once I started searching in earnest about four years ago, I very quickly found the names and pages of women such as Bianca Bombshell, Tess Holliday, Fuller Figure Fuller Bust, and Emily Doll [amongst many others].
Finding them, and their body positive/ self-loving messages changed me forever.
It was an encounter with the sublime – a stomach curdling joy-fear.
Joy, because there were women who looked so much more like me and nothing like the women I saw gracing the public sphere.
Fear, because everything I had believed about body size and appearance was false, and it had taken me so long to realise it.
Needless to say, I turned into a Pin-Up stalker out of pure fascination for these women who were defying all the rules that I thought were limiting me.
For every excuse and limitation that I used to justify why I couldn’t live out the life I secretly wanted to, I found at least one woman who proved me wrong.
For the first time, I realised I did not have to look any particular way. I could experiment with whoever I wanted to be, without the shame and guilt.
Even though it might seem shallow to acknowledge that a lifestyle that is primarily focused around vintage beauty and revealing of what the Victorians would call “unmentionables,” the confrontation with it enabled me to undergo a massive paradigm shift.
As a result of engaging with this lifestyle and the community around it, I started an internal healing process that helped me break the cycle of self-loathing and inspired me to reclaim my agency.
A side-effect of this was that feeling good about how they looked and what they were doing, slowly made me feel better about myself too.
It also introduced me to the notion of self-love and what femininity [that I had never truly connected with before] could look and feel like.
“Your life is a sham ’til you can shout out, I am what I am!” – Gloria Gaynor
I had my first Pin-Up shooting in September 2013, and I knew straight away: This is it.
Ever since that eyeliner incident and my initiation into the world of Pin-Up and Burlesque, I had secretly, and guiltily, dreamt of modelling. *I cannot tell you why
It took me at least half a year of soaking in the love and support that the people in the Pin-Up communities where giving their favourite models and each other, and mentally repeating the mantra “I am good enough,” before I asked a photographer-friend for a shooting.
Since then, every shooting has been a radical act of self-love. The photographic results, while I do enjoy the creative process, are never the most important aspect when I step in front of the camera.
What is most important to me is that every time I agree to do a shooting, or consciously doll up for everyday life, I say yes to myself. I say yes to enjoying that delicious feeling of enjoying my body, myself and my creativity.
I say yes to being allowed to do this.
Constantly reminding myself that there will be no lightning bolt striking me because I have learnt to love myself more and reduce my self-loathing and shame.
Even though there are parts of me I am not happy with, or days that don’t feel that great – I am still allowed and good enough to do this.
But even more importantly: Nobody handed this to me.
Nobody walked into my life and said “Hey, you! You’re going to be the next (insert dream surprise here)!”
I stopped waiting for someone to magically appear and tell me that I could or couldn’t do something. I stopped waiting for external permission. I stopped allowing my own beliefs and assumptions to be the gatekeepers to a better and more self-actualised life.
Participating in Pin-Up helped me claim my power over my thoughts and self, and taught me that you need to scout yourself first and believe that you can and are worthy of love, happiness and anything you set your mind to [without needing to adhere to fixed societal expectations].
Allowing myself to explore the Pin-Up lifestyle and community, made me bolder and braver in every area of my life.
The alternative world of Pin Up [and Burlesque] introduced me to generally uplifiting communities and spaces in which a range of diverse bodies were celebrated, and its participants could indulge in self-love, and authentic expressions of individuality.
While I know that a Pin-Up’s external expression of femininity is “merely” the replacement of current standards with older ones, embracing the lifestyle gave me the chance to distance myself from contemporary norms of beauty and body that I had felt inadequate for.
Due to this newfound freedom and the celebration of an alternative approach to life, I started going deeper and figuring out how I wanted to feel like as a woman.
Slowly, and without conscious thought, the lifestyle changes worked from the outside in.
Originally detesting all things “girly” [internalised mysogyny at its best!], I began to allow the symbols of femininity I was painting my face and adorning my body with, to seep into my soul, mind and body.
At first, I needed this outward appearance and construction of womanliness to feel feminine and good about myself.
But as time went by, the emotional strength I gained from immersing myself in it helped me reach a deeper understanding of myself as a woman and how I could feel and get in touch with my feminine energy.
It was just a small step on my journey towards myself, but it layed the foundations for everything I have the joy of experiencing today.
It gave me courage, happiness, and my newfound calling to inspire self-love in women who still need help realising they need to actively reclaim their love relationship with themselves. That, by making self-love a personal issue and unapologetic lifestyle, they do not have to wait for other people to allow them to be whatever it is they want to be.
What could have been nothing more than a superficial, and self-glorifying hobby changed me into a humbler, more [self] loving, and appreciative person.
Have you ever tried a path without knowing where it would take you, only to find out it was the best decision ever? I would love for you to share!
Photographer: Dirk Stepanovsky
Model/MUAH: Cat De Pillar
The Good Enough Creative
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