Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tuesday Morning Body Image Inspiration!

I came across these vintage pin-up images over the weekend and just HAD to share them. Not only are the images sociologically interesting (more on that below), but they are also absolutely joyful to look at. (Thanks MessyNessyChic.com for bringing these out of obscurity!)

Meet "Hilda," America's forgotten pin-up girl.  What makes Hilda so special? Well, for starters, she's chubby. (Yes, I know "chubby" isn't exactly a scientific term, and that Hilda might be "thin" or "fat" to other people, but let's just go with it for now...)  Chubby and fat women are unusual in the pin-up world .... and even more unusual in contemporary media images. It's always nice to see more than one (extremely rare) body type represented in our cultural products.

But what I like best about these illustrations of Hilda is the zest for life, the quirky personality, and the numerous hobbies and passions that have been built into her character. The first Hilda illustration I saw was remarkable to me because of her fleshy body, but with every image I saw after that, her body size became only one characteristic of many. 

In contemporary society, larger women are often viewed as "fat" before anything else, save for gender and race/ethnicity.  Fatness and thinness are so morally loaded that being very fat tends to overshadow - and, as a result, make invisible - all of the other characteristics and quirks that make up a whole person. I see this with my students all the time: they tell me that it doesn't matter how successful they are at school, how smart they are, how interesting they are, or how loved they are by their partners... if they aren't thin, the rest matters little. 

"A man can be successful and fat," one student wrote, "but a woman with the same achievements is successful but fat." It broke my heart to read this, because it's true.

Hilda thinks this is B.S.

So let's get back to Hilda. As an illustrated character, Hilda is a cultural product rather, not a real human being. Yet she was clearly designed to be more human than most. She's an avid reader, a guilt-free food lover who eats cheese and crackers in bed, a painter, a musician, an animal lover, a chore avoider (after my own heart!), a bicyclist, and a dancer-when-nobody's-looking... and chubby. She is active, adventurous, funny, independent,  confident, sensual, clumsy, and - yes - sexy... and chubby. 

One of the biggest and most harmful myths in our culture is the idea that only thin women can be happy, loved, and successful.  In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf famously explained, 
"A girl learns that stories happen to 'beautiful' women, whether they are interesting or not. And, interesting or not, stories do not happen to women who are not 'beautiful.'" 
But it's not. true. at. all. That's why we call it a myth. The truth is something we don't see, or allow ourselves to see, often enough: 
Interesting women lead interesting lives, period, 
no matter what they look like. 

Take a look around you and you'll find Hilda's everywhere, among your family, friends and acquaintances. You might even find one in the mirror.

You can find a larger collection of Dwayne Bryers' Hilda illustrations HERE, and some of my favorites are below, for your enjoyment. 

Cheese, crackers, salami,  sliced onions, and a book of poetry: THIS is joyful eating! 
Seeing these images fills me with joy! Can you relate? 
Which ones do you like best?
Finally: do you think my future first daughter would mind being named Hilda? 


  1. Love these images! It's hard to pick a favorite I relate to them all in a different way.

  2. For modern day consumer pinups, check out ModCloth.com.
    Lots of retro looking clothing to buy and consumers often post pics of themselves. Fashionable every day women... lovely!

  3. I have always loved Hilda ever since I first came across her in the NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) newsletters when I was getting my MA in sociology! (My project was also related to weight discrimination!)

  4. i love these thank you so much! my favourite is the one in the hammock :)

  5. I heard jortles coming out of my face as I looked at these. What a pleasure! Thanks for sharing Hilda - I've found a new role model.

  6. I always laugh when people defend that a woman doesn't have to conform to idealized beauty standards to be a great person, and then go out of their way to still describe the woman as sexy. Hilda is a lot of things, but she is not "sexy," much in the same way than an overweight man is not sexy. But Hilda doesn't have to be sexy to be a great, successful, achieving person. Isn't that the point? That she doesn't HAVE to be sexy to have self-esteem and be an interesting, wonderful person? So why then do you go out of your way to describe her as such?

    1. Sexy is in the eye of the beholder. You can't speak for everyone.

  7. I *love* these! I live in the Netherlands and if I wore a bikini to college the bike photo is what I would look like :)

  8. Anon - Who's to say Hilda's not "sexy"? I'm sure a lot of people think she is. Why not?

    BUT, does she, or ANYONE, HAVE to be "sexy"? THAT is the question.

    I think the word "sexy" is totally overused and it's time to retire it for a little while. Think about what we used to say before "sexy" - beautiful, pretty, sassy, saucy, cute, handsome, gorgeous... Now, it's like we've lost all our adjectives. EVERYTHING is "sexy" - even shoes are sexy. Brothers are sexy. Sisters are sexy. Parents are sexy. When will it be okay to say kids are "sexy"? Think about it. Is that what it will take for everyone to realize "sexy" is overused and we've crossed a line?

    Why? Why can't anything be anything BUT sexy? If it's valuable, it's sexy. No. I beg to differ.

    I'm sick of the word "sexy". Stick a fork in it.

    ~Maryanne R.

  9. My daughter had an eating disorder in middle school and high school, and I KNOW it is chiefly because she was around other girls who felt media portrayed the world as thin and glamorous for everyone. I wish I had the nerve to feel normal with my weight and build, but I don't. I'm overweight and I feel fat around all of my thin friends, but I keep my thoughts to myself. My exposure to Hilda today has given me an image to cherish when I have those thoughts. Hammock or bike? THANK YOU!!!!

  10. Thanks for much for posting this.

    I can definitely relate - I have the *exact* same body as Hilda. Sitting here trying to get ready for a party, and feeling very ugly, uncomfortable, and inadequate. It's such a relief to see Hilda. To me, it means, 'I'm really okay!' Seeing Hilda in so many different situations also helped me to realise the person that I am: I am a keen runner, PhD student, friend, daughter, advocate, reader, explorer...

    Helped me to realise that there really is nothing wrong with my body. The only thing that's a bit 'off' is my perception about myself.

  11. Holy crap I love these photos! Hilda is fun, sexy and adorable and, honest to god, looking at those lovely pin-ups for just the few minutes it took to read the post, I found myself coveting her curves. And her life.

    Kinda shocking, how powerful visual images can be. I know she's not real but yet...

    Wow. Every girl's locker room could use a set of these prints...

  12. I love these so much! I can't choose between the first one of Hilda on the bicycle or the one in the hammock. I'm so glad to see these. Hilda looks like me. I never thought I'd see a pin-up who looked like me. Thank you so much.