The Frankenstein Bride


About a year ago, I went to an exhibit of pin-up girls at the Museum of Sex in New York. The exhibit chronicled the history of the pin-up from the inception of photography in the 19th century to 1960, when the art form is considered to have died out.

There were several interesting changes along the way. Among other things, sets got increasingly artificial and the coy smiles lost their air of giggliness and became more knowing, then slutty. There was less sense that the women had been caught doing something normal in their skivvies and more that they were there for the sole purpose of sexual entertainment, but what I noticed most was the changes in the women’s bodies. In the 19th century photos, the women had smallish breasts, dimpled thighs and round tummies. As time went on, those women’s bodies were pared down to raw muscle and bone.

The male was somewhat less represented in the exhibit, but his devolution can be tracked fairly easily if you know where to look, and I do. Vintage porn shows men with somewhat less than six-pack abs and twelve-inch dicks fondling and fucking round, dimply girls in positions that, for the most part, resemble those a lazy couple might try on a Saturday morning. Seventies porn is famous for it’s hairy chests and thick bushes, but round about the eighties, the hair started to come off and the muscles started to pop. This isn’t just a woman problem. Men’s ideal bodies, too, no longer bear much resemblance to actual men.

It isn’t just the visual stuff, either. Every time I read a description of a woman coming easily from penetration alone, I wince a little. Yes, I often wish it worked that way, but it isn’t really that difficult as it is. Most women don’t have problems having orgasms, they just don’t have them through piston-like action by monster cocks, and while it’s fun to imagine that they might, there’s a very real danger of setting up an expectation that can’t be met. The end result is some poor guy who has anesthetized either his dick or his brain pounding away at some poor women who’s starting to get dry and sore, while both parties wonder what the heck is wrong with them. The answer, of course, is nothing.

We can’t even blame this on the opposite sex, because we’re doing it to ourselves. The decision-makers at magazines like Playboy and Penthouse aren’t usually women, and the ones writing and selling the romance novels aren’t usually men. This is entirely self-inflicted and for the most common, even innocent, motive out there: profit. People are creating what sells. It’s that simple.

The end result was best summed up by Chris Bridges in an article published by Clean Sheets back in May entitled “Help! I’m Turning Into an Anti-Porn Activist.” Now when this man starts complaining about porn, we know there’s a problem, and thankfully, he articulates that problem very nicely. On his list of things he’d like to see in a porn flick, the first is this: “Normal looking people who at least look like they’re having fun.”

Normal-looking people having fun. That was my impression of the 19th and early 20th century pin-ups, that these were normal women having fun. Whether they were coy, giggly, mischievous or even shocked, the feelings that showed on their faces were human. The angry, “come fuck my filthy cunt, you nasty bastard” look came later, but proliferated with astonishing speed, as did the cold, “suck it, whore” eyes on the men. The face of sex had changed, and what was playful and intimate was getting lost

The process is easy to chronicle, but the consequences are a bit harder to measure. What I can say for sure is that we have collectively lost track of what, exactly, is normal. As Cindy Crawford once put it in an interview, even she doesn’t look like Cindy Crawford without the collective work of make-up artists, fashion designers and graphics wizards, not to mention the personal trainer and dietician. The problem comes in when we try to imitate this look in real life. The part of our brain that knows what Photoshop can do isn’t always on speaking terms with the part that responds to the images themselves.

It doesn’t help that sexually speaking, humans are insatiable. If we like something, we want more and more and more. Men like big boobs? Well, let’s make ’em bigger. Women like muscles? Well, let’s get all of that pesky hair out of the way so they can see ’em. People want to see penetration? Trim those bushes, right down to the bare skin! In the process of creating the pornographic sure sell, we’ve broken the human body down to the sexual essentials, creating in the process an ideal of beauty that’s a patchwork of things considered to be attractive, bits taken from one body and electronically grafted onto another, or simply pushed and pulled out of their original shapes. It’s the same technique used by Dr. Frankenstein, to pretty much the same effect.

We have also pulled the rug out from under anything that might have provided a reality check. Sex ed? Just plumbing. Teaching anything else, like joy or pleasure, is almost illegal. Sure every once in a while a study comes out that shows that sex improves with time, but it’s dismissed as people being willing to settle, not accepted as an indication that our collective libido is off-kilter. Very little of either porn or mainstream media reflects anything resembling normal human bodies or sexuality, and the thought of normal people having sex seems disgusting, even perverse. After all, who would want to fuck that? Where porn is concerned — heck, where mainstream media are concerned! — we’ve long passed the point where the tail is wagging the dog. and as a result, we don’t seem to realize that we’re no longer turned on by actual human beings. We have created our own monsters, sexual ideals that are no longer truly human.

Even worse, we’re deforming and mutilating ourselves to look like them. Waxing takes off hair, but it can also take off skin, and laser treatments for hairiness can leave permanent burns. Dieting can cause far more serious problems than the weight itself, especially if it tips into an eating disorder. Cosmetic surgery is still surgery, and as such it carries some unpleasant risks. Modifications to the genitalia involve risks of losing their use entirely, and given that the whole point of this exercise is increased sexual attractiveness, that in particular is seriously counterproductive.

I think most people eventually figure it out, at least to some extent. Either we find ourselves loved or wanted by a real person or in love or lust with one, or we get jaded enough to get off the merry-go-round, or maybe we just get fed up with trying to shave our backs. But our ability to manipulate and disseminate images has evolved to the point where the prettiest girl in the village is Hillary Duff, and by the time we see her, she bears almost no resemblance to what Hillary Duff sees in the mirror when she gets out of the shower. Our porn is no longer our own species. The death of the pin-up girl marked the birth of the centerfold, a new aesthetic ideal made up of composites of exaggerations of our knee-jerk reactions.

Loving a person of even normal weight, size, proportions and hairiness, much less something on the farther reaches of the Bell Curve, is considered settling or being forgiving, maybe being open-minded. In any case, it’s definitely not considered something to aspire to unless you have no choice, but what we don’t seem to realize is that even the partners of porn stars and superstars have no choice, that they have to deal with their significant other on no make-up days or in between wax jobs, never mind sick with the flu or two weeks post-partum. There’s a world of difference between Brad Pitt dressed up and made up like Achilles, and Brad Pitt three days unshaven (including his chest) with a hangover. Knowing what I know about very short body hair on men, I’m betting there are nights when Angelina Jolie is cuddling up to a porcupine.

I like the pin-up girl far better than the centerfold. I like her playfulness, the sparkle in her eye that met adventure and embarrassment halfway. I also miss her soft arms, round tummy and dimpled thighs. These are essential characteristics of the female body, part of what distinguishes it from the male, but they were completely stripped from the centerfold. They are no longer considered desirable traits, and if the model can’t remove them, the computer does.

Men have fared no better. I’ve encountered many over the years who have agonized over their perfectly normal bodies, but after all, if body hair, receding hairlines and average penises aren’t in porn, then they can’t possibly be hot, right?

Underneath the siren call of the centerfold, though, I hear a collective murmur of “But I like them that way!” Sometimes it’s men who want some cushion for pushin’. Sometimes it’s women who like running their fingers through partner’s chest hair. Sometimes it’s just the person who closes the browser window and sighs when a search for new porn turns up nothing worth whacking to.

That mischievous, giggly pin-up girl, though, is still around. Just type “vintage” before you type “porn”, and maybe you’ll see her smiling over her shoulder, her plump cheeks coloring with suppressed laughter. [Editor’s Note: We recommend RetroRaunch: the oldest, largest and very best Vintage Porn website.]

P.S. To see a slide show of the changes in the ideal female body, go to:

Ann Regentin
July 2006

© 2006 Ann Regentin. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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