Is Pinup Culture Toxic?

The pinup and vintage loving community has prided itself on generally being one that is empowering, supportive and inclusive but over the last year or so, I’ve started to notice a huge shift in it’s original values. I should start by saying that no community will ever get along with no issues or quarrels, that’s just not how humans work together which is fine, we don’t all have to be friends, but as of late, I’ve noticed more and more pinups leave the community and or, discuss how they are feeling unsupported and bullied. Today I thought I’d discuss my own thoughts and experience on this topic and hopefully offer some support for those thinking of entering the community, or to those already in the community.

Looking at old vintage images of pinups, you generally see white models with the same body shape with very little variation between them. Today, the pinup community has attempted to embrace woman and those who identify as women within the community and has done so successfully to a certain extent. Today, there are popular and famous pinups from all backgrounds and ethnicities, as well as embracing a wide range of skin colours, body alterations and body sizes. There’s no ‘cookie-cutter pinup’ and embracing what makes you unique will hopefully be what makes you shine. There are pinup competitions and pageants who allow anyone identifying as female to enter, and all shapes, sizes and colours are welcome and encouraged to join. When I joined the community, this is how I hoped it would be; we often heard “vintage clothing not vintage values” and I was excited to be accepted into such a diverse community. It’s a little sad to say it hasn’t stayed that way.

Being an avid traveller and sent around Australia for work, I’ve linked up with many different pinups from all over. I often get asked what my own Perth pinup community is like and sure we have our issues but it’s interesting to hear the issues shared by other pinups. Some communities are described as “cliquey” where you need to be well established or look a certain way to be allowed entry into a pinup friendship group, other communities do not socialise at all and some are considered nasty and very competitive. I often ask how long has the community been like this and the most common response I get is along the lines of, “it wasn’t always like this, only recent”. So what’s happened in recent times to change all this?

Let’s start by looking at competitiveness. In any community, people can generally get a long just fine until there is a prize to be won. This prize can be a crown and a sash, popularity and status, a job as a brand ambassador or perhaps a magazine publication. Within the pinup community, there are many reasons why girls become pinups and what they want to do once they are a pinup. Some are more than happy to dress up whenever they want to and go about their daily life without any need to win a title or to reach a million instagram followers and some just want to challenge themselves, gain some self confidence and be social. This type of pinup generally stays out of any drama and isn’t part of any negative actions or bullying. Other pinups however really want to gather as many pageant titles as they can or really want to be big in the influencer community. Whenever someone gets competitive, that can be where the green-eyed monster starts to creep in. Competition is good, we need it to push ourselves and to really feel the weight of our accomplishment. It’s when that competitive drive turns that person into a bully or a nasty person where problems arise.

Some pinups really want to establish themselves which is great but it’s those who play mind games, are nasty to others, use others for their own benefit or just bully in general that begin a wave of negativity and hurt. Within any pinup or vintage community, you will find those people; they won’t make themselves obvious but stay around long enough and you’ll soon figure out who they are. I’ve come across many in my time and generally let them be and try not to get involved. Supporting pinups with big dreams is a wonderful thing to do; the community has the ability to become such an empowering place and gives women a chance to come together and band in our strengths. In saying that, you don’t have to support every pinup and you always have the choice to decide if someone is worth supporting or not. If you know of someone being a bully and they start a new pinup venture, you don’t have to interact and you can just let them be.

Healthy competition is just that, healthy. When wanting to reach a goal, or to be better than someone else starts to effect your mental or physical health, that is when the problem really comes into play. I personally believe that competition becomes unhealthy when one loses sight of their personal growth and improvement and only focuses on the success of another/others. It’s easy to look at others within the community and think, “they have more titles than me” or “they have more followers than me” and feel really bad about yourself but it’s important to stop and assess your own achievements. You may not have as many titles, but your personality on stage is really starting to shine through, plus, they’ve been doing it for many years. Or, they may have more followers but your new and still figuring out how social media works and are struggling with the algorithm. It’s all ok; and it’s all part of your own process, personal journey and inner growth. (I’ve written about jealousy and disappointment before so if you want to read more, please check that blog out here). If you were to look back on your own pinup journey and see how far you’ve come, you may be amazed. It is also worth asking yourself why is another pinup’s success more important to you than your own, where do you want to take your pinup persona and what makes you uniquely special. You may be surprised to find that what you value in someone else, you are close to achieving.

Unfortunately, like any community or group of interacting humans, there will always be bullying. With many pinups having an online presence, it’s even easier to attack, bully or publicly shame another individual. I’m sad to say I’ve had many rude and mean comments aimed at me and I know they will never stop coming in. I’ve been viciously attacked online to the point I am still afraid of posting images online and constantly question everything I post; I’ve never felt safe on my own social media since it happened. There is bullying in the pinup community, I’m not going to sugar coat it. It may not be out in the open but it’s certainly there. I’ve heard many awful comments aimed at other individuals, I’ve heard of nasty things girls have done to each other and I’ve heard of pinups going out of their way to make life miserable for other pinups. It’s going to happen and continue to happen; I’ve intervened and stepped in whenever I could but a lot of the time, the bullying is very deep seated and between individuals who need to work through their issues. We will never have a community where everyone gets along, but we can have a community that respects, understands and tolerates each others differences.

We are all in charge of our actions, words and choices. Like the old saying, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. Of course, if you do have an issue with an individual, I’d recommend reaching out to them and discussing the issue or hurt you are feeling to see if you can resolve it. If you can’t, that’s also ok but try to ignore the individual and move on and away from them. You don’t have to interact with anyone you don’t want to or who makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. I’d hope that we are all adults here and can behave as such. There is no ‘pinup police’ who can manage the behaviour of pinups, it’s up to each person within that community to be accountable for their own actions and to strive to do the right thing.

As social media widens our reach and access to individuals around the world, unfortunately, it means that toxic behaviour can follow. I’ve mention my own negative experiences above but I’ve also noticed that some pinups are really becoming obsessed with the online success of others. Some pinups seem to gain thousands of social media followers weekly whilst some have a very slow progress. Online algorithms are out of our control and our following does not place any value on who we are as people. It’s easy to think some pinups within the community are getting loads of collaborations because of their popularity but make sure you realise that it didn’t happen over night. Many work very hard on their branding, the curation of their images and also have access to different opportunities in general (location, age, etc). It’s not necessary to post hurtful comments to or about them and it’s also good to remember that not every pinup has been honest about their online persona. It’s also not necessary to scroll through someones account and poke fun at them, bash their success or belittle their achievements; it’s really not a good look and jealousy will eat you alive. Personally, I know many big pinups who have purchased followers and others who have social media managers (nothing wrong with that) to help them out. All these factors come into play and it’s not making you any less of a person. If someone is using negative ways to boost themselves (such as name dropping, begging for product or paying for followers), you don’t want their kind of audience anyway. It’s always better to be authentic and grow your own following without having to fake it.

Furthermore, another toxic trait within the community is gatekeeping. Whilst discussing future plans or even outfits and performances with fellow pinups, I often hear “oh I can’t do that because [insert name here] does that” which makes me a little sad. I definitely do not believe in copying someone or stealing someone else’s signature thing and saying it’s now yours but just because one individual teaches, coaches, mentors, sews, writes, blogs, films etc, does not mean you can’t do it either. There’s really nothing new a pinup can do; if you look far enough, someone is probably already doing the thing you want to do. Even before I post certain blogs I always make sure to search for similar blogs just incase (and if I find similar topics, I will try to link them to spread the love). It’s ok to do the same thing as someone else as long as you make it your own. If you want to host pageants then go ahead and host them your way; if you want to be a sewing pinup, just go for it!

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but there have been issues in many communities with pinups and individuals encroaching on another look. Image is very important to pinup and the quest for uniqueness and an iconic look is very difficult. I don’t think there’s a single hair colour that isn’t somewhere in the community which makes standing out quite difficult. In saying this; pinups also draw a lot of inspiration from icons past and present; you cannot put your hair into a poodle without someone thinking of ‘I love Lucy’ or put your hair in a pageboy without someone thinking it’s Dita’s hair. Drawing inspiration is fine but copying is not. It never is and never will be. Of course, you might accidentally copy someone without you realising; there is a lot of content being shared daily and it would be impossible to see what every pinup is doing at all times. If you find out something you did is similar to someone else’s, try to message them to ask if they mind (I’ve done this with blog ideas that I’ve worked on and found someone else had already covered the issue). Be polite and don’t get upset if they claim ownership. Of course, if someone comes up to you and says you have copied them, please be polite and respectful enough to listen to them and hear their side of the story. If it was an accident (as I said, its hard to be truely original), just apologise and see if there’s something you can do to rectify the situation. If you were actually copying, own up and stop.

I know this topic is a whole thing in itself but basically; be aware of others and try to do your own thing. You will never get it right every time and if you do upset someone, remain calm, understanding and respectful. It’s quite hurtful and rude when you find out someone is copying you; it takes a lot of work to market yourself in a certain way and it really sucks when someone just takes it. Discovering who you are is an amazing journey and if you truly embrace your uniqueness and do your own thing, I’m sure people will vibe with you and love who you are. We already have a Dita, an Audrey, a Marilyn and a Lucy, what we really need is you to be you!

When it comes to looking at the pinup community as a whole, it’s pretty clear to see that unfortunately there is a very little racial diversity. Back in the 1950’s, there were very few pinups of colour, today, there some really amazing pinups of colour but we really need to be more welcoming and open in the community. Pinups of colour have been reporting much abuse (especially online) as well as feelings of isolation, misunderstanding and often say they are overlooked or ignored. After the BLM movement of 2020, many pinups within the community put up the black square of silence in a vow to listen to black voices and be a better ally but there has been very little done after that one empty gesture. The community need to actively embrace, empower and promote pinups of colour, share their stories and their struggles and make them a true equal member of the community. Many vintage/retro companies after the BLM movement reached out to pinups of colour to offer collabs but many pinups that I have spoken to recently say that the collab offers have since stopped and some even reported feeling that the companies were only interested because skin colour was such a pressing issue and they wanted to look diverse and inclusive, but as soon as people stopped thinking about the movement, it was business as usual. (Please note, none of the pinups I interviewed or discussed this topic with wanted their names attached in fear of negative attention so I have kept their identities private). The topic of racial inequality within the vintage and pinup community is huge and really could be it’s own post. There is much to discuss and share and I hope to keep going with this idea as time goes on.

Writing this post doesn’t make me feel good. I look back and wish I had said something at a certain time, behaved another way or done something different but I’ve always tried to lean and own my mistakes. I can apologise if I’ve accidentally hurt someone but I know that I’ve honestly never gone out of my way to hurt, copy or upset someone. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing and sure I wish things had turned out different but it’s the responsibility of ones actions that make the community better. If we all took more accountability, the community would be different. Personally, I don’t think the community will change anytime soon as there’s no ‘quick fix’ for this sort of issues. If you are feeling bullied or attacked, please reach out to someone and perhaps try to find a friendship group that is more positive and accepting of who you are.

If you’re in the pinup community and finding it is effecting your mental or physical health, you don’t have to continue being a part of anything that is making you unhappy or ill. I’ve known loads of pinups who have left the community because of petty drama and rude people, they are still pinups and doing well for themselves but they just don’t interact with the community. It’s ok to leave, you can quietly slip away and if you’ve made true friends, you can stay friends with those people. Like many niche communities, there will always be some form of bullying, negativity and unfortunately, toxic people. You don’t need to put up with it and can find your own crowd. I am sorry about such a negative post and writing this blog has taken me over a year to do so. I’ve deleted and started again on this topic so many times and even now I know there is so much more to say (such as negativity and attacks aimed at pinups of colour etc but I feel like that should be told by someone experiencing such a thing to share their own story).

I’d like to leave you by saying that the pinup community is what you make it. You can use it to gain popularity and influence, or gain self confidence or to find some like minded friends. You don’t have to partake in any parts of pinup life that you don’t like (eg, pageants, swing dancing etc) and you don’t have to put up with people who are negative towards you. If you can be the best version of yourself, and not lie, cheat or steal your way to whatever your goals may be, then you’re doing a great job in the community. If you’ve read this post and thought “oh no, maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do”, talk to someone about it and plan ahead to make better choices. We have power over our actions, words and choices so make them carefully and be the best pinup version of yourself.

Please note: if you are experiencing bullying and need mental health assistance, please please call the Lifeline hotline (13 11 14) or the suicide hotline (1300 22 4636).

Links to get help:
Beyond Blue 
LifeLine Australia


Note: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions and thoughts expressed are solely my own and not influenced in any way. There are no affiliate links and I do not benefit from any link clicks or purchases made

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