Body Positive Pinups: A Review of Bombshells and Dollies
featuring cinematographer Marie Ilene
By Christina Schultz
When I hear “Viva Las Vegas”, I think of the 1964 Elvis Presley film and song of the same name. But thanks to the documentary Bombshells and Dollies (Dan Halperin, 2019), I learned that “Viva Las Vegas” now also refers to the world’s largest Rockabilly Festival, for those in the know. Now in its 23rd year (although it was canceled this year due to the coronavirus), the Rockabilly Festival includes music, dancing, a car show, tiki pool parties, jiving classes, a tattoo lounge, burlesque shows, on-site weddings and - the highlight of Bombshells and Dollies - a pinup contest.
Sounds like a typical weekend in Vegas, right? Yes and no. While the 20,000 plus attendees celebrate the music, style and panache of the 1950s, Viva Las Vegas is a modern, liberal update of those turbulent post-war times. While women à la Rosie the Riveter were gaining respect as a valued part of the workforce and filling in the shoes of the damaged and fallen soldiers, women’s rights, including the body, period, and sex positive movements, equal pay and workplace equality, the right to abortions and birth control, trans rights, and so much more, were simply left out of the narrative. Pinups, in particular, looked fairly similar in terms of body type back then; they generally were long, leggy, Barbie Doll shapes.
According to Marie Ilene, cinematographer for Bombshells and Dollies, filmmaker, burlesque dancer and Rockabilly enthusiast, the modern day Rockabilly pinup community is completely different, which the documentary makes clear. Marie explains how the women in the community are incredibly supportive of one another, welcoming of all bodies and allowing an overall atmosphere of empowerment to thrive. Rather than lamenting the supposed shortcomings of the body and discussing what “needs” to be changed, women discuss their bodies openly and share tips for where to find clothes that actually fit them, no matter what their shape or size. The vintage clothing the women don, Marie states, is actually made to celebrate curves. This is what makes the pinup contest so different from other beauty contests out there.
The winner of VLV ‘18 (2015), the contest featured in the film, is Miss Victory Violet, and she definitely (at least at the time of filming) has curves. The other contestants range from petite dollies to big babes and everything in between. Over the course of the film, we become acquainted with the 12 contestants: Angie Honeyburst, Brittany Jean, Dixie Delight, HellCath, Jayne Dean, Ivy Fox, Marilia Skraba, Miss Lulu Devine, Miss Victory Violet, Pinup Little Bit, Ruby Red and The Blue Haired Betty and see such a range of styles, colors and bodies - no beauty standard BS going on here! We also learn that each woman has her own unique reason for joining the pinup scene: to support veterans, to feel empowered, to promote body positivity, to reclaim their bodies from society, bullies and damaging beauty standards, but also because they love it!
Women should always feel comfortable in their own skin and VLV shows us that the Rockabilly pinup scene is another way to achieve this. If a woman wants to walk down the street sporting blue Victory rolls, wear a skin tight top and poodle skirt with a set of killer vintage heels and cover herself in tattoos, that is her choice. She should not feel ashamed or afraid to show off her badass style or her beautiful body, regardless of what is supposedly trendy or “in” right now. So in choosing to be a member of this community, I would argue that the women are also fighting for women’s rights (whether they actively do so or not). The right to live their lives as they see fit; the right to reject commercial beauty standards; the right to embrace their bodies and love themselves; the right to let their voices be heard and to stand up for what they believe in. So while Bombshells and Dollies might seem like a documentary about “just another beauty contest”, you better think twice! These women are truly beautiful, inside and out.
The "pinup camera chick," Marie Ilene in action. We love her style!
Our full interview with Marie Ilene will be up on FemFilmFans soon!
*All images have been graciously provided by TriCoast Entertainment (thanks, Jenna!) and Marie Ilene.