So this Sunday (17-02-2019) I get to do something I’ve never done before: compete in a pinup contest. Yes, you read that correctly, I’ve entered the Miss Pinup Benelux competition and I’ve rarely been more excited and petrified at the same time 😀
A little context – the Miss Pinup Benelux competition
The Miss Pinup Benelux contest is being organized by none other than Vivian Kramer Gezegd Freher (the powerhouse pinup behind the Sugarcoated empire and all-around awesome human being) and Succubus (an online clothing store and the source of half my wardrobe). Vivian – known as the Dutch Pinup and creator of the pictures on this website – has competed in several pinup contests herself and always had the dream of a local competition. So as usual, she went and made it a reality! (This woman’s drive, work ethic and kind nature are seriously inspiring y’all.) During five preliminary rounds throughout the Benelux, over a 160 (!) pinup-enthusiasts will compete for 12 coveted spots in the finals – with a 13th finalist being chosen by popular vote. The first took place three weeks ago (27-01-2019), and this Sunday I will throw myself into the fray!
What I love about this competition – and what made me want to enter – is the fact that everyone is welcome to join no matter their gender or size – as long as they have a love for the pinup style. In fact, appearance only plays a small role in who gets to go to the finals. Instead, each competitor must present themselves to the jury and in five minutes answer the question: “why is pinup so important to you?”. So, I thought I’d prepare for my own five minutes with the jury – on what I am sure is going to be a gloriously fun day – by sharing with you all why this style is so important to me.
My pinup journey
Like so many people, I spent many years feeling insecure about my appearance and unsure of how to dress – and it wasn’t until I put on that first polka dot swing dress some 6 or 7 years ago that started to feel truly me. As a style, it not only suited my figure but also made me happy in a way I hadn’t previously experienced. And still does. Whether bright and colorful, or quietly sophisticated, I love collecting pieces of clothing and fabulous shoes that bring me joy, and I thoroughly enjoy putting together an outfit. You could say that in a way has become a form of self-care for me.
Initially, I found it a little ‘scary’ to dress this way, because as a Dutch woman I was raised to believe that you shouldn’t look like you spent any time or effort on your appearance (the ‘doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg’ mentality). Grossly generalizing, Dutch girls are taught that it is vain and therefore wrong to for example spend time curling your hair or to wear high heels on ‘normal’ days rather than just for special events. And you definitely shouldn’t dress in any way that attracts attention.
However, dressing in the pinup style genuinely makes me happy, so slowly but surely, I adopted this look more and more and it has now become my ‘normal’. Learning to embrace my personal sense of style, however, was made doubly-challenging by the fact that I work in a traditionally male-dominated field. I tended (and continue) to attract attention for my pinup style. And while it is mostly positive attention, the negative does make its mark, unfortunately. Ranging from assumptions about my achievements (i.e. that I only got an internship/job etc. because of my appearance) to unwanted flirtatious comments or touches, to downright harassment (for the record, I don’t think this is always due to my style, unfortunately, this is endemic to academia). Surprisingly, while most unpleasant experiences were with men, it is often successful women from the generation above me who can be downright nasty, which I suspect has something to do with how hard they had to fight to get where they are today.
Initially, all these experiences made me hesitant to dress like me – by which I mean in the pinup style – at work or professional events like conferences – and it took a fair amount of stubborn confidence in who I am and my professional abilities to stick with wearing the clothes that make me happy. I’ve learned to embrace the fact that visually standing out, can actually help in my professional life. For better or worse, I am memorable and have adopted the motto that:
“I don’t mind getting noticed for how I look, as long as I get remembered for what I have to say”.
As I’ve said before, while I would love a career in academia, it is only the right path for me if I can walk it while being my most authentic self. Actually, this has become my ambition in all things. To be critical but kind, to try and build each other up rather than tear down the competition, and to wear the pinup clothes that bring me joy. While I certainly style myself more ‘demurely’ for work, I’ve been able to find a middle ground where I still feel like my pinup self, but look professional (hellooo Miss Candyfloss dresses).
The pinup community
Pinup, to me, is more than just a style I adopt for special occasions. It has become part of who I am. While I first and foremost dress this way because it makes me happy, it also helps me to feel strong and confident and able to tackle situations that scare me. Some days the ritual of getting ready, of curling my hair and putting together my outfit is like donning battle armor, but then with happy colors, polka dots and hair flowers.
But what I really love about this style, is the community that I have – almost accidentally – become a part of. The modern pinup movement is not about having to look a certain way – though many feel this way when they first start adopting the style – it is about self-acceptance and self-love. It’s about building each other up rather than tearing each other down. It’s girl power personified, or whatever-gender-you-identify-as power. Fat/thin, tall/short, dark/light – it doesn’t matter, you can be part of this amazing community (as long as you are kind). What does matter is that you can confidently have fun with your appearance in whatever way you choose. This can be by getting glammed up, or giving zero f*cks and walking around in your pajamas all day and still feel like your fabulous self. To know that you are more than what you look like, but that having fun with your look is in no way a bad thing.
It is your body and life is short, you might as well have fun with it in whatever way you can and want (as long as you’re not hurting anybody, obvs). For me, that just happens to mean fancy frocks, heels and lipstick on some days, and my gym sweats and unkempt hair on others. You do you.
Like most pinup enthusiasts, I get a lot of inspiration from the online pinup community. If you’re interested in following some amazing ladies, some of my favorites are Vivien aka The Dutch Pinup, Georgina Horne aka Fullerfigurefullerbust, Ella aka MissVictoryViolet, Nathalie aka Rosalynnvintage and Missi aka CurveCreation and Mona aka Badhairgoodshoes just to name a few.
So why enter a Pinup contest?
Which brings me to why did I enter the Miss Pinup Benelux contest? First and foremost, while I generally don’t like attention to be focused on me, this sounds like a bloody good time. Hang out with gorgeous like-minded people for a day, with the possibility of making friends and winning some amazing prizes just by being myself? Sign me up baby! Don’t get me wrong – I initially wasn’t sure I wanted to put myself out there like this.
While I’ve learned not to show it much, a lot of social situations – especially new and unfamiliar ones – are hard for me. I tend to feel awkward, out of place and incredibly anxious, though I thankfully have found ways to deal with my occasionally crippling anxiety. Most of the time (but still not always) I manage to overcome it, and I’m proud of that. I have found joy in continually challenging myself to try new things and put myself in (social) situations that don’t necessarily come easily to me. This has helped and continues to help me build confidence and learn to enjoy situations that used to freak me out.
Considering that the Miss Pinup Beneluxcontestis organized by Viv (who is all about the happy vibes and encouraging others), I figured it would be a great chance to step out of my comfort zone, meet new people and share my love for pinup. I’ve learned to enjoy doing things that challenge me, and I love getting glammed up so this feels like a win-win. Spotting an old friend (Nathalie Rosalynn) on the list of contestants finally convinced me that I was pretty much guaranteed a great day – and I threw my vintage hat in the ring.
While I have primarily entered because I think it will be great fun, if I am honest with myself, there is more to it for me. Not only am I embarrassingly ambitious by nature and secretly would like to excel at everything, this experience also relates to a much deeper desire. My need to prove that I am enough and that I can succeed in all aspects of my life by being truly and wholly myself – in particular within my chosen career. Both academia and archeology are competitive fields, and overall rather male-dominated. There is this unspoken idea that to succeed in this world – in particular as a woman – you have to be hard and domineering, and I know more than one person who seems to get ahead by pushing others down, not sharing opportunities and never encouraging their equals and those ‘beneath them’. I, however, am just not wired that way. Too often have I been on the receiving end of nastiness, judgment and discrimination – why would I ever inflict the same experiences on others? I actively choose to be kind and authentically myself. I never really had a female role model to show me how to combine kindness and a career within academia, and am still figuring out how exactly to do this, but I hope that somewhere along the way I might inspire others to do the same.
If you’re still reading you might be wondering what this has to do with a Pinup competition. When I first started my one-woman company The Overdressed Archeologist & Editor, I worried that emphasizing my pinup appearance – in particular when I started posted outfits and selfies on Instagram – would negatively influence how I am perceived within my chosen field and affect my career opportunities. More than once within my work sphere, I have been told that I dress too feminine, and it has been assumed that my success is (in part) a result of how I look. I have been mistaken for the department secretary or my supervisor’s assistant because there is an idea that successful archeologists ‘do not dress like me’. How one dresses, however, should have no impact on how you are perceived within your work sphere (within the limits of propriety, obvs). I would like to prove, mostly to myself, but maybe also a little bit to others, that it is possible to be feminine, overdressed, kind and successful. That it is possible to be an excellent researcher, while also being a #scientistwhoselfies.
I enjoy living my best pinup life, and I’m looking forward to sharing that this coming Sunday – all the while choosing to believe that I will be able to overcome any potential negative fallout in my professional life. In short, competing in the Miss Pinup Benelux contest feels like the ultimate way of putting myself and my sense of style out there, make some new friends and maybe even allow me to lift up others, and I can’t wait for this new experience! Cross your fingers for me? 😀