The woman with the impossible waist: how Betty Brosmer inspired Billie Eilish

Role model or problem? Betty Brosmer on the cover of the Glamor Parade - BettyBrosmer.com/BettyWeider.com
Billie Eilish's unusually sultry, divisive photoshoot for this month's Vogue, set to unveil her new, blond look for the release of upcoming album Happier Than Ever, has sparked a number of internet opinions. Some say she cheated on her young female fans by surrendering her baggy, green-haired two-fingers to normative patriarchal standards of beauty; others say it is their body, their choice, and nobody's business but their own; while others accuse Vogue of pressuring them. (Although Eilish emphasizes in the interview that the shoot was entirely her idea.)
At its core, it is a debate about the female body and who derives the power from it: Is the woman with the confidence to show it and enjoy the feeling of living in her own skin, or is it the men, that they see drooling over it and treating women more like objects and less like people because of it? The career of Betty Brosmer, California pin-up and supermodel of the fifties, whom Eilish cites as the inspiration for her new look, could provide an answer.
Known for her exaggerated hourglass figure (dubbed "the impossible waistline"), photos of Brosmer papered the walls of bedrooms and offices across America when Marilyn Monroe danced in choir in studio comedies on a budget.
She was born in Pasadena, but got her first modeling gig in New York at the age of 13 for the department stores Sears & Roebuck. She soon caught the attention of famous pin-up photographers Alberto Vargas and Earl Moran, and two years later, in 1950, she moved permanently to New York with her aunt to continue her teenage years as a model for men's magazines such as Modern Man, Photo and People Today spend.
Her picture appeared in advertisements everywhere from milk cartons to billboards, and on the covers of popular pulp novels; She has won numerous beauty pageants, including Miss Television, for which she was photographed on the Empire State Building for the cover of TV Guide.
Betty Brosmer was known for her extraordinary hourglass figure - Pinterest
Her success was immediate and tremendous (in one particular month she appeared on the cover of eight different national magazines). When she left New York for Hollywood at the age of 18, her departure featured in Walter Winchell's famous gossip column. Back on the West Coast, she continued working with famous contemporary photographers by signing a lucrative contract with Keith Bernard, who had worked with models like Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, while also earning a degree in psychology from UCLA.
Decades of collaborations, for which she featured frequently on the covers of Modern Man, Photoplay, and Rogue, made Brosmer the highest-paid model in the country. According to Steve Sullivan, who profiled Brosmer in his biography of the pin-up girls Va Va Voom from the fifties, she was featured in "practically every men's magazine of the time."
While the success of her picture is undeniable, whether it will have a positive impact on the thousands of young women currently pondering the Eilish-as-Brosmer pictures is a little more complicated.
Billie Eilish's new look was inspired by pin-ups from the fifties like Brosmer - Vogue
Some believe that their extraordinary figure was achieved through a process of invasive corset (known as waist training or tightlacing) from a very young age. This process changes the shape of the rib cage to narrow the waist and, in extreme cases, can dislodge the internal organs.
But that's pure speculation: Others think it's more likely that Brosmer simply accentuated her natural curves by building the muscles in her hips, legs, and ribs, making her waist look even smaller in comparison. The deliberate use of light and angles in original photos of her, as well as the airbrushing, may have distorted her shape as well.
Given the ubiquity of her image, it's difficult to argue that she didn't help normalize unattainable standards of beauty, which goes against Eilish's claim that her new look "makes her feel more like a woman". The type of era and industry Brosmer worked in and the age she started must also have made her particularly susceptible to unwanted male attention.
Brosmer has often been photographed in underwear but refused to wear anything for Playboy - BettyBrosmer.com/BettyWeider.com
Nothing is known of any personal tests she may have faced, but she has spoken openly about the process of premature sexualization she had to go through as a teenage model. "When I was 15 I looked like I was about 25," she said.
But such problematic elements in her history do not adequately capture Brosmer's political impact. It is widely believed that she is the first high profile model to own the rights to all of her own images and receive compensation for each use, making her a pioneer in gender equality, the other women in the entertainment center Equal to the century is industry like Diana Rigg, who fought for fair pay.
There was also the famous shoot for Playboy, which he turned down and threatened to sue Brosmer for breach of contract after she refused to undress (she wore a low-cut bra instead). Commenting on the experience, Brosmer said, "I didn't think it was immoral, but I didn't want to cause problems to others ... I thought it would embarrass my future husband and family."
In later life, Brosmer worked with bodybuilders, including her husband Joe Weider (l) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (r) - Sipa US / Alamy Stock Phot
The second act of Brosmer's career focused on health over beauty. After marrying Joe Weider, the Canadian bodybuilder and magazine publisher, she began writing regular columns on bodybuilding and fitness for muscles and fitness ("Body by Betty" and "Health by Betty"), focusing on exercise, diet and stress concentrated reduction and modeling for his fitness programs and products (often with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became a close friend of the couple).
She also worked as an associate editor for Shape, a female fitness magazine co-founded in 1981 by Wieder and bodybuilder Christine MacIntyre, which soon became America's largest fitness magazine for women. Under the direction of MacIntyre, Shape took an editorial line focused on health over beauty and medicine on more commercial functions.
For example, she insisted that the cover girls look both healthy and sexy; Extreme thinness and the type of waistline that popularized Brosmer have never been a feature of Shapes models. By their own description, Brosmer's contribution to form was the priority of evidence-based information. "Tell the truth. Give women something to believe in. Be honest and help women create an integrated health, fitness, and diet lifestyle based on reliable information," explains their website. As MacIntyre tragically died in a car accident, Brosmer stayed to secure her legacy.
Brosmer has been accused of waist training, but may also have improved her natural figure by lifting weights - BettyBrosmer.com/BettyWeider.com
Today, at the age of 86, Brosmer continues to write, model, and construct a legacy that is more complicated than the term pin-up girl might suggest. Like Eilish herself, her influence on women cannot simply be summed up in politically digestible lines.
Her career suggests that being a female role model is never easy - and perhaps more than anything, taking away Eilish's new look should be.
In this article:
Betty Brosmer
Billie Eilish

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