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"Representation Matters" – Asian Women Talk About Their Experiences In The Vintage Fashion Community.

There's controversy surrounding a popular clothing brand in the pin-up community over a clothing line they debuted to celebrate Asian culture. It highlights the lack of representation and white-washing that's been going on for years in the pin-up industry. I asked Asian pin-up girls from all parts of Asia about their experience being vintage fashion enthusiast and how they felt about there still being lack of representation In the pin-up community. Despite more Asian women joining it.

Lee Ming
"I’ve been modeling since I was 20 years old, but I only started pinup modeling for almost two years now, ever since I changed my style, I started getting calls from magazine publishers telling me they love my style and wanted to feature me on their magazines. Being a pinup model is fun and thank goodness that the era of pin-up beauties is returning!

Ever since I was a child I love vintage, I did not understand the concept of "Vintage" until much later in life, dressing up like an old soul makes me feel complete, elegance and sexy. It gives me that confidence that I had always longed for. I'm obsessed with everything that is vintage. I simply adore the clothing and it has become my lifestyle. Although I’ve made many mistakes doing my hair, choosing the wrong clothes. But, I didn’t give up.

Being a pin-up girl is not an easy thing in Malaysia because we don’t have a vintage community who dresses up like us. I get people staring at me constantly; some of them even roll their eyes at me, point, and laugh at me. But life is too short to worry about others say or think about you. I am happy to be different! I get a lot of people telling me that they can’t carry the vintage look. But trust me, with the right hairdo, makeup and clothes, you’ll definitely look like one of us. Always wear what makes you feel beautiful, your appearance is a reflection of your inner self, and if you feel beautiful in what you’re wearing it will boost both your mood and your self-confidence."

Natasha Noir
"I got into the pin-up culture through music. One night I was having trouble sleeping and I accidentally found this type of music called "Electro Swing." I fell in love instantly and as I dug deeper, I found out about pin-up style and culture. Since then, I became obsessed with it- It's totally not related, but that's the story.

Being an Asian pinup girl is not easy; There's not many of us where I'm from (Hong Kong) I've had people give me weird looks while I go out dressed up. There's also some nice feedback from foreigners since it's an international city. But the real struggle is that it’s really hard to get the right clothes here, and the community is really small. Even in the community some people just don't have much knowledge of pinup, often they just put on some bandana and that's it - It annoys me a little sometimes.

Asian pinups need to know it's okay to have different sizes and races and colors, cause often we think pin-up is a Caucasian "Western" thing but no, we can be a pin-up girl too. As long as you have the spirit! And try to learn more about the story behind it. I shouldn't be judging, but it really irritates me when people just put some red lipstick and bandana on and that's "pin-up" if you like it, I suggested you learn more about it. There's much more to it, I'm sure you will find what suits you and be fabulous with it!"

The Buxom Bunny
"I got into Pin-up Modeling because I've always felt drawn to the 1950s aesthetic. I wanted to become a role model, and represent thicker Asian women in the media - I'm here to break the stereotypes!

My experience as an Asian Pin Up has been amazing! I find that in the Pin Up Community is a great space for women of color and it has encouraged me to create a space for women who look like me. Through this experience I gained a lot of confidence, I also learned to love myself and my body unconditionally. The Advice that I would give aspiring Asian Pin-Ups is to never give up, and never get discouraged. It can be difficult sometimes trying to land a cover on a magazine, or even trying to shoot with certain photographs because you don't have "the look." But that's what makes you special - you aren't the standard, you're beyond amazing, remember that."

"Representation Matters" Asian Pin-up Models Talk About Their Experiences In The Pin-up Community And More
Cece Bombshell
"I dreamed of modeling ever since I was a little girl but I grew up thinking and believing that I should be at least 170cm (5'5ft) tall and be extra small in my clothing. (and let me tell you I am nothing of the sort). As I grew older I learned about pin up's and noticed how they loved their bodies no matter their height or size. So I jumped in! I started off first by just slowly doing some modeling for an agency, then for clothing sellers, a music video, participated in two pin-up competitions and now I also perform burlesque from time to time. It's been a great 5 years and I hope the years to come will be great as well.

Trust in yourself and find the part of you that is your strength. Ever since I began modeling I've been told that my Asian features are my strongest suit and I have tried to use it to my advantage. Keep in mind that the path isn't always easy, you will meet loads of people. Some will judge you, others will love you. Just remember to be proud of who you are and don't be afraid to show it. Do what you love, don't let others tell you what you can and cannot achieve.

As a half Asian girl living in Europe, I have never come across any problems with my looks and background when it comes to modeling. On the contrary, people give me a lot of credit for it. But it was not like that before. When I was younger, I was bullied a lot for my looks. Way too short, terribly small eyes, ugly skin color. I'm glad that's all over now. No matter what, I'm very proud of my family and I'm not ashamed of who I am."

"I don't consider myself to be a model, which is why I relate to being a pinup since it is an "informal" ideal of what a beautiful woman is no matter what color, shape or size. Pinup images were meant to be inspirational and help with the morale of soldiers during the war in the mid-90s. So the fact that these images were meant to bring enthusiasm and happiness to a dreary situation and more importantly depicting women in a positive light is a part of what drew me to this subculture.

The way I got into being a pinup and ultimately modeling for some amazing photographers and brands was very organic mostly through Twitter, and then IG, and through acquaintances. I just like to dress up and become my own characters so taking pictures of what I was already doing, and putting them out there was how everything started.

Jasmin Rodriguez or Vintage Vandal as you may know her better is one of my biggest inspirations in delving deeper into making myself up and owning up to being more of a "Pin-up Model." I take inspiration from many different cultures and eras and make them into my own 'pinup' thing. I don't think pinup is a rigid box where you have to look a certain way. It is more about how you feel and what you want to portray to the world, which for me would be my best self.

I think the most important advice to fellow pinups would be to not think that you have to look exactly like what classic pinups are, it is what YOU want it to be as long as you feel beautiful and confident. Yes, people around you in the 'real world' might think you're some type of character or cosplaying or think it's Halloween all year round, but in the end, your confidence and best self will always strike a ray of sunshine to those around you without you or sometimes even them knowing."

"Representation Matters" Asian Pin-up Models Talk About Their Experiences In The Pin-up Community And More
Miss Lilly Laurent
"My experience being an Asian American pin-up girl has proven to be oddly and surprisingly rewarding. I never set out to be a pin-up girl. I was a geeky, shy, socially awkward kid with no siblings. I spent my free time watching old movies with my parents. My dad grew up on the films of the 50s and 60s. Even though I grew up with the grunge and 70s throwback that was 90s fashion, I never loved any of it. I was obsessed from day one with vintage style fashion. I started collecting vintage as soon as I could drive myself to vintage stores. Thanks to this little thing called social media, I somehow became a pinup girl. I was surprised enough in the past year to find myself being called a pinup girl.

I was even more shocked when messages began to arrive from those of Asian descent. I have Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese ancestry. I'm a 5 feet tall 32-year-old woman with 32A boobs and small mono-lidded eyes. Representation matters and it has been really touching to hear how much it means to those who never thought they'd see themselves represented. It is especially bittersweet to hear from those with mono-lids. It isn't something noticed by many others outside of the Asian community but it is something we grow up keenly aware of. Western standards value big Bambi eyes and are nearly all double-lidded.

The most common plastic surgery procedure in South Korea (and most likely across Asia) is blepharoplasty or double eyelid surgery. Not only would someone with mono-lids be hard pressed to find their eyes represented in American media, but, until recently, they'd also have a pretty hard time finding themselves in Asian media as well. The opportunity I've been given to model, and the stamp of approval that goes with it, is considered validation by some ladies with mono-lids. I've just been generously given a lot of support by a lot of great people in the pin-up/vintage community and I'm very humbled by it and grateful for it.

My advice to aspiring pinups is to love yourself and be true to yourself and everything else will fall into place. I'm just out there being me. If you love pin-up or vintage, wear it. And, as with anything worth having in life, do the work. Yes, I said it, WORK. We all start somewhere, and to be entirely honest, I consider myself quite the novice. To this day, I study all the time. I own and study pinup and vintage books (everything from old black and white books I pick up in old bookstores to Dita's The Art of the Teese). I pore over the photos on Pinup Girl Clothing (Doris Mayday cherry picking pose, its a thing people). I study my favorite pinup babes on Instagram. Before every shoot, I, kid you not, practice posing in my birthday suit in front of a full-length mirror. It is the only way I can fully see what my body is doing. I practice in heels. I practice in flats.

I practice with different clothing silhouettes so I can see how the clothing looks with different poses. I sit in front of a mirror and close my eyes to practice facial expressions, and then I open my eyes to see what facial expression I've made. Spoiler alert: I do make some awkward facial expressions sometimes. I do this because we generally don't have a mirror in front of ourselves during a shoot. I need to make those faces based off of muscle memory. If you're aspiring to be a pin-up who gets to work as a model, you're going to be required to have more than one facial expression in your arsenal. If you can afford it, book pinup photography sessions. There's nothing quite like learning in front of a camera and from the photographers shooting you.

I didn't set out to be a pin-up model, so actually, all of that work I outlined above, I didn't start doing until I was given the opportunity to model. To be entirely honest, I never expected to be a model, any kind of model, let alone a pin-up model. If anything, I probably would have pegged my chances at a run of the mill commercial modeling higher than pin-up modeling. If you're wondering why it is because of the factors that I outlined above. I am 5 feet tall, I have 32A boobs (seriously, bras are entirely optional in my life) and I have tiny mono-lidded eyes. My optometrist can't even fit me with soft contact lenses because my eyes are physically so small. I'm not exactly your typical pin-up.

So how did I get into pin-up modeling? Social media. I had always had a catchall Instagram account where I shared photos about my business, my family and sometimes my OOTD. I found myself wanting to post OOTDs all the time but, fearful that it would dilute my professional work portfolio or annoy my friends and family who didn't care about fashion, I refrained from posting much. When Instagram made it easy for us to hold more than one account, I started MissLilyLaurent. It was a fun account entirely dedicated to spamming the internet with my closet. I always tried to tag where I got my clothes from and one of those tags brought me to Pinup Girl Clothing. Shoutout to Laura Byrnes and Doris Mayday for a truly amazing opportunity that I never dared to dream of having."

"Representation Matters" Asian Pin-up Models Talk About Their Experiences In The Pin-up Community And More
Ruby Corvette
"I was lucky enough to win a vintage styling course with the Bombshell Burlesque Academy and consequently fell head over (kitten) heels for pinup and rockabilly.  Taking the time to sew beautiful garments, set my hair and look after my appearance makes me feel amazing, inside and out! I love looking in the mirror and feeling like I have accomplished something before I even set foot out the door.  I also cherish the connections that I make as a pinup – genuine smiles from random commuters, being approached by kind strangers with compliments or questions, and discovering like-minded friends to add to my “burly girl gang”!

I first took to the stage in November 2016 as a finalist in the Connor’s Christmas Appeal Miss Show n Shine pageant and have appeared in a number of local events since then, being crowned the second runner-up in Miss Beachfest 2017.  I just love being involved in photo shoots and creating art in this medium so much so that my besties and I have recently launched our own pop-up pin-up photography studio called Festive Femmes!

As a child of Chinese descent growing up in a regional Australian town, I had very few friends with “exotic” ethnicity and was singled out for being different.  I remember being chased around the playground with jeers of “Monkey Magic!” ringing in my attached-lobed-ears. When blowing out the candles on my 8th birthday cake, my wish was to have brown hair, just like everyone else.  As a teen, I had my heart broken when my crush told me that “Asian chicks just didn’t do it for him”. Fortunately, since discovering pinup, I have learned to love my unique appearance and celebrate my cultural identity, particularly by recreating hairstyles and poses from my grandmother’s glamour photos from the fifties!

Modeling and dancing have given me the unique opportunity to share my cultural heritage and exotic look with a wonderfully inclusive audience.  It was very moving for me to have the chance to shoot a photo series featuring traditional food that she was taught to make by the women in my family, served on Chinese patterned Willow Ware (which my grandmother collects), wearing a cheongsam purchased in Singapore, where my cousin lived.

I am very passionate about the #pinupsofcolor movement and promoting diversity in burlesque.  I feel very strongly about cultural misappropriation and make every attempt to ensure that our burlesque and pinup community is an intersectional safe space for everyone.

The importance of role models with whom one identifies strongly is often underestimated.  Venturing into a world which is dominated by a certain (Caucasian/European) look can be daunting but don’t be discouraged!  Take inspiration from the strong, beautiful women who have come before you and who are currently on the scene and know that every time you don your red lipstick and heels, you’re positively contributing to making the pinup world a more diverse and inclusive place.

In a competitive environment, it can sometimes feel as if one should accept the status quo and not cause a fuss.  However, if you are ever in a position where you feel uncomfortably exoticized or fetishized by a photographer or someone else on the scene because of your heritage know that you have the power to call them out or walk away.  Pinup is supposed to fun and you should never have to put up with something that makes you feel uneasy. Know that I have your back and you will find that other models will definitely be there to support you too and make sure you feel safe!"