‘I Thought It Was Over For Us’

The Telegraph

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

Billie Eilish’s uncharacteristically sultry, cleavage-bearing photoshoot for this month’s Vogue, timed to introduce her new, blonder look to the world for the release of forthcoming album Happier Than Ever, has inspired a rash of internet opinion. Some say she has betrayed her young female fans by abandoning her baggy-jumpered, green-haired two-fingers to normative patriarchal beauty standards; others say it’s her body, her choice, and no one’s business but her own; while still others accuse Vogue of pressuring her into the look. (Although in the interview, Eilish stresses that the shoot was entirely her idea.) At heart, this is a debate about the female body and who derives power from it: is the woman with the confidence to show it off and enjoy the sensation of being alive in her own skin, or is it the men who see it, salivate over it, and treat women more like objects and less like people because of it? The career of Betty Brosmer, Californian pin-up and supermodel of the Fifties who Eilish cites as an inspiration for her new look, might provide one answer. Known for her exaggerated hourglass figure (she was nicknamed “the impossible waist”), photographs of Brosmer papered the walls of bedrooms and offices across America when Marilyn Monroe was still chorus dancing in small-budget studio comedies. She was born in Pasadena but got her first modelling gig in New York, for the department stores Sears & Roebuck, at the age of 13. Soon, she caught the attention of celebrated pin-up photographers Alberto Vargas and Earl Moran, and, two years later in 1950, she moved permanently to New York with her aunt to spend her teenage years modelling for men’s magazines, including Modern Man, Photo, and People Today. Her image appeared in advertisements everywhere from milk cartons to billboards, and on the covers of popular pulp romance novels; she won numerous beauty contests, including Miss Television, for which she was photographed on top of the Empire State building for the cover of TV Guide.

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