For the last five years, Bettina May has been helping women discover their inner pin-up models.
The Brooklyn-based model, burlesque performer and photographer has been teaching pin-up classes since 2006, and has been holding court at the Asbury Lanes on Fourth Avenue in Asbury Park since 2009. Her next class at the bowling alley/lounge/live music venue is at 1 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 23), with future dates scheduled for Nov. 13 and Dec. 11.
May, 32, said she takes her inspiration from the style's boom years in the 1930s and '40s.
"Pin-up became popular then because they were using it as a way to give encouragement to the boys out fighting at the front," she explained.
"So, not only did they have movie stars like Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth posing for cute photos that they would send out in pin-up packs that soldiers could put up in their bunks, but they were encouraging everyday women to dress like that and send photos to boys. So a lot of women would do amateur pin-up shoots, and those would be sent off to the boys at the front, too. So that was sort of how it all became really popular, and then they started using it in advertising as well."
While pin-up fashion attained popularity by appealing to servicemen, these days May uses the style to empower the women practicing it.
"It's great if (women who take the class) start setting their hair in rollers and wearing red lipstick more often and hair flowers - those are the little things - but I think the more over-arching message of the class is just that every woman is beautiful," May said.
"You don't have to fit into the modern standards of beauty that you see for fashion models and actresses, the sort of things that people keep seeing in media, and that's just the most beautiful part of the class," she continued. "Afterward, everyone leaves feeling like a million bucks, whether they're the slimmest person in the class, the curviest, the tallest, shortest, oldest, youngest; everyone leaves feeling amazing and that is the most rewarding part of the class for me, seeing people leave with a smile on their face."
During the past year, clothes for the classes at the Lanes have been provided by Meredith Peltz, owner of the Vintage Variety Shop in Atlantic Highlands.
"I bring mostly a selection of '30s styles to '70s styles, and I'll bring a rack of clothing, a rack of lingerie, pin-up-style type of lingerie, and I'll bring hair flowers, accessories and tons and tons of jewelry," Peltz said.
Feeling of empowerment
Peltz said she thinks students take away a lot from their time at the class.
"It's a very empowering thing; it's not only a ‘feel good about yourself,' very girlie, feminine thing to do, it's a very strong and empowering thing, because it's (about) taking control of yourself as a woman and using that to your advantage," she said.
May said it was her own dedication to looking fabulous that lead her to the world of teaching pin-up modeling.
"I had been doing burlesque and pin-up since the early 2000s, and particularly when I started performing, having fabulous hair was always really important to me, so I would always have all these girls coming up to me after my show, asking, ‘How do you do your hair?' and ‘Tell me how you do your makeup?' and all this stuff," May said. "And of course, that's really difficult to explain in a dark, loud bar and also when people are a little drunk. I was like, ‘They're not remembering, they're not going to be able to do it.'"
After being encouraged by friends, May began teaching her pin-up classes. In the years since, hundreds of women have taken the six-hour class, which includes hair, makeup and posing demonstrations, followed by a one-on-one photo session with May behind the camera.
"We make sure that everything looks 100 percent beautiful before they go in front of the camera," she said.
Channeling Bunny Yeager
May cited Bunny Yeager - a pin-up model in the 1940s and '50s who later found fame as one of the best photographers to shoot the legendary Bettie Page - as an inspiration for her pin-up photography.
"I have studied tons of pin-up photography, so I'm definitely looking to use iconic pin-up poses to get the most out of each woman,'' she said. "And I've been a model, so I know what it's like to be in front of a camera and I know how hard these poses can be, but I also know how to get poses for every sort of issue a woman might have.''
"Everyone has a hang-up about something and usually it's a hang-up about something that doesn't exist,'' she continued. "People just have insecurities, and I know how to work around those to make people comfortable in front of the camera. So that's a really fun part for me, because it's kind of like the culmination of everything they've learned all day and then making them feel fabulous is kind of the goal of the class for me."
The perfect setting
A key component of the pin-up classes at Asbury Lanes, May said, is the classic venue itself.
"I think it really helps people who are new to pin-up modeling to be in a setting that inspires them," she said. "That's the greatest thing about Asbury Lanes, that they've totally restored this vintage bowling alley and there's beautiful artwork in there, too All of it just sort of helps to get them into the mood."
With an average class size of 10 students, May said plenty of friendships have been born out of her pin-up sessions.
"Just seeing everyone sharing, it just puts to rest all the notions you see about people being inherently competitive in reality TV and stuff like that," she said. "I think it's nice for women to come to class and be like, ‘Oh, that's not what people are like,' it's not ‘Jersey Shore,' there are really nice people in Jersey and they're really sharing and beautiful and loving, so we always kind of have a chuckle about that in class. There's no screaming or hair-pulling."
BETTINA MAY'S PIN-UP CLASS
WHERE: Asbury Lanes, 209 Fourth Ave., Asbury Park.
HOW MUCH: $50 to observe the hair and makeup demonstration, $200 for the full class.
INFORMATION: Visit http://www.pinupclass.com/.