Showing skin in South Florida is no big thing, so pretty girls in pasties may go unnoticed. But that probably won’t happen when Blackheart Burlesque hits Fort Lauderdale on May 4 to shake things up during a 60-city U.S. tour.
“Pretty girls” is too cheesecake to describe the edgy and sultry models of Suicide Girls, an online community Missy Suicide co-founded in 2001 to celebrate alternative beauty and indie culture. Suicide Girls commit "social suicide" by not fitting into traditional norms and often show their independent spirits with tattoos and rainbow colored hair.
Some of the models perform in the choreographed tongue-in-cheek show that mixes cosplay with fetish and, like all good burlesque, brings a pastiche of references any geek obsessed with sci-fi, horror, and anime will get — from Star Wars to Stranger Things to Westworld. The variety show also features a tribute to Prince and David Bowie.
The word “blackheart” also belies the light-hearted tone of the cabaret-style show. “It’s not dark, not super goth,” Missy says. “It’s fun, silly, sweet, and sexy with audience participation. It takes the classic experience of burlesque and puts our own twist on it.”
Missy’s inspiration has some good legs in Florida: She was originally influenced by Miami’s own famous mid-century model-turned-photographer Bunny Yeager, who put Bettie Page on the map of pinup and helped popularize the bikini.
Yeager hated smut, and if the bombshell were still alive, she’d probably love Suicide Girls, which brings a fringe look to tasteful erotica. (Yeager passed away two years ago in North Miami.)
A photographer herself, Missy could relate to Yeager’s way of interpreting the female body artistically through the camera’s lens.
“She had this sense of shooting a half second before or after a man would’ve shot the trigger,” says Missy. “In that instance, she caught the natural side of Betty Page. It was inspiring for a woman to feel confident and not just an object of the male gaze.”
Today, aspiring models choose exactly how they want to be portrayed in the photoset they use to become Pink Girls, the name for women who make it into the curated, subscription section of the Suicide Girls online community.
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“In most shoots, 99.9 percent of the photo is the photographer’s vision,” says Missy. “But with Suicide Girls, it’s about how the model wants to be brought to light. She takes control of her own body, her own images and how they are presented.”
Blackheart Burlesque isn’t political, at least not overtly. But any showcase of female bodies in the pussy-grabbing age of Trump invites political interpretation. For Suicide Girls, burlesque may be all about striptease fun, but the performers in the genre are body-confident and command respect.
“I feel the more comfortable you are in your own body, the more empowered you are and the less likely you are to allow people to talk to you that way,” says Missy. “You own your own body; you’re not there to be taken advantage of. The stronger we are as a society, we see that bodies aren’t shameful.”