Before Hollywood had sex symbols, it unleashed bombshells.
The first bombshell, in 1933, was MGM’s Jean Harlow, known for her hourglass figure and sex appeal. Others followed – Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Raquel Welch and today’s Kate Upton or Beyonce.
Two Seattle women are reconsidering the definition through 40 writers and visual artists in the pages of a new collection entitled The Better Bombshell.
“The word bombshell has two meanings. For our generation it’s Marilyn Monroe and the pinup girl. Often times for our parent’s generation it’s something else. My mom said, ‘To me a bombshell is the atom bomb in World War II,’ so it also takes on this double meaning of detonating and destroying something,” says Charlotte Austin, a Seattle writer and co-creator of the Bombshell project.
“We don’t know what the modern ideal woman should be,” says Siolo Thompson, the visual artist behind the project. “We asked people to examine the idea of the bombshell, and the ideal woman. Deconstruct it. Criticize it. Break it down. Tell us what’s wrong with that notion.”
How does she define a bombshell?
“She’s powerful, she’s sexual, she’s beautiful, she’s not afraid of men. On the more sinister side she’s manipulative,” says Thompson. “We need to bring back what was good about the bombshell.”
Jean Harlow, for example, was the biggest money maker in that studio. During the Depression when no one was making money, she ran an industry.
“Those are powerful, powerful women and we’ve sort of reduced them to cardboard cutouts,” she says.
Thompson and Austin asked teams of writers and artists for their takes on female role models, giving them these questions to think about: Who do today’s young women admire? What earns our envy and our celebration? Who do today’s men covet?
Dave Barry, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist, tackles the “what do men want” question by outlining what men do not look for in a woman. Shoes and pedicures top his list. Men just don’t care.
“Men do have opinions about women’s clothes. But you should ignore these opinions. If women dressed the way men wanted them to, the world would look like a giant Hooters,” Barry writes.
“But the truth is, we’re not really that picky. I think we’re a lot less critical of women than women themselves are,” he says. “The Better Bombshell is a good example: Here we have an entire book devoted to discussing what the ideal woman should be. You won’t see men discussing what the ideal man should be. Men tend to assume that, whatever way they are, that’s the way they were supposed to be – not unlike Labrador retrievers.”
Thompson says her version of today’s bombshell adopts a little of Barry’s attitude about self-acceptance.
“There’s a barrage of photo-shopped images of what you’re supposed to look like and what you’re supposed to be. The counter balance we’re trying to provide with this is that you’re not supposed to be anything other than what you are,” says Thompson. “You’re supposed to be the best you can be, but you don’t need to look like Beyonce. You don’t need to be a size two model to be powerful and beautiful and sexy.”
Most girls and young women would agree with her in theory, but visit any high school in America and you’ll find most of the girls are striving for physical perfection.
The Seattle authors hope to change their impressions of a bombshell with a national tour, beginning next month, with stops in schools, community colleges and women’s correctional facilities.
By LINDA THOMAS