Review of Bettina May’s Bombshell Basics: Pinup Modeling Secrets Revealed

(Before you read this, why not sign up for my newsletter and never miss a post?)

When I received my review copy of Bombshell Basics: Pinup Modeling Secrets Revealed, with Bettina May, I didn’t quite know what to do with it. Who was the audience for this, I wondered? Who wants to dress up like it’s the 1950’s? What in the world is it for?

Burlesque dancer Medianoche with vintage hair
This is Medianoche, but you’ll be forgiven for thinking it’s Deeta

Looking back, some of the answers should have been obvious. Between the fame of Deeta von Teese, the popularity of burlesque and striptease workouts (of which World Dance New York has produced a bunch), the Mad Men craze, and hipsterdom’s tendencies to fetishize the past, there must be a lot of people looking for this kind of video.

You know what I forgot about though?

I forgot that I spent my teenage years adoring Rita Hayworth, that I basically wanted to be her, that I dyed my hair various subtle shades of red in wary attempts to get the look, that I played with my hair constantly to get those Golden Age movie star curls cascading down one side… at some point while watching the bright red-headed Bettina May do her thing on Bombshell Basics, this started coming back to me.

I also forgot that for a long time, a toned down 1950’s look was my makeup ideal.

How did I forget that stuff?

So, before I get into the nitty gritty, let me tell you what Bombshell Basics did for me. I didn’t dye my hair, and I didn’t set it in rollers. Nor did I purchase a vintage corset and lull about on a Victorian sofa, though if I wanted to, I would have known exactly how to do it. What I did do, however, was pay very close attention to the makeup instruction. And believe it or not, even though I’m no stranger to the ways of liquid eyeliner, the tips Bettina gave really solved some problems for me. I would even go so far as to say they revolutionized my eye-lining.

Then I went to my friendly local MAC store, meaning business. I got a Superslick Liquid Eye Liner, their Brick lip pencil, and after some very determined testing, selected my first Russian Red and the exquisite Viva Glam I. I have to tell you that I am not a MAC fangirl, and it had been years since I found anything to excite me in their store. (I’m way too old for Nikki Minaj’s face to part me from my money.) But I knew that for just the right red lipstick and deep black eyeliner, that’s where I’d have to go.

And then I started wearing it. And I’ve now switched from wearing pencil eyeliner most of the time to wearing liquid black almost as often. And I wear red lipstick. In the daytime. Just like that, because it feels good. And I adore it, adore how it makes me feel. I can’t find any way to write this without being cheesy, but you know what? I’m a grown woman with a job and a man and a child, I’ve earned my red lipstick.

Burlesque dancer Bettina May showing vintage makeup instruction

What’s that? You would like to know what’s on the DVD? Well, ok.

Bombshell Basics begins with two sections on hair, one demonstrating how to set and style short hair, and another on very long hair. Bettina May offers a number of styling ideas, product suggestions, and little old school tricks. (“Grandma’s secrets.”) I was quite confused by this at first, since I didn’t understand why mid-length hair wasn’t being showed, and since we’re not shown how to set the entire head. Since I really don’t know how to put hair in rollers, I thought this would be useful information. I later figured out that a lot of this is covered in Bettina May’s earlier DVD, How to be a Pinup Model. I can understand the urge to avoid repetition, and a lot of the short/long hair ideas can be adapted to a variety of lengths. Still, I would have liked the full hair curling tutorial here.

The next section focuses on step-by-step pinup makeup. This is a guide to one look, a clean, rosy-cheeked, 50’s style look. The actual application is occasionally a bit rushed, but as I already mentioned, I found it contained some really great tips.

Burlesque dancers Bettina May and Sake Fevah showing modeling poses
Sake Fevah models underwear new and old

The final section begins a plaidoyer for vintage undergarments and what they can do for your figure. Sake Fevah models for us, and then demonstrates a number of poses that could be used if someone is taking your picture, or if a flirt-worthy individual happens to be in the room. Duly noted.

So who is this for? I think if you’re into the retro look, you’ll get a lot out of this, especially if you have long and thin hair, or short hair, and want to work the curls anyway. Bombshell Basics is not really a complete course in any one of the topics. Rather, it’s like a workshop, with ideas in every area — hair, clothing, makeup, posing. In this sense, I think it’s also rather nice as general style inspiration. You don’t have to look like a midcentury pinup, but you can still get a little of Joan Holloway’s charm in your everyday life.


Review of Bombshell: Dramatic Make up for the Stage, Photos & Glamourous Occasions

“If you look like the love child of a clown and a hooker, then maybe you have enough makeup on for the stage.”

Princess Farhana’s description of a dancer’s war paint sums it up pretty nicely. Bombshell: Dramatic Make up for the Stage, Photos & Glamourous Occasions is not about subtlety, appropriateness, or painstakingly blending taupe into beige. It’s about glamour, colour, glitter, and having a hell of a lot of fun with your face.

A bit of background about myself: I’ve never thought of myself as particularly girly, and I don’t wear much makeup on a regular basis. I like the look of fresh skin, so I almost never wear foundation, and I work in a slightly conservative field, so purple mascara is out for daytime. Well, I’ve described Dr. Jekyll to you, but there is also Ms Hyde. Lurking deep inside me is not a girly girl, but a full-blown drag queen just dying to come out.

As a preteen, Kevyn Aucoin’s Making Faces was my makeup bible: I studied the pictures and descriptions, and wondered where in the world one could get the cream eyeshadow he used so often. I would do outrageous looks with my friends and photograph them. I began to acquire a perversely large makeup collection, with probably every shade of glitter and eyeliner imaginable. In the year I was finishing my dissertation, as a full-fledged Serious Person, I would interrupt the tedium by painting high glamour makeup looks on myself, running and showing my boyfriend, and then taking them off. In grad school I even wrote a seminar paper on anti-cosmetic rhetoric, and did a bit of makeup of student theatre. And my secret plan B has always been to go to cosmetology school and run off to Milan.

So this is to say that I’m passionate about makeup, I know a lot of tricks, even if I haven’t tried them, but because I don’t wear huge amounts of the stuff on a daily basis, there are also quite a few things I don’t know. For example, although I own several sets of false eyelashes, I’ve never managed to put them on.

I’ve secretly always wanted to do a Cleopatra look

But I was, you can imagine, extremely eager to take a look at Bombshell. Princess Farhana kindly hooked me up with a review copy, and I’ve been watching it bit by bit over the past month. It’s a massive two-DVD set that covers some makeup basics such as tools, foundation and contouring, false eyelash application, and lips, and then proceeds to focus predominantly on eye looks: retro, movie star, smokey eyes, sixties’, Cleopatra-style, Arabic, modern colour-blocking, and mature makeup. (These are partly my names for the looks.) In a final chapter, Princess Farhana discusses the use of, what else, glitter!

What I was particularly curious about was this: when there are so many makeup how-to videos on YouTube (Lauren Luke famously used her YouTube channel to rise from rags to discount-makeup-riches), what would a DVD offer that would be new? Why shouldn’t I just watch a dozen YouTube videos instead?

Here are my answers to this:

– Video quality. Bombshell is professionally filmed, and it’s easy to see DeVilla and the Princess at work. This is not someone sitting in a darkened living room.

– Diversity. The models have different eye types, are of different races (there is an Asian and an African-American model), and ages. The Princess devotes one of the chapters to making hooded or small eyes look big. So while the instruction is nominally about how to do a variety of dramatic eye looks, all along there are tips and tricks for adapting makeup to different kinds of faces.

– Expertise. This is the big one! Princess Farhana, a bellydancer, and DeVilla, a bellydancer and makeup artist, bring their showbiz experience to bear on this. They teach a lot of techniques that are specific to the stage or to photography, skills such as: contouring for the stage, what colours look good in black and white photography, what looks bad in photography or in a small restaurant, how to use glitter to get glossy lips without the dangerous stickiness of gloss, how to use white makeup or crystal appliques to open up the eyes, and so on.

Throughout the videos, they differentiate between stage and everyday makeup looks, often suggesting how one look might be toned down or played up for a different context. They also give specific advice for performing in a restaurant or on a small stage vs the big theatre. This is the kind of expertise you won’t get on YouTube! I even liked the fact that, in the section on lashes, DeVilla demonstrates a painstakingly precise way of applying them, and Princess Farhana shows a quick and dirty showgirl version.

While I’m unlikely to be on a large stage anytime soon, I did learn a few things I can take away. For example, I’d used dots of white goo in the corners of eyes when doing stage makeup, but I didn’t know the more subtle ways this could be adapted to everyday wear. Princess Farhana shows some faster ways to blend, using her finger or glitter, that I might try when in a rush. And I’m much more likely to experiment with colours or combinations I don’t usually use. Such as lavender. Who uses lavender?

Is it still an objective review if I want to hang out with these two?

My favourite aspect of Bombshell is the way its two stars come across as completely chill and playful. I took a workshop with Princess Farhana ages ago, and I love her wacky sense of humour. She’ll be working on a look which looks completely ridiculous, but she’ll acknowledge that that particular step in the process looks weird, or that she’s making a stupid face to put on eyeliner. Then again, her little quips — she describes one makeup look as hanging out in an opium den with Rudolph Valentino — also show her range of references. (I have to think of those moments on RuPaul’s Drag Race or Project Runway when contestants don’t know what the 1940’s or 1970’s looked like! I always sound a deep, melancholic sigh.) In a final scene, DeVilla and the Princess wipe each other’s war paint off, laughing away. It’s just the right spirit: makeup is fun, a way to be outrageous, and always forgiving. After all, in what other part of life can you always wipe away your mistakes and try again?