Vintage Betty Boop T-shirt
Vintage Betty Boop T-shirt, 1997 licenced product, 100 cotton.
The Forgotten Woman Behind Betty Boop..
Betty Boop began as both a parody and a powerful symbol of unabashed sexuality, a combination she would retain, to varying degrees, throughout her lifespan in the media. She first appeared in 1930 as an anthropomorphic cartoon canine in the short Dizzy Dishes, where she sang, danced, and wagged her ears. A year later, she had transitioned into a human character, her flappy ears morphing into her now-famous hoop earrings. At once ingenuous, gentle, and kind, she was a female figure who stood out in the world of American animation and comics; whereas early characters like Minnie Mouse were often largely just copies of male figures in women’s clothing, Betty Boop was unique. Unlike Olive Oyl in “Popeye” or Minnie Mouse, she wasn’t defined by her relation to a more famous male character; she was the main figure all on her own. Over time, she became more and more of an overt sex symbol in black-and-white and color alike, her cleavage and curves clear for all to see.
On the one hand, Betty Boop was a creation of the heterosexual male gaze, with an endless parade of lecherous male characters trying to see under her skirt, yet on the other hand she wore power like a light shawl, her image an in-your-face depiction of unashamed sexuality.
Betty Boop would not exist if not for Esther Jones, she sang in the 1920s, her beautiful, unusual voice a signature of the Cotton Club in Harlem. Boop-oop-a-doo, she would say as she performed in her flirtatious siren’s tone, her dark bob of hair fluttering.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Betty Boop is best known in black and white. Her character itself is obviously white, yet would be inconceivable without black artistic tradition — and perhaps the same is true of America as a whole. Betty Boop is an indelible icon of the Jazz Age; jazz, created by African-American artists.
Silly as she can be, we love Betty Boop. That she’s still strutting her stuff, eyes as starry as ever, suggests she’s here to stay. In her way, after all, Betty Boop — with her confident sexuality, her innocence and experience, her contradictions and her interweaving racial history — is a symbol of America.