Created by illustrator Duane Bryers (1911-2012), Hilda was a girl who was definitely not shy of her plump body. She was one of the very few plus-size pin-up queens to grace the pages of American calendars from the 1950s up until the early 1980s, and achieved moderate notoriety in the 1960s. Hilda was almost forgotten until someone recently dug up her calendars from the archives and collective memories of Americans.
Now, she’s making a comeback, and Amy Pence-Brown is one of the main reasons why. The fat feminist mother who believes in opening her mouth and her heart started recreating Hilda’s iconic pictures,
“Much like the art of Norman Rockwell, Duane Bryers’ Hilda reminds us of playful, sweet, and carefree days gone by. But she recalls more than that, too. Hilda shows us that at some time someone else found big girls’ curves sensual, silliness sexy, softness endearing, confidence bold and bare, skin beautiful.
Pence-brown has known about Hilda for quite some time. “Her imagery has been shared repeatedly in fat activist/body positive circles and pages and posted on my wall and private messaged to me over the past five years, as news of her existence was shocking and celebratory,” she said. “Here was a body that looked more like mine than many others I’d ever seen revered as something sexy enough to be on a flirty calendar.”
“[Hilda] has been a positive breath of fresh air in the body shame and sex shame filled media we’ve been used to consuming for so long,” the activist continued. “I’ve written before about my love of using self-portraits and social media as a radical tool in the feminist revolution over the years and I thought Hilda’s imagery could use a little more feminism and body positivity. So using things I had around the house, my tripod, my iPhone timer, and a few supplies I purchased at the Dollar Tree down the street and the thrift shop, I embarked on a little fun summer project recreating some of her most iconic images in 2017.”
Amy has been a fat feminist and body image activist for the past 11 years in rural conservative America. She began using social media as a grassroots tool in the body-positive revolution early on. “People can be so mean and nasty in the comments when they think they’re hidden behind screens. I found this out tenfold when a social activism performance art piece I did in a black bikini and a blindfold in the name of self-love went super viral in 2015 (like to the tune of 200 million views to date of the cumulative video iterations) and people had a lot to say about my fat body.
“That being said, she said more people have positive things to say about her vulnerability, humanity, power, and radical acceptance. Amy believes that seeing her body has helped them to see their own – and others – with more kindness. “My honesty helped them to examine their own and how they want to raise their children. Seeing me embrace my power and sexuality has softened their hearts to body diversity and cultural biases.”
“Hilda is so goofy and flirty and making her my own at nearly twice her age, and adding photographs of my own real body along with quirky little objects from my home that represent my life as a woman and a mother, has really touched people in a surprising way. Sexiness can be silly while subverting the gaze and critically examining pin-ups can also be radical. And we can have fun doing it all at the same time.”