Their photos are erotic and highly charged. The girls frolic on camera in the nude or next-to-nothing, beckoning, daring us to look closer.
Still, SuicideGirls.com founder and photographer Missy Suicide insists, the Internet site is not to be mistaken for porn.
SuicideGirls.com started four years ago in Portland, as Suicide sought to combine her photography with a love of classic 1940s- and '50s-era pin-ups. In true DIY spirit, the site started as an underground phenomenon, with Suicide and crew contributing articles and interviewing their favorite bands.
Today, with 1 million individual visitors per week, the site is as much about the photos as it is the online community. It's been successful at co-opting the traditional idea of girlie pictures and spinning it on its head.
According to Suicide, the site boasts nearly 800 girls from all over the world (including Antarctica) -- emo girls, goth girls, punk girls, tattooed and pierced girls. If 1950s Playboy introduced us to the Girl Next Door, then SuicideGirls would like you to meet the Girl Working at the Coffee Shop, or Girl Next to You at Benny's.
Suicide says the difference between her work and Hef's are the photos themselves.
"It's a pin-up site," she maintains. "Yeah, there's nudity on the site, but the female form has been celebrated as an art for centuries. There's nothing degrading or graphic on the site. ... I don't think that taking tasteful nude photos is so damning. There's nudity in Vogue."
The girls clearly are comfortable in front of the camera. They decide the themes of their photo sessions, how they're posed and presented. This empowerment is a draw for potential SuicideGirls, according to Suicide.
"They're doing it more for themselves than anyone else," she points out. "They're not trying to emulate any sort of media perception of what's beautiful. They know they're beautiful."
That the girls aren't airbrushed or Playboy-perfect is a major draw for many site visitors, as well as the girls themselves. In their recently released DVD, SuicideGirls: The First Tour, a documentary about their 2004 burlesque tour, most of the girls interviewed emphasized how nice it was to see others like themselves being appreciated.
"It's kind of hard for girls, especially ones with tattoos or piercings, who are maybe the minority in their town, to meet other girls who share their interests," says Suicide.
As in their photography sessions, the girls develop their own ideas for the burlesque numbers, setting them to music from Jolie Holland to Nine Inch Nails. They then work with a choreographer for fine-tuning. The show displays the girls' athletic prowess (check out Pearl's amazing hula-hoop routine on the DVD) as well as the requisite T&A, ending with all of the girls in a big whipped-cream-and-chocolate mess.
Mixing sexuality with feminism always has been a sticky issue, but Suicide believes that when done with a strong sense of attitude and reality, showing a little flesh is incredibly powerful. Still, she does everything she can to allow fans to ogle the girls' intelligence as well.
"A girl with a mind and a body is infinitely more sexy than just an over-airbrushed photo," she says.
-- Kara Luger
SuicideGirls Live Burlesque Tour with special guests
Gothic Theatre, 3263 S. Broadway, Englewood
Tuesday, Oct. 25, 9 p.m.
Tickets: $11 in advance, $13 day of show; 18-plus; visit ticketweb.com for more.