An interview with... Bernie Dexter, rockabilly pin-up queen!
Interview by Anjelica May
Meet our sweet-souled Feminist Icon of the Week, rockabilly queen Bernie Dexter. We interview her about everything from make-up and rockabilly music to gay marriage & attending Bettie Page's funeral. Bernie Dexter: Foxy on the inside as well as the outside.
With her moonlight skin and megawatt smile, Bernie Dexter is globally recognised as the Rockabilly Pin-Up Queen. She's not shy with that inclusive, welcoming smile that has graced so many photographs and posters; to family and friends, Bernie is eternally laughing.
After an intensive interview with Bernie Dexter I also discovered her serious side; I found a woman who is strong and aware. Yes, of course it's fun to talk about Bernie's favourite make-up and the rockabilly music gods on her iPod. However, there is more to Bernie Dexter's life and outlook than the joyous appreciation of sounds and vision...
Bernie Dexter, what is your definition of feminism?
To me, feminism is being a strong, independent woman who is loving, feminine, and not afraid of her femininity.
Why do you think women are currently really beginning to take an interest in pin-up style?
For so long, women were told to hide our femininity and burn our bras. Wearing a girdle, corset, bullet bra, garter belt, and stockings, I tell you, will bring the strongest man to his knees! It makes you feel strong when you have these garments which enhance our natural given gifts. It’s not necessary to get a bubby job if you have the right equipment.
What are some subtle ways to introduce a little rockabilly into one's own mooky style?
Visit the Bernie Dexter website! I have some great rockabilly clothing basics such as Dungaree Jeans, a sexy dress, and red lipstick.
What are some not-so-subtle ways to rock the rockabilly style?
Pompadour hair, short bangs, red lipstick, and siren Capri pants!
Out of interest, what styling products and make-up would you recommend?
Neil George. He has the best hair products. I highly recommend his hairspray as well as his Gooseberry shampoo and condition. Visit his online hair salon.
Indirectly, did Bettie Page teach you anything?
She did. She made me comfortable in my own skin. I noticed we had a similar body type. I always felt too curvy and strived to be thin like fashion models. I am not built that way and neither is Bettie. For that, I am forever grateful.
You attended Bettie Page’s funeral?
On several occasions, I have been told Bettie really enjoyed my work. Bettie sent me an email saying she enjoyed my work. Two years before her death, CMG brought the rights to her image. It made it very difficult for us to meet but they were kind enough to invite me to her funeral.
Her funeral was beautiful. It felt strange to mourn for someone I am not related to or knew personally. However, when the bagpipes played, I became inconsolable. Her nieces spoke about their Auntie Bettie. It gave everyone a glimpse of Bettie's personality. Levi, my husband, kept squeezing my hand because she and I were alike in many ways. Her friends and fans were very nice. I met the Bettie Scouts of America founder and his wife. At the funeral, I sensed a bit of disgust from one funeral participant. I think it was jealousy.
How did you meet Olivia de Berardinis?
I met her at Comic Con. I heard she enjoyed my images and she wanted to draw me. Of course, I became skeptical. Believe it or not, I’m not of the types that knew I had “it”. I went to Berardinis' booth and her husband, Joel, recognized me. Olivia de Berardinis has been a HUGE motivator for me. The industry is full of closed doors and she has left one door ajar for me. I am forever grateful! I always say, “Having Olivia de Berardinis paint a pin-up model is like getting an Oscar.”
Does Levi shoot other models besides you?
No. He was forced into it, really. Heehee! In the beginning, the pin-up scene was small. I had a difficult time dealing with photographers and being black balled by models. I wanted to quit but Levi said “No”. He went out and brought a camera. He doesn’t have a background in photography so I teased him about how bad his snapshots were. I had no idea this would all work out so well. He has a wonderful composition. It is amazing to see how he looks at me.
Will you write a book about rockabilly history, fashion, music, etc?
I will write a book one day. It will be about being a rockabilly girl and perhaps will cover my story. My husband, Levi, will write a book as well. We are still both creating our stories!
What book should every rockabilly girl read?
I think ALL girls, not just rockabilly, should read Girls on Girls by Bonnie Burton. It is a book that helped me understand why women do as we do. It also helped me understand why I misbehaved in the past. Hey, no one is perfect.
Has the rockabilly scene changed for the better or worse?
It has changed for the better. I have seen it changed since the early 90s. It continues to get better. In the 90s, it had a sense of snobbery. It still does, but people are more forgiving. It has become a lot easier to educate yourself on rockabilly because of the internet. Thank God.
What 3 rockabilly bands should every Mookychick have in their MP3 player?
Levi Dexter, Charlie Feathers, and Johnny Burnette Trio.
Let's imagine Congress allows you make 2 laws that will never be revoked. What are they?
It would be gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana for twenty-one and over. Why?
One, I believe in equal rights for everyone.
Two, I don’t smoke marijuana BUT no one overdosed on it. It’s natural so it should be regulated and taxed. It will educate people and get them off of chemical drugs such as crystal meth. Chemical drugs are stealing so many lives in this country. This would change everything!
Name 3 things people would be shocked to know about you
Firstly, inner beauty is the number one beauty tip. No one is perfect. When you have obstacles, it doesn’t mean you don’t have the same opportunities as others. Work hard and follow your dreams. Make them happen for yourself, because no one will do it for you!
Secondly, I am dyslexic.
Thirdly, my mother has been a crystal meth addict since I was 14.
With much love and thanks to Bernie Dexter, our Feminist Icon of the Week, for her kind interview. What a sweet soul!