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The Art of the Sexy Selfie, Explained by a Pinup Queen

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

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Bettina May knows sexy selfies. A professional model, photographer, and the first-ever recipient of a "genius" Green Card for her work as a burlesque performer, she's dedicated her life to preserving the art of mid-century cheesecake. Based in Brooklyn, she spends much of her time traveling the world, spreading her message of vintage beauty. She even teaches pinup classes all over the U.S. and Canada, through DVDs, and via Skype.

May recently took time out from her performance schedule to share wisdom from her latest book, Everyday Bombshell, that will help you take pinup-worthy pics with nary a duck lip in sight.

Photo: Getty Images

Before you even pull out your phone and start snapping, what are some good ways to prep for taking a sexy picture?
Location is everything for a great selfie. Try to find a background that is simple and flattering—no messy counters or beds, and please no toilets in the shot! Shooting into a mirror is okay, but try taking it to the next level by having the mirror behind you. This is great for a saucier shot showing a little rear view.

What vintage makeup tips still do the trick today?
Liquid liner and red lips are two classic styles that worked for grandma and still look fresh. I like a liquid liner with a brush tip to get a nice fine line; wing the ends up for a flirty cat eye. Red lipstick is like instant makeup, so even if the rest of your face is bare, you look put together. Don't be afraid of a bold red! Start with a classic blue-based shade, which flatters all skin tones and also makes your teeth look whiter, so you can hashtag that selfie with #nofilter. And stick to a matte finish! It looks more vintage, but also lasts way longer and doesn't end up all over your face and teeth like a gloss can.

What clothing looks best on camera?
A great sweater: the fuzzier and tighter, the better. A high neckline can still be sexy, especially if the texture looks luxurious and touchable. A well-fitting bra ensures a flattering silhouette. If you've never had a proper size fitting, get one now at a nice lingerie store. Another great option is a high-waisted skirt, which really accentuates your curves. A thick elastic belt in black is another great staple to finish off the whole look, and reminds you to engage your core—that's photographer-speak for "suck it in!"

When it comes to striking a pose, what are some pro moves?
Know how to work that angle. Instead of facing the camera straight on, I always put myself at a 45-degree angle to the lens, as it shows off all the right curves a bit better. It gives the appearance of slimming the waist by a few inches, and who doesn't want that? The same is true for your face. I like to angle my head to the side in photos as well, but only so far that both eyes are visible. Also, where you hold the camera really matters. We all know holding it way up high is great for showcasing cleavage, but it can look a bit obvious when all you see is your forehead, so bring it down a bit. And by all means, try to avoid the duck lips look. Don't be afraid to smile a bit! People actually enjoy a happy face, much more so than your best Kardashian pout.

Photo: Getty Images

It can be hard to get in front of a camera if you're not used to it. What are some ways to feel comfortable in pictures?
I see this all the time in my classes with women who are stepping in front of the camera in a posed setting for the first time. Women often feel like unless you're a supermodel, you don't have permission to enjoy yourself in a photo. Untrue! If you are waiting for someone to say it's okay, then here I am saying it now: You are allowed to smile and be sexy and have fun in pictures. Turn off that voice in your head that's full of self-doubt and negativity, and pretend that no one is going to see these. Enjoy the moment, create a character for yourself during the shoot, and act out a story for the camera. Then it's not you doing all those funny, sexy, serious poses, it's super-you, sassy-librarian-you, stern-movie-star-you.

What are some common pinup pitfalls to be aware of?
Not every look is for every girl! If you can't physically wink, don't try to fake it. You will look like you have a problem. One girl's sassy smirk is another girl's "just smelled a fart" face. Practice your faces in the mirror (every good model knows her Blue Steel), and stick with those that work best for you.

Any final words of wisdom?
The most attractive thing about a pretty pinup is the self-confidence she exudes through her smile. Now I know in the world we live in, this is a tall order for many women, and your self-esteem can be harder to find than fully-fashioned Cuban heel stockings. The best way to start building your self-confidence is to love and accept yourself for who you are, curves and all. Let's leave warped self-image behind us, like the evil high school bully that it is. Now slap on that red lipstick, strike a pose, and go make me proud!