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Dedicating 'my body to Bettie'

A Borders bookstore worker pays homage to 1950s pinup girl Bettie Page in a very personal way.

By JANE BOKUN

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000


CARROLLWOOD -- One of the first things customers at Borders bookstore notice about clerk Kymm Atherholt is her tattoos. They stretch up and down both arms, and beyond.

Then they probably notice that all the tattoos feature the same subject: 1950s pinup model Bettie Page.

The 20-year-old gets to explain the tattoos, and Page, to lots of curious customers.

"I'm inspired by her beauty," Atherholt said, and by how Page overcame adversity to achieve a certain limited stardom, even though it was a role she later renounced.

Like Page, Atherholt said, she has had her share of hard knocks. Her mother, she said, "ran off with a guy on the Internet."

"And my father is 76 years old," she said. Both abandoned Atherholt when she was about 16, she said.

"My mother and her new husband said, "You're a nice kid, but there are too many teenagers living in this house,' " Atherholt said. She lived with friends and finished high school in Michigan.

She moved to the Tampa Bay area a few months ago to live with her grandmother, but when she arrived, she said, the apartment was up for rent and her grandmother was moving to Idaho. Now Atherholt lives in an old house in Tampa with friends and co-workers.

Atherholt started tattooing herself at age 7, she said. At 16 she decided to "dedicate my body to Bettie" after she saw a picture of Page on the Internet, where fans host hundreds of Web sites devoted to her.

"Shortly after that, I saw a special (about Page) on the E! network and wanted to find out everything I could about this lady," Atherholt said. So far, Atherholt has six tattoos. Five are about 6 to 8 inches long, with one large picture of a coquettish Bettie completely covering her back.

Atherholt said she has heard all kinds of comments from customers about her appearance; in addition to her tattoos, she sports nose, lip and tongue jewelry.

"A man came in here the other day and told the manager I should be fired because of the way I look," she said. "And a middle-aged couple came in and asked if we stocked Bettie's videos. I told them about the two new ones I just bought on DVD. I'm sort of the resident Bettie expert here."

Her supervisors at the bookstore said company policy prohibits them from commenting in news stories.

She said one day she may like to design clothing or create tattoos. For now, she said her only plans are to keep her bookstore job while learning more about Page.

In the 1950s, Page was featured on men's magazine covers and pinups, but also starred in some short films about bondage. She was not considered a star in mainstream popular culture at the time. At the height of her popularity, in 1957, she disappeared from public life and remained a mystery to adoring fans, who speculated that she had been killed by mobsters or had turned to religion. According to her one biography, she struggled with mental illness. Page's popularity has soared in the last decade after publication of biographies, Internet sites and the E! network television special.

During her Internet research on Page, Atherholt said, she started an e-mail correspondence with Page's former manager. The manager has offered to forward letters to Page, Atherholt said. But she is hesitant to meet Page or even write to her.

"I want to keep the idea of her in her younger days," Atherholt said. "She's my inspirational role model."

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