Type of site
|Nude pin-up photography|
|Launched||September 3, 2001|
The website was founded in 2001 by Selena Mooney ("Missy Suicide") and Sean Suhl ("Spooky").
Most of the site is only accessible to paying members. It offers members access to images provided by models and photographers worldwide, as well as personal profiles, blogging platforms, and the option to join numerous groups based upon different interests. There is also an online merchandise store offering a range of clothing, books, and DVDs.
Suicide Girls have appeared in a variety of media outlets including television shows and music videos. They have also been portrayed by actresses in others, such as the character Dani California on the TV show Californication.
In 2001, Mooney returned to Portland, Oregon to study photography after working as director of technology at Ticketmaster. Inspired by Bunny Yeager, Mooney began photographing her friends in the pinup style and wanted to create a website that featured her photographs as well as message boards and blog posts from the models. Mooney's friend, Sean Suhl joined her and the two founded the website. SuicideGirls was originally based in Portland, but relocated its operations to Los Angeles, California in 2003 to be closer to its distributor, label and publisher. That same year, 70 models from the website appeared in a music video for the band Probot.
Mooney has stated that the purpose of the site is to give women control over how their sexuality is depicted. The site is privately co-owned. According to Missy, the term "Suicide Girl" originally comes from Chuck Palahniuk's novel Survivor (1999) where the character talks about masturbating to the troubles of young girls who look up to him:
It's the same with these suicide girls calling me up. Most of them are so young. Crying with their hair wet down in the rain at a public telephone, they call me to the rescue. Curled in a ball alone in bed for days, they call me. Messiah. They call me. Savior. They sniff and choke and tell me what I ask for in every little detail. It's so perfect some nights to hear them in the dark. The girl will just trust me. The phone in my one hand, I can imagine my other hand is her."
Missy also states that the name describe girls who commit "social suicide" by breaking away from the norm of society, and created the site "as a place to celebrate beautiful women who choose not to fit into the norm and as a corner of the internet where outsiders could congregate and be appreciated for being themselves."
In September 2005, SuicideGirls announced that it would remove a large number of images from its pages, in an effort to collaborate with the U.S. Department of Justice standards at the time. The images involved depicted bondage, weapons, or simulated blood. The Department of Justice indicated that images of that type might be the subject of obscenity prosecutions. Although SuicideGirls was not mentioned as a target, they removed the images until the furor passed. In January 2007, the images were made visible again. In 2006, some of the Suicide Girls were featured in an episode of CSI: NY titled "Oedipus Hex".
In 2015, it was reported that the website had 5 million monthly visitors, with 51 percent of them being female. SuicideGirls 15th anniversary was celebrated at its Peek-A-Boo burlesque show, which is a regular act at Pour Vous nightclub in Los Angeles, and was featured on the website of Maxim magazine. In 2017, SuicideGirls released a line of marijuana vape pens and cartridges called the Chill Hustle Zero line.
The website is an online community, formed around pin-up photosets of Suicide Girls.
Photosets are a collection of images ranging from fully clothed to fully nude that must share a theme or concept and take place in the same setting. Each photoset contains 40–60 images and is created by the model and photographer to portray images of "alternative" beauty, showcasing each model's ideas regarding her own beauty.
As of May 2015, there were nearly 8 million images live on the site. Each day, a 'Set of the Day' is bought and featured, appearing on the front page, where official Suicide Girl status begins. The photographs are intended both as an homage to classic pin-up art and a portrayal of images of alternative beauty.
The site hosts a collection of staff photographers, however anyone can submit photosets to the site. Actress Paget Brewster has photographed models for the site, as have guitarist Dave Navarro and singer Mike Doughty.
The members and the models all have the option to create a personal profile, keep journals, upload their own photos and videos, and join public and private groups.
The site also features interviews conducted by members and a merchandise shop.
SuicideGirls have released seven movies since 2005, each directed by Mike Marshall.
- SuicideGirls: The First Tour was self-produced and released on August 30, 2005, by Epitaph Records. It chronicles the lives of 10 performers on the first North American Burlesque Tour.
- SuicideGirls: Italian Villa was released on October 24, 2006. It features interviews and photo shoots of 15 European Suicide Girls.
- The horror film Suicide Girls Must Die!, directed by Sawa Suicide, was released in certain theatres on March 12, 2010. The film was released as video on demand on July 16, 2010.
- SuicideGirls: Guide to Living was released on DVD and Blu-ray on March 16, 2010, and features many Suicide Girls putting erotic twists on otherwise everyday activities.
- SuicideGirls: UK Holiday was released in September 2012 and is also available on both DVD and Blu-ray. It documents a week long stay in a converted mill within the UK countryside, featuring 30 Suicide Girls from across the globe.
- SuicideGirls: Retrospective was released on November 3, 2012, and was a collection of videos from the previous decade.
- SuicideGirls: Relaunch is the latest offering, released August 8, 2015. It chronicles the recent relaunch of the website, following co-owner Missy Suicide and her team to document the day-to-day operations of SuicideGirls.
SuicideGirls: The First Tour, SuicideGirls: Italian Villa and SuicideGirls: Relaunch all air on the US cable network Showtime in regular rotations, since the years of their respective release dates.
In May 2013, SuicideGirls came to an agreement with Akaneiro: Demon Hunters game developer Spicy Horse to use likenesses of their models in a freemium browser title called BigHead BASH. Players can purchase premium content for 220 in-game tokens each, to unlock 5 characters in total. The models featured are: Bob, Gogo, Milloux, Venom and Radeo.
SuicideGirls have published 4 books since 2004, all featuring a variety of photos from the website and interviews with Suicide Girls.
- SuicideGirls (2004, Feral House)
- SuicideGirls: Beauty Redefined (2008, Ammo Books)
- SuicideGirls: Hard Girls, Soft Light (2013, Ammo Books)
- SuicideGirls: Geekology (2014, Ammo Books)
A SuicideGirls comic book mini-series was released in 2011, by IDW Publishing, containing four issues. The comic books feature pin-up drawings of actual SuicideGirls by artist Cameron Stewart, as well as a historic story written by Steve Niles. Shortly after, a German edition of the combined mini-series was released.
SuicideGirls has published three issues of its magazine, otherwise referred to as their 'periodical art book' or 'pin-up anthology'. Issue 1 and 2 were self-published in 2007 and the third issue was released in 2014 by Ammo Books. Issue 4 can be expected in 2016.
The SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque group first toured in 2003 and opened for Guns N' Roses and Courtney Love, before suspending the tour for nearly a decade. The show returned in Fall 2013 and has toured across the US, Canada and Australia, selling out numerous shows in each country. The show has also visited the UK and Chile with its high-energy mix of classic and new burlesque dancing, choreographed by Manwe Sauls-Addison.
The Blackheart Burlesque hosts a show of cult-classic numbers including performances based on Star Wars and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and pop culture references like Game of Thrones and Fifty Shades of Grey. As of 2016, the show is hosted by Sunny Suicide and Katherine Suicide and features a changing line-up of dancers. During the shows, there is an element of audience participation and guests are encouraged to take photos of the performers and share them on social media.
The SuicideGirls Ballroom Blitz is a monthly rock and metal club night in the UK, taking place at Camden's Electric Ballroom. It boasts various stage performances including fire performance, pole dancing and classic burlesque, alongside cage dancing and rock, metal and alternative music. Performances come from UK Suicide Girls and Suicide Girl Hopefuls, guest DJs and guest acts from dance and fire performance groups.
In 2005, a number of the paid models were reported to have resigned from the site or had their memberships revoked in connection with allegations of censorship and mistreatment of the models by the site's owners. Numerous members have reported that their journals and message board posts were removed because of bullying other members. This practice of deleting either objectionable content, disagreeable content, or membership altogether is referred to by SuicideGirls staffers as "zotting" and is implemented by the site's owners in the event that members are slanderous or abusive to other members.
Exclusivity agreement and lawsuits
A primary issue in the past has been SuicideGirls modeling contract, which prevented its models (including past models, for a time) from working for competing sites or agencies (specifically those dealing in nude photography or erotica). In response to this, the SuicideGirls website stated that only models "who have chosen to be involved in special projects" signed an exclusivity agreement in addition to their standard modeling contract barring them from working with direct competitors for a certain amount of time. SG replaced the contract with a model release in 2006. Many models have received many mainstream modeling jobs from the exposure gained through SuicideGirls.
Many of the former models involved in the 2005 dispute are now involved with the competing sites GodsGirls and Deviant Nation. Gods Girls have been sued by SuicideGirls LLC for hiring models who were allegedly still under contract with SuicideGirls and for allegedly violating SuicideGirls trademarks. Several former models were also threatened with legal action. In November 2006, SuicideGirls fired one of their main photographers, Philip Warner, (aka Lithium Picnic), for acting as the primary photographer for the website of former SuicideGirl Apnea. The termination was followed in February 2007 by a lawsuit by SuicideGirls against Warner. According to a press release by Warner and Apnea, as of February 2007, none of SuicideGirls LLC's lawsuits or threatened actions against former models or competing sites has resulted in a victory for the plaintiff. However, the legal expenses in the lawsuits have been costly and time-consuming for the defendants. In June 2008, Lithium Picnic and Apnea issued a press release stating "We all sat down together and worked out an agreement that is really fair to everyone. [...] We want to make it clear that we 100% have no hostilities towards SuicideGirls in any way anymore, we all came to a really fair agreement over this dispute, and there were no bad people here, just mistakes and misunderstandings."
Reselling photo sets of models to hardcore and pirate sites
Criticism by models
In an article released in 2005, The Boston Phoenix alternative weekly reported on former models' dissatisfaction with company practices. Models interviewed referred to SuicideGirls president Sean Suhl as "verbally abusive" and an "active misogynist", and described the website as a "slap in the face to feminism".
According to statistics released by the website, in July 2005 one model left, followed by 11 in August, 25 in September, and 11 in October. According to former models interviewed in a feature piece by Silicon Valley's magazine Metro Active, this was, in their opinion, due to the general homogenization of the site, "a process that alternative subcultures are unfortunately used to".
Olivia Black, a recent addition to the crew of Las Vegas' Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, and thus the History Channel TV series Pawn Stars, was fired from the show on December 19, 2012, when her previous background as a Suicide Girl was revealed.
Richard Prince's appropriated images
In 2015, American artist Richard Prince appropriated images from the SuicideGirls' Instagram, printed them on canvas, and added remarks into comment threads. The works were displayed at the Frieze Art Fair and one of the images was sold for $90,000. In response, the SuicideGirls sold prints of the images for $90 a piece with the proceeds going to charity.
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