The explosion of tattooed, pierced, and otherwise modified models can be traced back to one Portland, Oregon, woman who was fed up with "siliconeenhanced Barbie dolls." Using her prior experience on the Web and the camera skills she learned in art school, Selena Moody (now known as Missy Suicide) snapped photos of her friends in pinup-style poses and worked with her friend and former boyfriend Sean Suhl to set up Suicidegirls.com as a place to post these sexy photo sets. "I'd always loved the knowing glances that Bettie page gave," Suicide recalls. "there's something empowering and beautiful about the pinup photos of the '50s that I thought was missing in modern erotica."
Seven years after its 2001 launch, the Suicide Girls have been featured everywhere from Nightline to HBO's Real Sex to CSI. they have their own line of merchandise, a DVD, and books. the site has grown to feature photo sets of 1,800 models, who are paid $500 per set, and Suicide Girls the company has made enough of a profit to permit Suicide to purchase a modest house in los angeles, where the site is now headquartered.
Just as Suicide Girls was starting, Suicide got her first ink: a pair of wings on her back done by peter archer at Blackbird tattoo in portland. "It's a little cheesy," she admits. "I was trying to think about where i was in my life. I had just come out of a very corporate job, and I wanted to do something on my own. they seemed like they fit my body, and it all fell into place." The butterfly on her wrist, which she got with her grandmother, came soon after.
"My grandmother is very prim and proper. she's appalled people no longer wear hats when they walk down Hollywood Boulevard. Bikers got tattoos, not her lovely granddaughter." But once she saw her granddaughter's, she reconsidered and decided that if she got a tattoo, it would be a butterfly. So on a dose of valium, Grandma Suicide got her first tattoo on her 75th birthday. "afterwards, I asked her if it hurt," Suicide recalls. "She said, ‘You know, I had six kids. that was really nothing!'"
Now, Suicide is slowly working with mike suarez from true tattoo to extend the nature-inspired sleeve of birds, clouds, and a dogwood tree that winds around her arm. She squeezes in appointments between her radio show on los angeles's indie 103.1 and running the Suicide Girls empire, a job that isn't without challenges. The site's explosive growth brought some unwanted attention—namely the 2005 departure of numerous models, who cited a variety of reasons and went on to launch competing sites. "I think it was [the result of] going from being very indie to gaining a bit of exposure," Suicide explains. "Growing up in portland, where anything that more than three people liked was selling out, and coming from that culture, i totally can understand the arc of that."
For now, the Suicide Girls army continues to march on, though one photo set is notably absent—that of Suicide herself. "As a photographer, it's hard for me to give up the control. I did a peta ad, but it took about a half-hour to get that one image," she says with a laugh. "If anything, that's my one regret, that I never took photos."