The Media Has Fetishized Nudity — Playboy Can Change That

Disclaimer: This article contains graphic language.

Playboy, the magazine notorious for innuendo and euphemism, has the opportunity to reinvent the way men see women. With the reintroduction of nudity last week into the Playboy magazine, it can be a leader in creating more body positive and realistic content.

After about a year without nudity – for the first time in its 62-year existence – Playboy is reversing course and reintroducing nude photos to its pages.

Playboy cited the proliferation of online pornography as the motive for taking nudity out of their pages. Playboy CEO Scott Flanders told the New York Times in 2015, “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”  

At the time of this change, circulation dropped from 5.2 million in 1975 to 800,000, The New York Times reported.

Because Playboy felt that it was “passé” and redundant, they missed out on a key opportunity to transform its brand from a magazine that fetishizes women to a magazine that celebrates real and diverse women.

While it may sound like a contradiction, Playboy is not going away and there are ways for magazines like this to be more friendly towards women.

Cooper Hefner, Playboy chief creative officer and son of Hugh Hefner, made a statement on twitter accompanying the announcement of the Naked is Normal philosophy.

Hefner acknowledged the magazine’s dated portrayal of nudity but did not allude to the way in which nudity will be portrayed in future issues. The Playboy brand is designed for men and has always been about sex. But that does not mean that the content has to fetishize women and promote unrealistic body standards for women.

Feminist writers consistently criticize Playboy – and rightfully so. Gloria Steinem is quoted in Stylist saying that a “woman reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual.”

Steinem’s criticism is that Playboy photographs and talks about women like objects of men’s desire and nothing more. While Steinem makes a good point, it is also argued that the magazine also opened the door for women to be more open about their sexuality.

Women to this day are body shamed and embarrassed for wearing revealing outfits. In theory, by publishing nude photos of women, Playboy started the conversation that women can be just as sexual as men and that it’s perfectly normal.

The nudity was progressive, but the articles and the themes of the photographs created an unrealistic idea of how women behave sexually.

Time reported in 2013 that even then-editorial director of Playboy, Jimmy Jellinek, thought the magazine was out of touch.

“The magazine used to have this aesthetic of unattainable perfection,” Jellineck said.

For the sixtieth anniversary of Playboy, the cover featured Kate Moss dressed in the iconic bunny costume. This cover showed that after 60 years, Playboy still has its sexist tendencies.

Peggy Drexler, a reporter for Time, wrote that, “Lips parted, bunny tail raised — isn’t empowering, or at all acknowledging of the progress women, and men, have made in the past half a century. It’s belittling, and dismissive, and plainly outdated. It is no longer every man’s fantasy to dominate a woman dressed as a furry woodland creature. It is no longer every woman’s fantasy to oblige.”

In 2011, The British Journal of Psychology published a study analyzing how people respond to things convicted rapists have said as opposed to quotes from men’s magazines.

Here are some examples of quotes used in the study:

  • “Some women are domineering, but I think it’s more or less the man who should put his foot down. The man is supposed to be the man. If he acts the man, the woman won’t be domineering.”
  • “There’s a certain way you can tell that a girl wants to have sex… The way they dress, they flaunt themselves.”
  • “Mascara running down the cheeks means they’ve just been crying, and it was probably your fault… but you can cheer up the miserable beauty with a bit of the old in and out.”
  • “A girl may like anal sex because it makes her feel incredibly naughty and she likes feeling like a dirty slut. If this is the case, you can try all sorts of humiliating acts to help live out her filthy fantasy.”

It is hard to tell which quote came from which source, which is concerning in itself. The first two quotes are from convicted rapists and the second two are from men’s magazines.

The study found that when the quotes were correctly and incorrectly attributed to men’s magazines, men identified more with them. This study confirms the hypothesis that sexist and hostile ideas are legitimized when coming from men’s magazines.

This study is not presented to say that Playboy is consistently publishing hostile language; but, it shows that it does hold weight for men in legitimizing sexist ideals.

Playboy just launched their new philosophy: “Naked is Normal.”  And yes, naked is normal but how they publish nudity is important and has an impact. Their nudity has to be normal too.

Imperfect is normal, diversity is normal. Not every woman has a perfect figure with large breasts and a tiny waist. Playboy needs to publish realistic, untouched pictures of women.

Playboy is iconic and need to set the standard for men’s magazines. It can no longer be a vessel for promoting unrealistic and offensive standards. Thankfully, their “Naked is Normal” campaign is a productive step in the right direction.

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