A Playboy Centerfold on Why Ending Nudity in the Magazine is a Good Thing

Published: October 20, 2015 18:37 IST
8 Shares
EMAIL
PRINT
COMMENTS
This week, Playboy announced its latest move to save the magazine's economic future: putting clothes on its models. The images of nude women in alluring poses will be a thing of the past - and for me, Miss September 1963, and many Playboy fans, its passing will be mourned to some extent. But it will also elevate the Playmate to a more dignified and empowered status.

Hugh Hefner launched Playboy during the repressed 1950s with the dream of liberating women's sexuality and publishing cutting-edge articles that intellectually explored sociopolitical issues. In the 1970s, the magazine began to show more explicit images, and gradually deteriorated into sexploitation and objectification. In the last few years, perhaps due to the public preference, the magazine has attempted to redeem itself by returning to more modest images, but iconic publisher Hefner has surprised us once again with his vision for a new Playboy.

It's been no secret that the magazine is financially troubled, a lost leader in the now overgrown field of nude image publishing.

To compensate, the company has explored the realms of soft porn, opened a Cyber Club for premium members, and combined monthly issues. Ending full nudity in the magazine is Playboy's most radical move yet. But this is more than a financial transformation for the company; it's an opportunity to enhance the centerfold model, returning it to its earlier glamour.

I have experienced both the benefits and downsides of being a sex symbol. As a girl, I studied ballet and piano and eventually majored in musical theatre at the American Theatre Wing with hopes of becoming a serious actress in New York. Shakespeare and Rodgers and Hammerstein were my passion. Becoming a Playmate changed the trajectory of my life. Theatrical agents and casting directors didn't see me as a serious actress after my Playboy debut. Instead, my agent told me to "just stand there and look pretty. Don't say anything intelligent and spoil it." I fumed. I had to remind men to lift their eyes from my bosom when we were introduced, dryly saying, "I'm up here." I would dress down so they wouldn't look at me lasciviously. It was disheartening to say the least.

I've seen many other Playmates go through the same and worse. After becoming the month's celebrity, a centerfold's other talents were often forgotten and she was pigeonholed as a sex object. There were no real acting jobs, ones that didn't require taking down her top or panning to her derriere as she swished her hips down the aisle of the typing pool (as I did in my first Screen Actor's Guild job after Playboy, as Maureen Arthur's "fanny" double in the 1967 film "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.") When her body's firmness and perkiness began to fade, she was tossed aside, along with her intellect, education and other career aspirations.

But even as I bridle at memories of being objectified, I recognize the artistry with which Playboy treated the centerfold in its early years. In those days, the women were photographed as genuine pinups, wholesome and lovely - not anatomical gynecological studies. Playmates were the women in the frayed gatefolds that GIs of the Korean and Vietnam wars lovingly placed inside their helmets as talismans, their inspiration during the worst of times, their tender memories of home and American values. GIs and Glamour Girls were always an indivisible partnership.

In my youth, I never fully appreciated the impact my photos made. Now decades later, fans have shared those stories with me when I attend autograph signing shows and visit veterans' hospitals. To sustain themselves through the trauma of war, they would imagine coming home to me and telling me about their experiences. Those innocent, homey fantasies were possible because there was a humanity in our photos. We were pictured as real women - their sweethearts back home - not just sexual entities.

I find nothing essentially wrong with celebrating the nude form. As the daughter of an artist, I was raised to appreciate classics, like the nude paintings of the Renaissance. Civilization has celebrated the beauty of the nude body throughout history. It has motivated men to acts of heroism. It's been the inspiration for great poetry, music and art. But in recent decades, we Playmates have been aware of the subtle shift in the magazine: The centerfold layouts, sometimes pictured with legs positioned so clean-shaven 'lady bits' were all visible to the world, it degenerated into something much less reverential.

Certainly, my experience as a Playmate left me with mixed feelings about the way Playboy has used centerfolds over time.

While I love Hef and am grateful that he has given me the celebrity to speak on some of the pertinent issues of our time, I also am excruciatingly aware that I never got to play Shakespeare's eloquent, brave lead female character, Portia, in "The Merchant of Venice," on the big stage; I never got to sing and dance on Broadway or win a Tony. I reflect on the years when I wasn't taken seriously, until in 1986, at 42 years old, I graduated from college with honors as a registered nurse and in 1995 had my writing published in Playboy (Ironically, I was paid the same amount of money ($1,000) I earned for being a centerfold in 1963, without taking off my clothes!)

Still, it is difficult to imagine the magazine that rose to fame on the beauties in the trifold without the iconic women at its center. The centerfold has always been the first thing Playboy subscribers turn to, savor, analyze, treasure and hang on the wall. The centerfold should always be at the heart of Playboy.

But it's time to change her image. By eliminating nudity, Playboy can transform the Playmate into something that uplifts the woman, dignifies her, and puts her on a pedestal that makes her more self-empowered. The centerfold doesn't need to be nude to be iconic. Instead, she can be glamorous, elegant, intellectual - a multifaceted, well integrated, self-actualized woman.

(Victoria Valentino is one of the "Top 100 Centerfolds of the 20th Century" and currently works as a songwriter and RN nursing instructor.)

© 2015 The Washington Post

................................ Advertisement ................................

................................ Advertisement ................................

................................ Advertisement ................................