THE HYPERSEXUAL GIRL NEXT DOOR: A CASE STUDY OF PLAYBOY AND
THE SEXUAL REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN IN AMERICA SINCE THE 19505S
B. A.University of IllinoisSpringfield2009
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Masters of Social Science
Humanities and Social Science
This thesis for the Masters of Social Science degree by
has been approved for the
Humanities and Social Science Program
Omar Swartz, Chair
Page, Amanda (Masters of Social Science, Humanities and Social Science)
The Hypersexual Girl Next Door: A Case Study of Playboy and the Sexual
Representation of Women in America Since the 1950s
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Omar Swartz
Representations of women in American society are becoming increasingly sexual.
The gender roles designed for women today are very different than they were in the
1950s, when women were expected to be domestic, good wives, and good mothers.
Today, the social norms judge women based on their ability to appear sexually appealing
to others. Some argue that we have endured a sexual revolution and suggest we have been
sexually liberated. I question this assertion of sexual liberation and examine sexual
representations of women from two time periods to examine in what ways the alleged
sexual liberation has taken place. I examine the representation of women in Playboy from
1954-1963 and 1999-2008 to determine how the representations have changed over time.
I then look at writings and interviews of Hugh Hefner to determine how he believed his
magazine aided in the sexual liberation he assumed occurred. I suggest instead of
experiencing sexual liberation, we have experienced an increase of sexual expressions,
expectations, and norms that now infiltrate many aspects of our everyday lives.
Sexuality has become more overt in mainstream culture. Many argue that there is
not much difference between pornography and mainstream media. Some feminist
theorists assert that our society has become hypersexual under the guise of sexual
liberation. There have been two large responses to the mainstreaming of pornography,
some argue it is representative of sexual liberation or empowerment and some argue it is
representative of womens oppression. Pornography exists in our societyis consumed by
a large number of Americansand needs to be studied in order to understand the influence
pornography has on our society. Furthermore, we need to talk about this subject to help
equip America with the media literacy skills necessary to decipher the messages
pornography sends; in order to release our sexuality and our bodies from the commands
of the commercialized world of pornography.
The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication.
Approved: Omar Swartz
TABLE OF CONTENTS
II. A BRIEF HISTORY OF AMERICAN SEXUALITY.........................9
Were We Sexually Repressed?................................10
Pornography in Mens Magazines.............................16
Research on Playboy........................................23
III. PLAYBOY COmENT ANALYSIS.....................................30
Level of Nudity............................................48
IV. ARTICLES AND ATTITUDES OF HEFNER AND PLAYBOY................54
The Playboy Philosophy...................................55
Hefner the Advocate?.......................................58
Prevalent Attitudes toward Women in Playboy ys Early Years.64
Hefner and Feminism........................................67
What Makes Hefner Different?...............................73
V. AGENCY: A WORD FROM THE WOMEN INVOLVED.......................76
At the Playboy Club........................................76
VI. PORNOGRAPHY TODAY............................................96
Reaction to Pornography Today..............................99
Violence in Pornography...................................102
The Pornographic Fantasy..................................105
The Hypersexual Girl Next Door............................110
LIST OF TABLES
1. Bust Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM (Playmate of the Month):
2. Waist Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM: Sample 1.........38
3. Hip Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM: Sample 1...........38
4. Bust Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM: Sample 2..........39
5. Breast Cup Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM: Sample 2....39
6. Waist Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM: Sample 2.........40
7. Hip Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM: Sample2............40
8. Body Weight and Height Measurements Given for the Women Represented as POM in
9. Age Given for the Women Represented as POM: Sample 1....................43
10. Age Given for the Women Represented as POM: Sample 2...................44
11. Racial Representations of Women Featured as POM: Sample 1..............45
12. Racial/Ethnic Representation of women Featured as POM: Sample 2........46
13. Hair Color of the Women Represented as POM: Sample 1...................47
14. Hair Color of the Women Represented as POM: Sample.....................48
15. Level of Nudity for Women Represented as POM: Sample 1 and 2...........49
LIST OF FIGURES
1. Petty Girls................................................................17
2. The Vargas Girl: Circa 1920................................................18
3. The Vargas Girls from the Thirties to the Present..........................19
4. Miss March 1956............................................................32
5. Playmate Data Sheet........................................................34
6. Centerfold Miss March 2006................................................36
7. Miss March 2006............................................................36
8. Graph 1:Percentage of Waist Measurements Given for POM.......................41
9. Graph 2: Percentage of Hip Measurements Given for POM........................42
10. Graph 3: Age of Women Represented as POM...................................45
11. Graph 4: Racial Representations of Women: Sample 1.........................46
12. Graph 5: Racial/Ethnic Representations of Women: Sample 2..................47
13. Graph 6: Hair Color of Women Represented as POM............................48
14. Cartoon by Alberto Vargas: Angela Davis....................................59
15. Gloria Steinem at the New York Playboy Club, 1963 .........................79
16. Playboy, Madonna September 1985 and Charlize Theron May 1999...............87
17. Hefner and His Girlfriends.................................................88
Historians often refer to the 1960s as the beginning of the sexual revolution; a
period in which the birth control pill entered the market and significantly changed sexual
ideology, freeing sex from reproductive norms. The work of sex experts Alfred Kinsey,
William Masters, and Victoria Johnson challenged previous Freudian studies of sexuality
based on psychoanalytics. In postwar America, gender roles had been threatened by
womens entrance to the workforce. Some sex historianssuch as Carrie Pitzulo, argue
this led to a desire for women to return to their domestic duties, and placed a strong
emphasis on marriage. Susan Bordo describes the time period as a revival of
Victorianism, because it relocated women back to the home; she explains there was a
clear bodily separation of male and female. She characterizes this bodily separation by
"the era of the cinch belt, pushup bra, and Marilyn Monroe.,?1 New forms of control were
used to discipline the female body as specifically separate from male.
Sexuality was disciplined as well, through studies and expectations set by society
for normal sexual behavior. Sex was to be expressed between a husband and wife in
marriage. The work of Kinsey in the 1950s suggested that sexual norms created by
society were discontinuous with the sexual reality of most Americans. Kinsey traveled
the United States collecting data from interviews regarding frequency of orgasms from
masturbation, heterosexual intercourse, and homosexual intercourse, etc. One influential
aspect of his work exposed that Americans were having sex outside of marriage. The
work of Masters and Johnson in the 1950s and 1960s created another new fact about sex; 1
1 Susan Bordo, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body (Los Angeles, CA:
University of California Press, 2003/1993), 208.
they studied how sex is experienced by the human body. They designed new technology
to analyze how the human body experiences sexual arousal and release. Through their
work, sexology began to change, and there was no more clinging to the postwar
containment of sex within marriage.2 There was more acceptance of womens sexual
agency and desire.3 Sex became increasingly present in the public sphere, eroding
previous attitudes that asserted sex was a very private matter between married couples.
New sexual expectations and roles arose, and mass media such as the magazines Playboy
and Cosmopolitan "replaced the traditional husband-wife dyad with a new pairing: the
bachelor and the liberated single woman.4
Sexuality was now represented in the media and more openly in the public than
ever before. Pornography, newspapers, magazines, and advertisements all discussed sex
and used sex as a tool to sell products.5 These changes led to the characterization of this
time period as a sexual revolution. I question this assertion that there was a sexual
revolution. Birth control revolutionized the way women can participate in sex by
allowing women to control their reproductive function. Kinsey documented how our
sexual ideology was not congment with our sexual actions, and this caused previous
sexual norms to be challenged by some. These were major accomplishments toward
reproductive control and aligning sexual ideology with sexual practice, but sexual
revolution would require much more than these two things.
2 Jane Gerhard, Desiring Revolution: Second-Wave Feminism and the Rewriting of American Sexual
Thought 1920 to 1982 (New York, NY: Columbia University, 2001),73.
3 Ibid, 87.
4 Ibid., 85.
5John D'Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press,
Alongside this claim that we endured a sexual revolution comes the claim we
have been sexually liberated. What would it mean to be sexually liberated? Sexual
liberation is an ambiguous term but it comes with the connotation of freedom and
equality. Theories of liberation as described in The Dictionary of Feminist Theory
involve transforming the social framework itself.6 This implies a restructuring or
change to ideas, ideologies and society. The goal of liberation is equal freedom. Have
social attitudes and ideology changed to attain equal freedom? Is this even a viable
possibility? In 2014, our society is still grappling with tolerance for couples outside of
heterosexual norms. If we are still living in a society that tolerates sexual desires of
consenting individuals, then American society has not achieved sexual liberation.
The primary recipients of the alleged sexual revolution or sexual liberation
were/are heterosexual men who gained sexual freedom from the constraints of marriage.
Women are believed to have achieved liberation via public sexual representation. During
the time characterized by sexual revolution some women received a tool to control
reproductive function making it easier to participate in non-marital sex. It allowed
women to have heterosexual coitus without the possibility of pregnancy. The birth
control pill allowed sex to be experienced differently; however, it was also controversial
when it first came out, and was not easily accessible to everyone. The birth control pill
still remains controversial in some areas of the United States; for example, in more recent
news there have been political debates regarding pharmacy distribution, and health care
coverage for women5s birth control. These debates are typically made by radical religious
6 The Dictionary of Feminist Theory, eds Maggie Humm (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press,
groups and not representative of America as a whole; nonetheless, decades after second
wave feminism, some women are still fighting for access.
Some theorists, such as Michel Foucault, suggest that sexual liberation is not
plausible because sexuality is socially createdconstructedand controlled by a web of
different power relations. According to this logic, sexual liberation can never occur;
ratherit functions as another form of power relations. According to Foucaultsex is a
notion that was created through the numerous different ways human sexual behavior was
analyzed and disciplined by power relations. Foucault suggests that sexual liberation
in factfurther perpetuates disciplining of sex. This will be discussed further in Chapter
2. Foucault makes convincing arguments about the nature of sexual liberation that we
have allegedly achieved. This thesis argues that regardless of the veracity of the claim we
have been sexually liberated, society seems to have fallen for the mirage. Despite the fact
there is no evidence that there is equal freedom in sexual expression, mainstream society
sells the idea of sexual liberation to America. I am not trying to determine if or how
sexual liberation could occur; rather, I am questioning why there is a perceived sexual
liberation, and how that functions in American society. I studied perceived sexual
liberation in frameworks of sexual representation and pornography.
For the purposes of this thesis, I specifically examined the sexual representation
of women in American society to examine the alleged liberating sexual representations of
women. In American society today the media is saturated with hypersexual images of
women that have become a concern for feminist and media scholars. In order to
understand the way these images have changed since the 1950s, I used the work of Hugh
Hefner in his magazine Playboy as a case study. His magazine was first published in
1953, and remains a common form of media in American society. Hefners work is
particularly interesting because he claimed to be an advocate for sexual liberation.
Pornography has become more common since the beginning of Playboy; over time the
magazines representation of women has become increasingly nude and sexually
suggestive. The sexual representation of women in pornography and mainstream media
are important because they discipline the sexual ideas, behaviors, and fantasies of
American society. Pornography is widely consumed and thus affects our culture in
numerous ways. Pornography is a representation of sex intended to sexually arouse or
excite the viewer. Since the internet, pornography has become increasingly accessible,
and has caused a rise in research on pornography. Pornography has a long and complex
historybut for the purpose of this thesisI analyzed representations of womens sexuality
in Playboy from 1953 to 2008.
In Chapter 2,1 briefly discuss American sexual history to provide a framework to
situate Hefners ideology and work. Hefner believes that sexuality has been repressed in
our society through denying that we are sexual beings. He argued that American society
suffered from the sexually repressive past of the Puritans. I discuss early American
colonial history to contextualize Hefner5s arguments against puritan sexual repression. I
also discuss Victorian notions of sexual repression, because they are commonly discussed
by sexual historians when discussing repressive notions of sexuality. I use the work of
Foucault to create a dialogue about sexual repression. I then compare Hefners magazine
to other mens magazines that featured sexual images of womento explain the
atmosphere of pornography during the beginning of Hefner5 s work, and also discuss the
other men5s magazines that competed with Playboy. This chapter also includes a
literature review of other studies on Playboy to highlight scholarly analysis and
discussions of the magazine.
In Chapter 3,1 analyze the images of Playboy over time to obtain a better
understanding of how womens sexuality has been represented. The archive I have
contains complete copies of every issue of the magazine from its beginning in 1953 up
until 2009. I created my data from two samples of data. Sample 1 consists of the women
represented as Playmates from 1953 to 1964. This sample includes the first ten years of
Hefners work, during the time some refer to as the spark of the sexual revolution. In
order to note changes that occurred over time, Sample 2 consists of data collected from
women represented as Playmates from 1999 to 2008.7 This time period is
representative of how women are more currently represented. Playboy is used to
demonstrate the changes that occurred between the two Samples, and to illustrate the way
womens representation was altered from the wife performing patriarchal gender in the
home, to the hypersexual girl here to serve men5s sexual needs, and, in fact, is eager to do
In Chapter 4,1 discuss the articles and attitudes of Playboy in order to understand
the magazines textual representation of sexuality. I address Hefners views by engaging
with his sexual liberatory claims in his writing throughout the magazine, and interviews
from him and other people associated with Playboy. Hefner5 s magazine created sexual
representations that shaped the way its audience perceived sexuality. Hefner argues that
his magazine aims to end puritan sexual repression that has run rampant in America since
its formation. I question if he rejects all of Puritan sexual ideology, or only parts of it? I
7 In my PhD program I plan to continue my study of Playboy by examining the sexual representation of
women from the years 2009 and 2014.
suggest instead of sexually liberating his magazine subscribers, his magazine created a
fantasy of sexual liberation and further disciplined sexuality.
In Chapter 5,1 discuss how the women involved with Playboy deem their
experiences as empoweringliberating or freeing. I discuss the role of women in /VqyZ)
and also the expectations placed upon them while fulfilling that role. I will argue that
Hugh Hefners work with /VqyAo may have initially intended to liberate sexuality
but, in actuality, this was never possible. The liberation he discusses is freedom from
censorship, which addresses one form of power and control of sexuality. It could also be
argued that the effect of banning censorship created a new public space for power to
discipline the body and sexuality. Hefners work has influenced American sexualityand
empowered some individuals. The perceived liberatory aspects of his magazine only
scraped the surface for some women; furthermore, his work has created new disciplining
of sexuality and womens bodies.
In Chapter 6,1 discuss the way sexuality is presented currently in American
society, and how the effects of sexual revolutionand mass media such as have
disciplined sexuality. I will describe the way that the consumption and forms of
pornography in our society have changed since the 19505s. I discuss the way this
consumption has created and enforced new norms about sexuality and beauty.
Some may question why pornography matters, and my answer to that is because it
is a reflection of our society, and the way it disciplines gender and sexuality. Whether
pro- pornography or anti- pornography, the reality is that it exists and affects sexuality
and social norms. Changes occurred over the time period which was coined the sexual
revolution; howeverI argue that sexuality is still subject to the same white androcentric
heteronormative constructs it has possessed throughout much of American history. The
androcentric heteronormative model of sexuality is focused on a penetrative model of sex
between a husband and wife that is focused on reaching male orgasm. In other words, it is
a male centered mode of sexuality that celebrates heterosexuality. This thesis will argue
that modification to sexual ideology took place in the 1960s, but not a sexual revolution. I
will argue that pornography and mass media discipline the body and sexuality, and
advocate for equipping Americans with media literacy skills necessary to uncover the
power structures disciplining sex and the body. Hefners work is only one form of media
that disciplines sex and the body; this thesis uses his work to illustrate the way that sex is
shaped and controlled by a web of power that often hide behind a mirage of sexual
A BRIEF HISTORY OF AMERICAN SEXUALITY
Societies are often described by historians as attempting to contain, control or
repress sexuality in some way. Motives for controlling sexuality can be multi-faceted.
The most common reasons for monitoring and controlling sexuality deal with
reproduction, racial purity, and morality or religion. Sex serves many different human
functions. Furthermore, in early American history, sexuality is primarily served as a
procreative function, to replenish families, towns, cities, and nations, etc. Due to the
procreative function of sex, power and control of sex have existed in a number of
different ways. For example as cultures begin to merge together theories of racial purity
caused some societies to attempt to control sex to prevent racial mixing. Sex historians5
interpretations suggest that religious ideology has also exerted control of sex by shaping
notions, beliefs, and norms regarding sexuality. A general theme in many forms of
religion is the notion that sex should only occur between husband and wife for the
purpose of reproduction.
During the colonial period in America, puritan religious ideology contained
within it a set of morals that are discontinuous with sexuality outside of marriage and
reproductive function. Sex historians John D5Emilio and Estelle Freedman explain that
the goal of most of the English colonists was to create stable family life and implement
the values of marital, reproductive sexuality.,,8 Sex during early American colonialism
was controlled in order to perpetuate church morals and assure good blood lines for the
colonies. The colonies wanted to ensure that they would not mix races and cultures, and 8
8 D'Emilio and Freedman, 51.
that they would preserve their culture. These ideologies, common in early America, are
the ideals that those who support the sexual repressive hypothesis use to support their
hypothesis. Sex is characterized as repressive because it did not acknowledge sexuality
outside of reproductive function. Sex does not evoke the same feelings, desires and
expectations for everyone. Some people do not wish to use sex for procreation at all.
Some people use sex as a way to connect emotionally with their partner/s in love. Some
people use sex to alleviate stress. Some people use sex for all of the functions listed
above. There are many different reasons people partake in sex; and the denial of sexual
expression outside of marriage and procreative function is not liberating. In fact, it could
be characterized as repressing a range of sexual expressions. Not everyone agrees on the
term sexual repression, but it is not difficult to see the lingering ideological inequalities
from the past regarding race, reproduction, and morality that have been used to enforce
control over sexuality.
Were We Sexually Repressed?
DEmilio and Freedman explain that during the 17th century bourgeois prude
ethics shaped sexual repression.9 The sexually repressive argument stems from critiques
of Victorian constructions of sexuality that were characterized by an exclusion of
sexuality from public discussion. Foucault disagrees with the sexually repressive
hypothesis; and he argues instead that an explosion in sexuality occurred. Foucault
views sexual repression as a hypothesis. Foucault points out that while certain groups of
people may have attempted to control and define sexuality that does not mean that
sexuality itself was repressed. Sex no longer had a uniform discourse as it did in the
9 D'Emilio and Freedman,17.
Middle Agesthe discourse was broken apartscattered and multiplied in an explosion
of distinct discursivities such as ethicspoliticspsychologyand biology.10
He asserts that sexuality has branched out through the power of institutions to
control, shape, categorize, and study sex. Foucault explains that during the 18th century
the issue of population emerged as a political and economic problem. Sexuality was
absorbed by the political, economic and medical professionals as an object that needed to
be analyzed in order to find ways to intervene and control population. Medicine quickly
became the way that sexual desires and pleasures were classified. He argues that the
authority over sexuality shifted from religion to medicine.
Foucault states that sex was an object of analysis and a target of intervention.11
In the 19th century there was not a refusal to recognize sex; rather, whole new processes
were implemented to produce new discourse about sex.12 He explains the discourse was
surrounded on finding the truth about sex. Sex was meticulously discussed and
dissected in hopes to find out all the facts they could about it. This notion of sex made
it possible to create a false or artificial unity of anatomical elementsbiological
functionsconductssensationsand pleasures;which enabled one to make use of this
fictitious unity as a causal principle, an omnipresent meaning, a secret to be discovered
everywhere.13 Foucault asserts that the notion of usexallows the ^relationships of
power to sexuality to be hidden by the urgency of discovering the secret. This makes
it difficult to identify what gives power its power; it enables one to conceive power
10 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Volume 1:An Introduction (New York, NY: Vintage Books,
11 Ibid., 26.
12 Ibid., 69.
13 Ibid., 154.
solely as law and taboo.14 The imaginary secret of sex functions to create a desire to
have, access, discover and liberate sex, and this "desirability of sex that attaches each one
of us to the injunction to know itto reveal its law and its power 15 Foucault explains
that sex was looked at suspiciously, as if there was a big secret and they were going to
find it.16 Thereforethe truth they were seeking was actually used as ways to control
sexuality, not discover the natural aspects of sex per se. The alleged secret to be
discovered from the false unity created a cloak for power systems to hide under; it acted
as a distraction from the disciplining of the body and sexuality.
The studies conducted on sex actually gave way to the identification of new forms
of sexuality, and this is why Foucault disagrees with the sexually repressive hypothesis.
Foucault claims that medicine allowed sexual desires to be codified, categorized, created
and produced by using information medical professionals gained from their patients
regarding sexuality. He is explaining that the medical codifying of sexual behavior
multiplied sexualities rather than repressed sexuality as the repressive hypothesis
assumes. He states that it is through the isolationintensificationand consolidation of
peripheral sexualities that the relations of power to sex and pleasure branched out and
multipliedmeasured the body and penetrated modes of conduct.17 The medical
coditying of sexual behavior created a new way for understanding sexuality, which led to
an explosion of sexuality. He argues that by creating a dominant discourse for sexuality
in society, sexuality emerged in the public, creating new ways to facilitate control over
sex. Foucault views sexuality as a complex deployment of power.
14 Foucault, 155.
17 Ibid., 48.
Bordo explains that, for Foucault, power, exists as a complicated network of
"practices, institutions and technologies that sustain positions of dominance and
subordination with a particular domain with mechanisms intended to be constitutive not
repressive.18 Foucault argues that there was a power struggle to control discussions of sex
and sex itself; however, there was also an explosion of new discourse concerned with
sex.19 There were now, among other things, medical, criminal, and social discourses on
sex. Bordo elaborates on Foucaults depiction of power as a dynamic of non-centralized
forces that attain hegemony through numerous different processes, with separate origins
and multiple locations.20 Sex existed as an interconnected scheme rather than a single
forceand he uses the term deployment to depict power relations that set out to regulate
Foucaults theory of the deployment of sexuality operates according to various
techniques of power related to sensations of the body. The body is something that
produces, consumes, and indulges in pleasures, and is therefore something that is of
interest to the economy as well. Foucault states that sex is the most speculativemost
ideal element in a deployment of sexuality organized by power in its grip on bodies and
their materialitytheir forcesenergiessensations and pleasures.21 In other wordsthe
body becomes a battlefield for the production of the struggle between all the different
forms of power over the body.
Bordo speaks to the relationship between Foucaults theory of power struggles
battled on the human body; she explains that it is through the regulations of the time
18 Susan Bordo, Gender/Body/Knowledge: Feminist Reconstructions of Being and Knowing (New
Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992/1989),14.
20 Bordo, Unbearable Weight, 261.
21 Foucault, 155.
space and movements of our daily lives, our bodies are trained, shaped, and impressed
with the stamp of prevailing historical forms of selfhood, desire, masculinity,
femininity.22 She refers to beauty standards women are expected to maintain in
American society that have become increasingly time consuming as a way that womens
bodies are disciplined. She explains that the "ever changing, homogenizing, elusive ideal
of femininity has caused the female body to become docile.23 She explains that the
docile body exists as a body of which the energy and force are focused on external
regulationsubjectiontransformation[and] Improvement.24 These disciplines exist for
women through the normalizing disciplines of dietmake-up and dress which causes
women to be viewed as primarily focused on self-modification 25
Foucault does not believe that repression alone has the power to control sexuality.
The term repression is too simplistic for Foucault; he views power as a complex
interconnected web. Therefore, power does not exist alone in prohibition, censorship, and
denial.26 Repression does not accurately acknowledge the complex nature of the
relationship between power and desire.27 Foucault views sexuality as an "especially dense
transfer point for relations of power between men/womenyoung/oldparents/kidsetc.28
For Foucaultsexuality is produced by our discourseinstitutionsregulation and
22 Bordo, Gender/Body/Knowledge: Feminist Reconstructions of Being and Knowing,14.
23 Foucault, 155.
25 Bordo, Gender/Body/Knowledge: Feminist Reconstructions of Being and Knowing,14.
27 Ibid., 81.
28 Ibid., 103.
knowledge.,,29 Power cannot be reduced to any one particular institution; rather, it is put
and held in place by numerous different institutions.29 30
The larger point Foucault makes is that sexuality is created within a web of power
relations. Historical analysis shows us that sexuality has not always been defined the
same way, and it varies depending on the culture and time period in question. No matter
what forms of sexuality are accepted in society, their acceptance or rejection by society
shapes how people perceive and participate in sexuality. Playboy could not liberate
sexuality, because it does not alone possess the power to negate every other power over
sexuality. Not to mention, according to Foucaults logic, sexual liberation is another
form of the power relations that govern the body and sexuality. Hefner5 s packaged sale of
sexual liberation only reinforced the power his magazine had to discipline sex and the
body. It was packaged and sold through the facade of sexual liberation.
Sex is controlled through invisible strategies of normalization 31 Normalization
occurs through the placement of a normative framework to "measure, judge, regulate,
discipline, and conform behavior and appearance; in Western culture the normal5 body
has become conflated with the beautiful body.32 Hefners magazine supported this
beautified image, and sold it as normative. Pornography is another way that the body and
sex are disciplined, through its consumptions norms regarding sexual behavior and
beauty aesthetics are created and reinforced.
29 Foucault, 158.
30 Ibid., 93.
31 Dolezal, 362.
32 Ibid., 362-365.
Pornography in Mens Magazines
Playboy was not the first magazine for men to possess an element of sexual
suggestion. Esquire magazine was first published in 1933; it was initially modeled after
ladies fashion journals, aiming to create a male version. The magazine sought to create a
reputation as a magazine that provided fashion, literary, and cultural leadership. The
magazines most popular featureshoweverwere its "girliecartoons.33 In ///^
early years the most famous artist was George Petty. He created cartoons portraying
women as primped and sporty cuties that were accompanied by gag caption one-
linersgenerally quoting their naive reactions to the ogling viewers.34 In December of
1939 the images increased in size to a fold out centerfold, eventually with a blank
background focusing on the woman and her gaze to the presumed male viewer.35 In an
article published in Playboy, Reid Austin discusses the work of Petty and credits him
with creating the American pin-up.36 He describes the characteristics of his cartoons,
noting the women were commonly pictured on the telephone and eventually appeared in
ads for cigarettesbathing suits and silk stalkings37 He quotes Petty describing the
physique of the cartoon women as unrealistic. Petty admits that her proportions are
unrealisticbut his presentation of her through clothes and pose make her thoroughly
intriguing.,,38 The women featured in Petty5 s images appear curvy and are represented in
a very soft focus. The sexual explicitness varies picture to picture. The article in Playboy
33 Maria Buszek, GrrAsv 5^//Cw/fwre (Durham, NC: Duke University
34 Ibid., 203.
Reid Stewart Austin,
'The Petty Girl^ Playboy, Issue 4202 (February 1995): 79.
was accompanied by some of Pettys work.39 The imagesas shown below in Figure 1
vary in degree of nudity and sexual suggestion. The woman in the upper left comer
appears shy, vulnerable and nude. The woman in the middle of the pages appears playful
and nude but confident. The woman in the lower right comer of the image appears
clothed and stares at the implied viewer with confidence. All of the images are light and
soft in color with meticulous detailing of the female body.
Wl to , ___ ol t<
r m kW Uwnr iMcn UnS Ki*C* W> fM sMiMn >n ItM *
*1 wd lha mat *d!_ > v#*>
V T': ^
xa>Nr, *lpt bt7W>-
lrw> wowi f str Nc WWB
ht _ *Bt<* I
m I %
Figure 1:"Petty Girls^ from Playboy, Issue 4202, Febmary 1995, 82-83.
Petty grew famous and too costly Esquire, so they hired Alberto Vargas
instead. Vargas used airbrush techniqueshis images appeared so clear they resemble a
photograph.40 The women represented were curvy with rare proportions, and they were
39 See Figure 1.
created with techniques to enable the image to look more realistic.41 Maria Buszek
describes Vargas work as drawing upon both established cinematic ideals of femininity
and new ideals for ordinary women on the American home front.42 Vargas captured this
most likely due to his work experience as an artist. In the 19205s he painted images of
Show Girls. His art in the 19305s was created for movie posters. In the 19405s his art
created Esquire seems to have taken elements from his earlier work.43 The woman in
Figure 2 worked as a show girl; Vargas created this image in the 1920s. The woman in
the left of Figure 3 was painted by Vargas in the 19305s; and the woman in the right of
Figure 3 was painted by Vargas in the 1950s.
Figure 2: Alberto Vargas, 'The Vargas Girl: Circa 1920,? from Playboy, Issue 1101,
See Figure 2, Figure 3, and Figure 4 as examples of Alberto Vargas' work.
42 Buszek, 185.
43 John Updike, "Vargas Remembered,^ Playboy, Issue 4101, (January 1994): 127.
Figure 3: Alberto VargasThe Vargas Girls from the Thirties to the Present from
Playboy, Issue 1501, January 1968,147 &150.
Vargas work also varies in level of nudity and sexual suggestion; the
commonality in his work exists in the very detailed images that appear so clear some of
them look like photographs. The representations of women in Esquire were using the
previous celebrity pin-up representation of women, and applying it to the women back
home during war times. These images were widely circulated amongst the soldiers
overseas; in fact, between 1942 and 1946 Esquire printed and mailed 9 million copies
overseas without advertisements or any cost to the soldiers.44 They were so popular
among soldiers in the Second World War, that they had recreated the images on the nose
of some of their bomber planes for good luck.45 Buszek explains the hypersexual
physique of the women represented and the "prosaic innuendo shaped them into creatures
whose sexuality tended to be more than a little fearsome.46 She attributes some of
womens sexual symbolism of this time to womens new role in the work force during
44 Buszek, 210.
45 Ibid., 218.
46 Ibid., 210.
Due to the anonymity of the cartoon images it was arguably easier for both
women and men to identify themselves and their partners to the women in the image.47
The images had varying degrees of sexual suggestion, which in 1943 caused the
postmaster to decree the Varga Girls legally pornographic.48 Joanne Meyerowitz
explains that the Post Office objected specifically to Vargas5 work for having obscene
properties.49 After the legal troubles, Vargas left Esquire in 1947; and amidst the post-
war backlash pin-up features were deemphasized or removed from magazines.50 Men
returned from the Second World War to find a different role for women in society.
Women had entered the work force during war time, and were now expected to return to
their domestic duties. Cultural images reflected the struggle to recreate ideal femininity
as less aggressive, reverting to traditional gender roles of domesticity.51 There was a
backlash and a stronger emphasis on morality and family life. New social groups that
aimed at raising morality argued against sexually suggestive images in public magazines.
Magazines responded to the new social norms and expectations by removing or
minimizing the appearance of pin-ups.
Regardless of the post-war backlash, in 1953 former Esquire employee Hugh
Hefner created a new version of the pin-up, the Playmatein his magazine .
Hefner was influenced by Petty and Vargas. Austin mentions in his article that Hefner
hung up images of Petty Girls in his room as an act of rebellion toward his puritan
47 Buszek, 229.
48 Ibid., 218.
49 Joanne Meyerowitz, "Women, Cheesecake, and Borderline Material: Responses to Girlie Pictures in the
Mid-TwQntiQihCQnturyUS^JoumalofWomen^'History^, no. 3, (Fall 1996):15.
50 Buszek, 236-237.
51 Ibid., 235.
family.52 Hefner used photographs of women instead of cartoons. The first images to
appear in Playboy were bought from a photographer that produced calendars with pin-up
style photographs of women. After that Hefner began to choose and photograph the
women. Hefner did not photograph the women himself; however, he had the final say and
was very particular about the images. The images in his magazine are characterized by a
soft focus of young women in varying states of undress, posed in a sexually suggestive
manner. In 1960, Vargas came to work for Hefner as a cartoonist. He continued
producing his Vargas Girl images for until 1978. Over this time he created
over 160 images for the magazine.531 found three articles about Vargas in Playboy that
discuss his work and influence on the pin up image of women in American society.
Playboy is often grouped with Hustler and Penthouse, the two magazines for men
that followed after Hefner. When Playboy was first published there was not much
competition. In 1969, the circulation Playboy reached 4,500,000 a month.54 Bob
Gucci one began the magazine Penthouse in America in 1969 to compete with Playboy.
Guccione created a magazine similar to Playboy, in that they both had "literary and
lifestyle components yet the magazine had more sexually explicit images than
Playboy55 Hefner did not change the style of his magazine; he stuck to the "wholesome
girl next door^ theme for his images. Penthouse reached a circulation of 1,500,000 by the
end of 1970, and at this point Hefner began to compete with Guccione for more explicit
52 Austin, 83.
53 Updike, 128.
54 Gail Dines, Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2010),12.
images.56 This was short lived, however, since the advertisers in Playboy grew weary of
the new image, and Hustler began catering to the hard core pornography niche.
Gail Dines explains that Hefner marketed an upscale magazine in an attempt to
reduce the sleazy stigma typically attached to pomographers. Hustler was created in 1974
by Larry Flynt in opposition to Playboy. Flynt was characterized by the media as a vulgar
and sleazy pornographer. Dines explains that Hefner eroded the culturaleconomic and
legal barriers to mass production and distribution of pom; and Flynt mapped out just
how far a pornographer could go,? to keep mainstream distribution chmnois 57 58 Hustler
was meant for working class men, and was very different than the other two magazines.
Flynt was known for pushing boundaries and exaggerating bodily functions. Flynt had
numerous mn-ins with the law over the pornographic content in his magazine that was
deemed offensive, violent, and immoral. In 1977, Playboy published an editorial
responding to Flynt5 s arrest in Ohio for a series of obscenity legal issues; he sympathized
with Flynt, stating he is the victim of a superstition this country should long since have
laid to rest.,,5S In other words, despite the fact that Flynt was a competitor of Playboy,
Hefner still defended Flynt5 s battle with censorship. Hefner battled censorship in order to
produce mild pornographic images in his magazine. Flynt rattled the cage with more than
Laura Kipnis explains that the bodies in Hustler are un-romanticized unlike the
"top-heavy fantasy body of Playboy^ or the "slightly cheesy, ersatz opulence of
58 Playboy Forum, 'The Cincinnati Hustle^ Playboy, Issue 2405, (May 1977): 58.
Penthouse.,,59 Kipnis explains that in Hustler^ ideology, "Playboy and Penthouse^
relative discretion about the female bodies makes them collaborationists with the forces
of repression and social hypocrisy that they had set out to expose.59 60
The more explicit Penthouse and Hustler caused Playboy to seem more
acceptable. In its early years Hustler showed women of different shapes and sizes
possessing a more diverse image of women; however, he never claimed to aid in
women5 s liberation. In fact, Hustler was openly hostile toward feminism. Kipnis
describes Hustler ys perception of feminism as uan upper-class movement dedicated to
annihilating the low-rent Hustler male and his pleasures.^61 Flynt is an interesting man
who has also helped shape pornography, but, for the purpose of this thesis, there is not
enough time to discuss his work in great length. This thesis is asking how Playboy has
disciplined the body through its sexual representation, and how the sexual representation
of women has changed over time. I acknowledge that this limits my scope and
understanding since the magazine was aimed to an upper-class audience. That being said,
Hefners work has been influential in American society; and the longevity of the
magazine provides a large pool of data to analyze sexual representation over time, and
more specifically a sexual representation that existed under the guise of sexual liberation.
Research on Playboy
As discussed previously there are other mens magazines that could be
used to study sexual representations of women; however, Playboy represents a unique
representation due to the magazines wider acceptance. Playboy has been celebrated by
59 Laura Kipnis, Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America (Durham, NC:
Duke University Press, 2003/1996),131.
60 Ibid., 129.
61 Ibid., 148.
mainstream media for over 50 years. This magazine has also been highly criticized for its
representation of women as sex objects. Playboy has a consistent representation of
womens sexuality that spans over 50 years. I wanted to use the magazine to create data
that could aid in grasping the physical realities of womens representation. My research
engages both the physical representation and verbal representation of women in Playboy.
Previous research on Playboy often compares the representation of women in the
magazine to other sexual representations of women such asMiss America pageant
contestants, female models, and visual representation of women in Cosmopolitan. For
example, Jeremy Freese and Sheri Meland compared the waist-to-hip ratios of women in
Playboy and Miss America pageants. Freese and Meland used information from the
pageant winners of Miss America between 1921 and 1986.62 They used measurements of
the women in Playboy from the Playboy Corporation website.63 They note that
measurements were not available for all women because the feature did not always
include the measurements of the women. They looked at the available measurements of
womens waist-to-hip ratios for the centerfolds in the magazine up to 2001.They were
specifically responding to claims about waist and hip measurements, and their effect on
male psychological response. Their research concluded that overtime the images of
women have changed. They claim that the waist measurements for beauty pageant
winners have grown smaller over time, and the women in Playboy have reported larger
waist measurements. They also note that there is a linear decrease in the hip size of
women represented in Playboy.
62 Jeremy Freese and Sheri Meland, "Seven Tenths Incorrect: Heterogeneity and Change in the Waist-to-
Hip Ratios of Centerfold Models and Miss America Pageant Winners, 77^ Jowrwo/ o/Sex
Research 39, no. 2, (May 2002): 134.
Brenda Spitzer, Katherine Henderson, and Marilyn Zivian also completed
research that examined the physical representation of women5 s bodies in Playboy to the
body sizes of women who won Miss America pageants. Their study compared the body
size of individuals in the media; they compared them to the government recommended
standard body size.64 They looked at women who appeared as Playmates between 1977
and 1996, Miss America pageant winners from 1953 to 1985, and men who modeled for
Playgirl between 1986 and 1997.65 Their research found that the body size of women in
Playboy decreased overtime, but not significantly. They claim that the size of women5 s
bodies significantly reduced over the time period of 1959 to 1978; at the end of the study
the womens weight had plateaued at its lowest weight.66 They concluded that almost all
of the Playboy centerfolds are underweight according to Canadian guidelines and
approximately a third meet the World Health Organizations BMI (Body Mass Index)
criterion for anorexia nervosa 67
BMI is a formula used to estimate body fat; it is calculated based on an
individuals ageheight and weight. BMI is an estimated measurement of the bodyit is
not completely accurate and some define normal BMI differently than others. BMI is
generalized and not completely accurate; however, it is a good way to get an idea of what
the ideal weight should be for someone given their age and height. BMI was used in this
study to illustrate the fact that most of the women represented are underweight, and some
meet the criterion for eating disorders, such as anorexia. Anorexia nervosa is classified by
psychologists as a condition where individuals feel anxiety about their weight and eating,
64 Brenda Spitzer, Katherine Henderson and Marilyn Zivian, "Gender Differences in Population Versus
Media Body Sizes: A Comparison over Four Decades^ Sex Roles 40, no. 7/8, (1999): 549.
65 P/ag/r/ was a magazine created for women in a similar format as
alongside possessing below average body mass for their body. This condition has serious
repercussions on the body; there is often a lack of nutrition for the individuals due to their
anxiety about eating. They found that 17 percent of the Miss America pageant winners fit
the BMI criterion set by the World Health Organization for anorexia nervosa.68 They
argue that there is a discrepancy between media representations of women and the
average womens body size. They state this has aided in normalizing the thin body size
and argue this can cause women to become dissatisfied with their body.69
Patricia Owen and Erika Laurel-Seller performed a study on weight and body size
of women represented in Playboy from 1985 to 1997. They also computed the BMI, bust
to waist ratios and waist-to-hip rations for each centerfold in their Sample. Their research
illustrated that since the 1970s the women represented as playmates have gotten taller but
not heavier causing lower BMI percentages.70
Melissa Rich and Thomas Cash conducted a study regarding hair color in
Playboy, Vogue, and Ladies Home Journal They specifically examined the way that hair
color plays a role in beauty depictions in our culture. They looked at womens
representation in the magazines listed above between 1950 and 1989. Their research
shows that brown hair was the most common color of hair represented in Ladies Home
Journal and Vogue] blonde hair was the most common hair color represented in Playboy
for every decade except for the 1960s.71 Their research shows that only one woman from
Spitzer, etal., 559.
69 Ibid., 560.
70 Patricia Owen and Erika Laurel-Sellers, "Weight and Shape Ideals: Thin is Dangerously In," Journal of
Applied Social Psychology 30, no. 5, (2000): 983.
71 Melissa Rich and Thomas Cash, 'The American Image of Beauty: Media Representations of Hair Color
for Four Decades^ Sex Roles 29, no. 1/2, (1993): 119.
their Sample had a BMI score that matches normal weight 72 It showed that 30% of
women in the Sample had a weight status that met the criteria for anorexia, 46% were
considered severely underweight, and 53% were deemed underweight.73 Owen and
Laurel-Sellers conclude that:
If these women are exemplars of ideal beauty, then for women desiring to be
beautiful, starvation-level thinness is required. The media and the fashion industry
would have us believe that ultra-thinness symbolizes beauty, health, and a sense
of fashion, when in reality it represents infertility, chronic energy deficiency, and
This study acknowledged the unrealistic body expectations placed on women by the mass
media. They explain not only are they unrealistic to achieve for most women, but these
expectations come with serious health risks.
Anthony Bogaert, Deborah Turkovich, and Carolyn Hafer performed a content
analysis of the women represented as Playmates. They examined the women featured in
the magazine between 1953 and 1990. Their content analysis examined the explicitness
objectificationageand other models characteristics.75 They measured explicitness by
the position of the body in the Playmate centerfold feature and the degree of body
exposure relating to breast, buttock, pubic hair, and genitals.76 They measured
objectification by the degree that the womens characteristics were deemphasized;
which they determined by eye and facial clarity and body posture.77 They found that 21.3
was the average age of the women represented as Playmates. Their research indicated that
Owen and Laurel-Sellers, 984.
Anthony Bogaert, Deborah Turkovich and Carolyn Hafer, UA Content Analysis of Playboy Centerfolds
from 1953 through 1990: Changes in Explicitness, Objectification, and Model's Age/' The Journal of Sex
Research 30, no. 2, (May 1993): 136.
91% of the women were White or Caucasian; and blonde was the most frequent hair
color 78 They found that the representation of women featured as Playmates became more
explicit overtime, but at the end of her study it seemed to have stopped rising.79 80 *
There have been claims that women are represented as strong and powerful in the
magazine. James Beggan and Scott Allison viewed the magazine as a guide for male
readers on how to be attractive to women; they argued that the motivation for reading the
magazine was to learn "the needs, desires and demands of women.,,80 They assert that
Playboy has been helpful to women by "encouraging men to adopt a masculine ideal that
incorporates some of the values and desires of women.,,81 They argue that although there
is emphasis on the nude images of women, the subtext in Playboy was uin favor of
blending the characters of men and women.82 They acknowledge that some of the text in
the magazine is sexist; however, they argue that some of the material was also opposed to
sexism. They made those conclusions based on the writings present in the first ten years
of Playboy.83 Beggan has had multiple publications about Playboy; his work typically
analyzes attitudes found in the magazine, and text that surrounded the nude female
featured as Playmate of the Month. His work concludes that the text surrounding the
women featured as Playmates does not objectify women in the magazine; rather, it brings
them to life through detailed descriptions of their personality, hobbies and goals which
often included a number of traditionally masculine abilities.84 Beggan and Allison
79 Ibid., 137.
80 James Beggan and Scott Allison. 'The Playboy Rabbit is Soft, Furry and Cute: Is this Really the Symbol
of Masculine Dominance of Women,^ Journal of Men's Studies 9, no. 3, (Spring 2001): 356.
83 Ibid., 358.
84 James Beggan and Scott Allison, "What Sort of Man Reads Playboy? The Self-Reported Influence of
Playboy on the Construction of Masculinity.^ Journal of Men's Studies 11,no. 2, (Spring 2003): 190.
argue that the women are textually represented as possessing masculine traits; which he
saw as the magazines way of empowering women. They also completed a study of the
women who appeared as Playmates between 1985 and 2001.They note that it is clear that
the women exemplify the Western body ideal of femininity which they describe as
large breasts and hipssmall waist and a narrow range of facial features.85 They note
that although the women display a feminine appearance, they are also represented as
adopting attributes traditionally considered to be the domain of menthrough the
description of their personality, interests and occupations.86 They argue that the
difference in Playboy ys representation of women and other sexual representation of
women in mens magazines is the inclusion of personal background information included
in the Playmate of the Month feature of the magazine.87
My research on Playboy analyzes the sexual representation of women in the
1950s and the 2000s to determine differences in their representation. My research
questions the role Hefner5 s work had on shaping sexual norms that are used to discipline
womens bodies and sexuality. The content analysis in Chapter 3 evaluates the data
retrieved from the magazine to evaluate the ways the representation physically existed,
and the way they have been characterized as liberating.
85 James Beggan and Scott Allison, 'Tough Women in the Unlikeliest of Places^ Journal of Popular
Culture 38, no. 5, (2005): 797.
87 Ibid., 810.
PLA YBOY CONTENT ANALYSIS
Playboy is a popular magazine that is widely circulated in our culture. The
magazine has been accused of representing women in a monotonous objectified manner,
and is sometimes accused of dehumanizing women. I have heard these statements
numerous times throughout my life; but in my experience I have never heard any
evidentiary support to make such critiques. The magazine is less influential in the
pornography world today; however, before the introduction of the internet, it was one of
the most common forms of pornography. I conducted a content analysis of a featured
section of the magazine called Playmate of the MonthPOM) to better understand the
facts dibout Playboy's representation of women. The content analysis examined the
physical characteristics of the women represented as POM, and the level of nudity in
their representation. I gathered this data from two time periods to determine changes of
womens sexual representation that have occurred over time.
The magazine is released monthly and contains more than just this one feature,
but this particular representation of women is the focus of my analysis. Each issue of
Playboy celebrated a POM; who was often portrayed as an average person by
normalizing her with details about jobs, hobbies, hometown, etc. In order to see how the
representation has changed over time I used two samples. Sample 1 consists of data taken
from the women who appeared as POM between January 1954 and December 1963.
Sample 2 consists of the women who appeared as POM between 1999 and 2008.
Between the two samples, I viewed 271 POM features. This is about 1/3 of the total 728
that are in the archive, which contains every issue from 1953 to 2009. I accessed the
archive through a hard drive that Playboy created for purchase. While analyzing the
feature, I recorded the following variables: Body Measurements, Age, Race, Hair Color,
and Level of Nudity. I measured the data by the number of occurrences over the two
samples. Due to the changes in the magazine over time, Sample 1 and Sample 2 are a
The feature in Sample 1 includes a brief biography of the woman in the feature
alongside some images of her. The featured image was the centerfold, or larger image of
the woman. This image in Sample 1 was sometimes the only sexually suggestive image
in the feature. As they developed the feature, multiple images of the women were added.
Some of the images that accompanied the featured sexual image were specifically staged,
and some images appeared to be snapshots from their everyday lives.80 tigure 4
illustrates the contrast of sexual imagery to the supplemental images that accompanied
the staged sexual representation. The woman in Figure 4 was featured as Miss March
1956. Her name was Marian Stafford; she was an actress on a television series Treasure
Hunt. She appears soft, but sexually confident, only revealing Breast Cleavage, although
her areolas are slightly visible when looking close up in the three page centerfold image
on the left. The images on the right hardly seem sexual at all. They tmly just appear to
show her in everyday life. In today5 s world, this image hardly seems pornographic. The
women featured as POM in Sample 1 were not always nude in their centerfold images, as
shown in Figure 4. 88
88 See Figure 4.
Figure 4: "Miss March,? from Playboy, Issue 303, March 1956, 39.
The body measurements and age were listed for some of the women in the short
biographies of the women in the feature. I visibly collected data including Hair Color,
Race, and Level of Nudity from all of the women in Sample 1.Hair Color was collected
to note any trends, changes, or correlations to the rest of the data over time. Race and
ethnicity were hard to measure, and not much information is given in Sample 1,so this
section is limited and may contain inaccuracies. Nevertheless I still think it is an
important variable, because I want to determine how women are represented, and identify
who could deem this representation of women to be liberating. The Level of Nudity is
also measured visibly, but with more accuracy. This is measured by the number of areas
deemed private by the public that are visible on the womans body.
For Sample 1,my codes included No Nudity, Breast Cleavage, Breast,
Breast/Areola, Breast/Buttocks. No Nudity means that all of the womans private areas
were covered in the images. Breast Cleavage indicates that the only private body part
exposed was the top area between the womans breasts. The woman in Figure 4 would
meet these criteria. This means the whole breast was not exposed. The code Breast means
that the woman was more than likely topless but had her areolas covered in some way.
Breast/Areolas indicates the woman was topless and her breasts were fully exposed.
Breast and Buttocks indicates that throughout the feature the womans buttocks was
exposed as well as her breasts. The first twelve centerfolds were completely nude, but as
stated earlier they were purchased from a photographer who had taken nude photographs
of women for the purposes of making a nude calendar.
Sample 2 was much easier to collect because the magazine implemented a
Playmate Data Sheet.89 This is a form that appears on the second to last page of the
typically nine page feature. The form consistently asked for name, bust measurement,
waist measurement, hip measurement, height, weight, birthdate, birthplace, turn-ons
(referring to things that arouse them sexually or in a partner) and turn-offs (referring to
things that cause them to lose sexual arousal). The other questions asked varied, but they
typically referred to hobbies, goals or amoitions. It appears the form is filled out by the
woman who is featured in the magazine.
See Figure 5.
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Figure 5: "Playmate Data Sheef, from Playboy, Issue 4601, January 1999, 148.
For Sample 2,1 collected the Height, Weight, Age, Body Measurements, Hair
Color, Ethnicity and Level of Nudity. Race and Ethnicity were a little easier to determine
because their birthplace is listed on the data sheet, and typically they stated somewhere in
the biography if the women were not White/Caucasian and American. The data sheet also
listed the Body Measurements for the women in Sample 2. The values for Hair Color and
Level of Nudity were visibly obtained through the features. The Level of Nudity had
different codes because, the women in Sample 2 show more areas deemed private than
the women in Sample 1.For Sample 2 the Codes created were: Breasts/Buttocks,
Breasts/Buttocks/ Pubic Area, and Breasts/Buttocks/Pubic Area/Vagina. Breasts/Buttocks
indicates that the breast and buttocks were both exposed throughout the feature.
I tc\^2. Fa^o /r//v!csS W
Breasts/Buttocks/Pubic Area was the most common Level of Nudity. Pubic area was used
to refer to the area below the belly button and above the clitoris. Breasts/Buttocks/Pubic
Area/Vagina indicates that in addition to the prior code parts of the vagina were also
shown, but never too close up. The women in Sample 2 appear in a more sexually
suggestive manner than they did in Sample 1.
The woman represented in Figures 5 and 6 shown below looks much different
than the representation of Miss March 40 years earlier. The feature previously consisted
of one large sexually suggestive image and some everyday snap shots as shown in Figure
4. The photos that accompanied the POM feature Miss March 2006 were nearly all
nude and sexually suggestive. The feeling from the POM features of Sample 1 showed
the sexual side of the woman, but also who she was outside of sex. The images that
accompany the centerfolds in Sample 2 are nearly all nude. The feature might have one or
two images of the woman in a natural setting that is not sexually suggestive; however,
most of the feature shows a very sexual representation of the women. The feature still
includes information about the women that is not exclusively sexual in the biography and
the Playmate Data Sheet; but the images in Sample 2 collectively represent women as
extremely sexual. This could be why the magazine today is charged with sexually
Figure 6: Centerfold of Miss March 2006 from Issue 5303, March 2006, 89-
Figure 7: Images of Miss March 2006 from Issue 5303, March 2006, 82-93.
I categorized my findings into four sections. Section A is titled Body
Measurements, and it discusses the findings of Bust, Weight, and Hip measurements for
both Sample 1 and 2. It also includes information regarding the weight of the women,
which was only available for Sample 2. Section B is titled Age; it discusses the age of the
women featured for both Sample 1 and Sample 2, and questions the frequency of young
women. Section C is titled Race; it discusses the race and ethnic representation of the
women from Sample 1 and Sample 2. Section D is titled Hair Color; it details the hair
color of the women represented in Sample 1 and Sample 2. The primary purpose of this
section was to address the common depiction or blonde women as centerfolds. Section E
is titled Level of Nudity; it conveys the differences in the sexual representation of women
from Sample 1 and Sample 2.
Hefner lists the assets or bustwaistand hip measurements for 38 of the 130
women represented as POM. I am not sure why they were only listed for some, and I did
not notice any distinct patterns. Sample 1 was taken from the first 10 years of the
magazine when Hefner was developing his editorial visions. The bust measurements
ranged from 34 to 41 inches; however, 42% of them were 36 inches.90 The waist
measurements ranged from 18 to 26 inches; however, 66% of them were between 22 and
23 inches.91 The hip measurements ranged from 33 to 39 inches; however, 47% were 36
inches 92 Although, when looking at the ranges there were a handful of women with
measurements that deviated from the norm, the majority of women shared similar
measurements. The most common measurements were 36 inches for the bust and hips,
and only 22 or 23 inches for the waist.
90 Playboy, January 1954 December 1964, Table 1.
91 Playboy, January 1954 December 1964, Table 2.
92 Playboy, January 1954 December 1964, Table 3.
Table 1 Bust Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM Sample 1
Bust Measurements Given (in inches) Frequency Percentage
34 3 8%
35 3 8%
36 16 42%
37 5 13%
38 5 13%
39 5 13%
41 1 3%
Table 2 Waist Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM Sample 1
Waist Measurements Given (in inches) Frequency Percentage
18 1 3%
20 2 5%
21 3 8%
22 14 37%
23 11 29%
24 4 10%
25 2 5%
26 1 3%
Table 3 Hip Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM Sample 1
Hip Measurement Given Frequency Percentage
33 1 3%
34 7 18%
35 8 21%
36 18 47%
37 2 5%
38 1 3%
39 1 3%
The bust measurements ranged more widely for Sample 2 from 32 to 38 inches;
however, the bust measurements were given in different measures. Some women listed a
cup size measurementand some gave only an inch measurement on the Playmate Data
Sheet. This makes it more difficult to compare the bust measurements of the women in
Sample 1 and Sample 2. Sample 2 includes women with breast enhancements, which was
not common during the time period of Sample 1.In order to make sense of these
measurements, I organized the data by inch measurement given, cup size given, and both
inch and cup size measurement together. The data shows that a majority of women (67%)
listed 34 inches as their bust size 93 C cup breasts were recorded for 46%, while 30%
recorded having a D cup.94 No one listed that they were an A cup, and only 12% listed
they were a B cup. Typically the scale for womens bra cup sizes goes ABCor D. D
cup is considered to be large.
Table 4 Bust Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM Sample 2
Bust Measurement Given (in inches) Frequency Percentage
32 16 12%
33 2 1.5%
34 89 67%
35 5 4%
36 18 14%
37 1 .75%
38 1 .75%
Table 5 Breast Cup Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM Sample 2
Bust Cup Size Given Frequency Percentage
A None 0
B 12 12%
C 45 46%
D 29 30%
DD 9 9%
DDD 3 3%
93 Playboy, January 1999 December 2008, Table 4.
94 Playboy, January 1999 December 2008, Table 5.
The waist measurements ranged from 21 to 28 inches; however, 52% of them
were 24 inches.95 This is still below 25 inches, which is the smallest standard size for
womens clothing. The hip measurements ranged from 27 to 38 inches; howeverthe
majorities were between 33 and 3^ inches.96 Although, when looking at the ranges there
were a handful of women with measurements that derived from the norm, the majority of
women from Sample 2 had a 34 inch bust measurement, a 24 inch waist measurement,
and a 34 inch hip measurement.
Table 6 Waist Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM Sample 2
Waist Measurement Given (in inches) Frequency Percentage
21 4 3%
22 7 5%
23 21 16%
24 69 52%
25 21 16%
26 5 4%
27 3 2%
28 2 1.5%
Table 7 Hip Measurements Given for Women Represented as POM Sample 2
Hip Measurement (in inches) Frequency Percentage
27 2 1.5%
30 1 .75%
31 2 1.5%
32 6 24%
33 15 11%
34 56 42%
35 30 23%
36 19 14%
37 1 .75%
38 1 .75%
95 Playboy, January 1999 December 2008, Table 6.
96 Playboy, January 1999 December 2008, Table 7.
The waist measurements for both Samples were smaller than average. However,
Sample 1 was significantly smaller than Sample 2. Sample 1 had 8% of the women with a
waist size 25 or larger. Sample 2 had 22% with a waist size of 25 or larger. The women
in Sample 2 have waist sizes within a larger range than Sample l.97 The women in
Sample 1 had small waists, but they had full hips. The women in Sample 2 have slightly
larger waist measurement range, but they appear thinner in general.
97 See Figure 8.
Graph 2: Percentage of Hip Measurements Given for POM
Percentage of Sample 1:1954-1963 Percentage of Sample 2:1999-2008
"igure 9: Playboy, January 1954-December 1963 and January 1999 December 2008,
Weight information was only collected for Sample 2. Only two women from
Sample 2 chose not to list their weight. Since the weights were self-recorded the data
could be skewed; however, it illustrates how the women and the magazine represented
the womans physique. The data shows that a majority of the women71/, weighed
between 106 and 120 pounds.98
Table 8 Body Weight and Height Measurements Gr POM in Sam ^en for the Women Represented as pie 2
Height range (in feet) Weight range (in lbs.) Frequency Percentage of Women in weight range
5,4-5,6 95-100 2 1.5%
5,2-5,5 101-105 12 9%
5,2-5,7 106-110 28 21%
5,4-5,8.5 111-115 35 27%
55-59 116-120 30 23%
5,7-510.5 121-125 13 10%
5,6-511 126-130 10 8%
6,2 131-135 1 .75%
5,8 136-140 1 .75%
98 Playboy, January 1999 December 2008, Table 8.
Age was listed for 48 out of the 138 women featured as Playmates in Sample 1.
The womens age ranged from 18-25 years old; however65/ of them were between 18
and 20 years old." Only one woman was listed as being 25 years old.
Table 9 Age Given for the Women Represented as POM Sample 1
Age (in Years) Frequency Percentage
18 13 27%
19 10 21%
20 8 17%
21 6 13%
22 5 10%
23 4 8%
24 1 2%
25 1 2%
In Sample 2 the birthdate was listed for each woman featured as POM. The
womens age ranged from 18-35 years old; howevera majority of them were between 20
and 23 years old. Only one woman was listed as being 35 years old.99 100 There were only 3
women over 30 years old featured as a Playmate.
99 Playboy, January 1999 December 2008, Table 9.
100 Playboy, January 1999 December 2008, Table 10.
Table 10 Age Given for the Women Represented as POM Sample 2
Age Frequency Percentage
18 1 .75%
19 10 7.5%
20 21 16%
21 14 10.53%
22 23 17%
23 22 16.5%
24 12 9%
25 8 6%
26 12 9%
27 3 2%
28 1 .75%
29 3 2%
30 1 .75%
31 1 .75%
35 1 .75%
Sample 2 contained women who were older, and far fewer teenagers. In Sample 1,
a majority, 48% of the women featured were 18 or 19 years old; however, in Sample 2
about eight percent of women were under 20 years old.101 The magazine became more
inclusive of women over 20. When the data from Sample 1 and Sample 2 are combined
the most common ages are between 19 and 23 years old.102
101 Playboy, January 1954-December 1963 and January 1999 December 2008, Table 11.
102 See Figure 10.
Graph 3: Age of Women Represented as POM
Figure \0: Playboy, January 1953-December 1963 and January 1999-December 2008,
Race and ethnicity representations were far from diverse in Sample 1.Out of the
138 women in the study only two women were minorities. Ninety-eight percent of the
women shown were White or Caucasian.103
Racial Representations of Women Featured as POM Sample 1
Race Frequency Percentage
Asian 1 1%
Black/African American 1 1%
White/Caucasian 136 98%
In Sample 2, White/Caucasian was the most common code, but there was some
diversity. A majority, 56%, of the women represented were White or Caucasian.104 In
103 Playboy, January 1954 December 1964, Table 11.
addition, 20% of the women read as white, but were described with foreign heritage,
mostly white European. Therefore, 76% of them read as White, but some women were
ascribed European ethnicities. This difference was listed so I categorized it individually.
Latin American women were represented in nine percent of the features. African
American and Asian/Pacific women were both represented at only four and a half
Table 12 Racial/Ethnic Representation of women Featured as POM Sample 2
Ethnicity Frequency Percentage
Asian/Pacific 6 4.5%
African American/B lack 6 4.5%
Latin American/Hispanic 12 9%
Reads as white: described with 27 20%
mixed heritage including
German, Russian, Canadian,
Swedish and Irish
Unknown/Not Listed 7 5%
White/Caucasian 75 56%
Graph 4: Racial Representations of Women
Figure 11:Playboy^ January 1954-December 1963.
10A Playboy, January 1999 December 2008, Table 12.
Graph 5: Racial Representations of Women
Figure 12: Playboy^ January 1999-December 2008.
The women in Sample 1 most commonly, 45%, had brown hair.105 Blonde hair
was not uncommon; it was the second most common code accounting for 38% of the
women in Sample 2. Shades of red hair were represented by 13% of the women. Black
hair color was the least common represented with only four percent.
Hair Color of the Women Represented as POM Sample 1
Hair Color Frequency Percentage
Black 6 4%
Blonde 52 38%
Brown 62 45%
Red/Autumn/Strawberry 18 13%
A majority of the women, 54%, had blonde hair.106 This supports the claim that
women in the feature are often blonde haired. 33% of the women had brown hair, making
that the second most common. Black hair was less common, and was represented for 10%
of the women featured. Shades of red were the least frequently represented, with only
105 Playboy, January 1954 December 1964, Table 13.
106 Playboy, January 1953-December 1963 and January 1999 December 2008, Table 14.
three percent. The samples are both most commonly representing women with brown or
blonde hair. Sample 2 shows more women who have blonde hair than Sample 1 does.107
Hair Color of the Women Represented as POM Sample 2
Hair Color Frequency Percentage
Black 13 10%
Blonde 71 54%
Brown 44 33%
Red/Autumn/Strawberry 4 3%
Graph 6: Hair Color of Women Represented as POM
Hiar Color Sample 1:1954-1963
Black Blonde Brown Red/ Autumn/
Figure 13: Playboy^ January 1953-December 1963 and January 1999 December 2008, Graph
Level of Nudity
Sample 1 began with images Hefner had bought from a photographer. They were
almost all nude, but did not show the pubic area or vagina. After the first year the images
were less consistent; they typically had numerous images of the women in the feature but
in varying levels of clothing.13% of the women in the feature did not expose any areas
See Figure 13.
of the body deemed private.108 A majority of the images, 72%, in Sample 1 focused on
the breasts in some way. In 12% of the features only the womans buttocks was shown.
Four percent of the women showed their breasts and their buttocks.
Only two percent of the women showed their breast and their buttocks. In this
sample, 87% of the women showed their breast, buttocks and pubic area. The other 11%
showed their breast, buttocks, pubic area and parts of their vagina. The photography was
not close up on the genitals; and they used photography techniques to blur or darken the
genitals making them difficult to see with clarity.
Table 15 Level of Nudity for Women Represented as POM Sample 1 and 2
Level of Nudity Frequency 1954-1963 Percentage 1954-1963 Frequency 1999-2008 Percentage 1999-2008
No Nudity 18 13%
Breast Cleavage 35 25%
Breast 41 30%
Breast and Areola 23 17%
Buttocks 16 12%
Breast and Buttocks 5 4% 3 2%
Breast, Buttocks and Pubic Area 117 87%
Breast, Buttocks, Pubic area and vagina 15 11%
These two samples are very different from one another. This variable changed the
most drastically over time. Women are showing much more than just their breasts in
Sample 2. This data shows the evolution of pornography. There were so many changes
that the same codes do not appear in both samples. The two samples only share one code,
which was both breast and buttocks nudity.
108 Playboy, January 1953-December 1963 and January 1999 December 2008, Table 15.
The data show that the women represented as POM in Sample 1 and Sample 2
typically possesd a curvaceous physique with large breasts; however, the women in the
two samples did not appear similar. Sample 1 set expectations for large breasts, small
waistsand curvy hipsor what is referred to as a natural hourglass shape. I use the
term natural because during this time period plastic surgery was not as common as it
was in Sample 2. The women who appeared in Sample 1 had naturally large breasts. The
body measurements were arguably unrealistic for most women, because these types of
measurements are far from ordinary. The smallest waist measurements for sizing charts
in the 1950s and today is 25 inches and a majority of the women had a smaller waist than
The difference is that in Sample 1 the women were more naturally curvy, and
their bodies appeared unique in different ways. The women may have had small waists
from disciplining such as extrememe dieting or exercise; but most of them appeared to
naturally possess a curvey physique with large breasts and hips. For example, their
breasts were different shaped, hung differently, had different color, size and shape of
nipples. The women from Sample 1 created an unrealistic representation of women,
because the women showed possessed large breasts and curvy hips that most women do
not naturally possess.
The women from Sample 2 created an unrealistic representation of womens
bodies because, not only are some of them extraordinarily shaped, some of the women
have had plastic surgery in order to achieve the large bust they have. The Hip
measurements changed between Sample 1 and Sample 2. The data show that womens
hips were larger in Sample 1 than in Sample 2.109 This could possibly be because Sample
2 has women with breast enhancements who may not have naturally possessed the curvy
physique of the women in Sample 1.
Information is not provided in the feature to determine which women in Sample 2
have had breast enhancements, but it is visually apparent by the shape, position and
uniformity of their appearance. Zehme notes that during the 19905s, Playboy saw ua
preponderance of silicone and saline graced his pages.. .rare was the new Playmate whose
dScolletage had not been refigured.110 The data about the womens body measurements
is symbolic of the changing physical expectations disciplining womens bodies. The
implementation and popularization of plastic surgery has aided in blurring the line
between fantasy and reality when it comes to womens bodies. Plastic surgery has arisen
as a new way that the body is disciplined. I will discuss this more in Chapter 6.
The expectations set from Sample 2 are focused more on large breasts and a thin
body to go along with them. The data show that 71% of women weighed between 106
and 120 poundsand were between 52 and 59 tall. The women fall within the normal
and underweight measurements of BMI. This was self-reported data so is likely to have
errors. The weight information was not given for the women in Sample 1.The women in
both samples appeared thin.
The lack of women over 25 years old suggests that younger women are more
desirable. The representation of women predominantly less than 21 years of age is very
limiting. Sample 2 contains a larger age range for the women in the feature, but still
leaves out women over 30. One of the strongest arguments against Hefners
109 See Figure 9.
110Hugh Hefner and Bill Zehme, He^s Little Black Book (Nqw York, NY: Harper Collins, 2004), 154.
representation of womens sexuality is that he almost exclusively represents teenagers
and women in their early twenties in the magazine as POM. There is still an emphasis on
young girls in the magazine. In Sample 2 every October issue of the magazine had a
college specialwhich included between 8 to 10 pages of images of college girls from
Universities across the country. Although some older women have appeared nude or
barely dressed for the magazine, they do not appear as a Playmate, and their appearance
is rare. In the following chapters I will discuss the dilemma of age representation in
Another argument against Hefner is his lack of diverse racial representations. My
research illustrated that, overtime, Hefner became more inclusive. Sample 1 is from a
time period in the United States when the Civil Rights movement was still coming to a
head. Given the historical context of this magazine, it is unfortunately not shocking that
Hefner was less inclusive to women of color in Sample 1.There was a more diverse
racial representation in Sample 2, than Sample l.111 The magazine has become more
inclusive to representations of women of color; however, it still predominantly
represented white women in both samples. The data illuminates the magazines preference
for young, white, large chested women.
Level of Nudity exemplified the most significant changes over time. The two
samples only shared one code, which was Breast/Buttocks. Only two percent of the
women in Sample 2 did not show their breasts, buttocks and pubic area in the feature. In
Sample 1,13% of the women did not even appear nude! The sexual representations of
women have changed so significantly that the codes were almost completely different for
See Figures 10 and 11.
Sample 1 and Sample 2. The data indicate that over the last 50 years pornographic images
have changed, becoming increasingly nude. I am not arguing there is anything wrong
with being nude; I am only observing the cultures new more nude representation of
womens sexuality. Comparing the work of PettyVargasand Hefner illustrates a
progression of sexual suggestion and nudity. There was nudity in earlier images, but it
left more to the imagination than pornography does today.
The magazine feature analyzed here is created with pornographic intent. The
images are meant to arouse and excite their viewers, which in this case were intended to
be a male audience. Prior to the internet many of the readers used this magazine for
masturbatory purposes. The data show that the women represented as POM were
typically extremely curvy with rare proportions. The women in the feature were usually
in their early twenties. Most of the women, over 80%, appeared White or Caucasian. This
does not represent most women.
This research illustrates that the visual representation of women in Playboy
disciplined the sexual female body in numerous ways. The sexual female body is
expected to appear white and youthful with large breasts and a small waist. The images
alone only illustrate visual sexual representation of women in Playboy. The visual
representation is only one aspect of the multiple ways the magazine has both impacted
and reflected American society. Textual analysis of Playboy, which could be propaganda
to sell magazines or personal beliefshas also influenced American society. Aside from
the POM featurethe magazine also includes editorials and articles about sexualitymens
fashiondecorating for the bachelor pad relationship adviceand some political articles
about topics such as the Vietnam War and drugs.
ARTICLES AND ATTITUDES OF HEFNER AND PLA YBOY
Hugh Hefner was born in 192b in the Midwest. He claims his battle for
liberation was always a focus for him. He felt as though his home and surroundings
were repressive.112 He explains in the documentary, Hugh Hefner Playboy, Activist and
Rebel, that his magazine Playboy was introduced to argue against the sexual repression
he saw as prevalent in American society. Hefner notes that people tend to believe that
the erotic and the sexually attractive have got to be sinful 113 He wanted to use his
magazine to challenge that belief.
In order to better understand Hefner and his work, some scholars use an
installation of essays Hefner published throughout Playboy in its early years, titled 'The
Philosophy to unpack Hefners work. These essays describe Hefners response
to critics, intentions for the magazine, and present a historical argument against Puritan
anti-sexualism and censorship. Feminists who oppose Hefner often put more focus on
the pornographic images in Playboy than textual analysis. Strictly reading 'The Playboy
Philosophy or strictly analyzing the images in misses the full point. The
important thing to note here is not which is more influential the articles or the images,
but, rather, how does the magazine as a whole represent sexuality. Hefner hoped to create
a magazine for men that sold a certain kind of lifestyle. This packaged lifestyle was
shaped by the articles and images Playboy used to create the lifestyle.
112 Came Pitzulo, Bachelors and Bunnies: The Sexual Politics of Playboy (Chicago, IL: University of
Chicago Press, 2011)13.
113 Hugh Hefner, Philosophy inP/qyqy, Issue 912 (1963): 168.
uThe Playboy Philosophy^
Hefner begins his philosophy by addressing the most common critiques against
his magazine. The most common argument against his magazine is based on its sexual
content. He argues that the critiques are symptomatic of the puritan anti-sexual values he
wishes to overcome. He defends the sexual images in his magazine on the grounds that
his work is a form of art created for an intended urban male population. He explains that
art does not have to appeal to or please every person in the world. So, how can we
characterize Hefner as an artist? After viewing the women in the magazine there are
definite stylistic traits. The images include women of similar body shape. They typically
do not photograph very close up. The women make similar seductive faces. The women
are shown with different props; but they have similar themes such as bath/shower themes
or bedroom themes.
According to Hefnerthe images were also created to rebel against puritan anti-
sexual values. The images oppose puritan values in their lack of modesty and the
intention of creating sexual excitement regardless of marital status. One could argue that
some couples may look at the images together to raise sexual excitement, or perhaps the
sexual excitement aroused is later manifested between a married couple; nevertheless, the
creation of the image is to portray sex outside of marriage as acceptable.
It seems Hefners main rejection was related to censorship. Hefner addresses the
history of sexual censorship at great extent. He asserts that censorship in America is
excessively aggressive to sex. He points out that in Europe the main concerns for
censorship are related to crime and violence rather than sex.114 Sex is more accepted in
114 Hugh Hefner, 'The Playboy Philosophy,^ Playboy, Issue 1006, (June 1963): 76.
media now than when Hefner wrote this, but, generally speaking, showing sex in a movie
is considered more inappropriate than a violent crime in America. He explains that
negative reactions to sex in media and literature are symptomatic of the guilt and
repression surrounding sex in our society. He asserts that our society inherited its
repressive anti-sexual attitudes from the twisted theological concepts firmly imbedded in
Christianity.115 He argues that censorship impairs our mental health and well-being.116
According to Hefner, denying sexuality in our media and literature is denying an inherent
aspect of humanity. He argues it is hypocritical to pretend that we are not sexual beings
Hefner credits Kinseysexual research with unveiling the truthabout sexuality
in the United States. Hefner refers exclusively to Kinseys findings that proved a majority
of men were participating in sex outside of marriage; he does not refer to the rest of
Kinseys study in the essays. He arguesand I agreethat Kinseys work proved that there
was an inconsistency in sexual ideology and sexual practice.117 Hefner credits Kinseys
work for raising awareness of this disconnect and providing a tool to change ideology to
match practice. Hefner asserts that the sexual revolution is a "rejection of our puritan
past and a re-examination or our sexual mores rather than a major shift in sexual
behaviors.118 Hefner argues that those who suggest there is no sexual revolution taking
place are confusing action and ideology. He explains the change exists by the changing
attitudes toward sexuality alongside a new acceptance of sex in conversation, media and
115 Hugh Hefner, 'The Playboy Philosophy,^ Playboy, Issue 1104, (April 1964).
116 Hugh Hefner, 'The Playboy Philosophy^ Playboy, Issue 1006, (June 1963): 177.
117 Hugh Hefner, 'The Playboy Philosophy^ Playboy, Issue 1007, (July 1963).
118 Hugh Hefner, 'The Playboy Philosophy,^ Playboy, Issue 1112, (December 1964): 92.
literature.119 Perhaps it is Hefner who is confused; revolution is active by derimtion.
Revolution requires the complete breakdown and restructuring of a systemit requires
both action and ideology. Revolution is defined in the Dictionary of Philosophy as having
In older usage, this word preserved its literal meaning of a turnaround, a
revolving, a change, of political or social conditions, but not necessarily a sudden,
abrupt or violent one. The current sense of majoror indeed violentupheaval
developed after 1789.120
The changing attitudes Hefner discusses about sexuality are not changes to literal
sexual intercourse or the implementation of new sexual ideology that "liberated
sexuality; ratherthey signify the population coming to terms with their cultures sexual
behavior. The system of power that controls sexuality was not changed; the media simply
provided new outlets to control sexuality.
Hefner is correct that sex came out of hiding during this time period, by which I
mean it was discussed more in public; however, I argue revolution did not occur because
the new attitudes that emerged were still in the same androcentric heteronormative terms.
In order for revolution to occur there has to be an overthrow of ideology and the
implementation of a new ideology. Birth control revolutionized sex for women in some
aspects. It gave women the ability to control the reproductive function of sexual
intercourse, which allowed them to enjoy sex without reproductive functions. This does
not eliminate the focus of male pleasure in sexual ideology. Hefner argues revolution
occurred because sex was discussed in new places. However, just because it was less
119 Hugh Hefner, 'The Playboy Philosophy,^ Playboy, Issue 1112 (December 1964): 93.
120 Dictionary of Philosophy, eds Thomas Mautner, Penguin Group (New York, NY: 2005/1996), s.v.
secretive does not mean that ideology or practice changed; it just means that sex was
acknowledged in new ways.
New attitudes may have occurred because people were acknowledging that sex
exists outside of marriage, but that does not free sexuality from the constraints of
patriarchy, racism, or heteronormativity. Hefner addresses the Puritan repression of
sexuality from the public and within the bounds of marriage, but this does not address
other shortcomings of Puritan sexual ideology, such as patriarchy, heteronormativity, and
eugenic theories of racial purity which were discussed in Chapter 2.
Hefner the Advocate?
Hefner is viewed by some as a civil rights advocate. Buszek claims Playboy led
the way in pin-up images through his integration of different races in the magazine.
According to Buszek, in an effort to keep up with the changing times, Playboy
represented Playmates who were interested in reformcivil rightsand activism.121 She
supports this statement by his inclusion of the first Asian woman featured in the
magazine in 1964, and the first African American woman the following year.
Vargas, discussed previously in Chapter 2, worked Playboy for nearly twenty
years between 1960 and 1978. Buszek includes an image Vargas created for the magazine
that is supposed to be Angela Davis.122 A nude caricature of Davis appears in a robe
leaning back on a pillow. The image has text that statesI believe in black pridebut
there are some things Id rather take lying down which appears above the nude cartoon
Davis.123 This does not sound sympathetic to the Civil Rights movement. I cannot
imagine that Angela Davis would support this; I was unable to locate any response from
121 Buszek, 269-270.
See Figure 14.
123 Buszek, 270.
Davis. Davis is a famous black feminist activist who merits more respect than this
Figure 14: Cartoon by Alberto Vargas: Angela Davis, Playboy, Issue 1709, September
Playboy published articles that spoke to civil rights issues including an article
written by Martin Luther KingJr. Hefner also had a television show called Playboy
Penthousethat filmed musicians and comedians performing in his Penthouse. Some of
the guests and entertainers were African American, and because of this the show was
seen as controversial for having a mixed-race setting. Some members of the Civil
Rights movement such as Jesse Jackson deemed Hefner helpful to the movement. In 1976
Hefner received an award from the NAACP for his contributions to the Civil Rights
movement. He advocated for the equal treatment of black and white members of the
Playboy Club, which I discuss more in Chapter 5.
Due to the longevity of the magazine it is not surprising that the attitudes change
over time. The magazines attitude towards many topics has changed over time. One
change that occurred overtime was his suggested presence of a female audience in later
years. Hefner, however, could not have been clearer in the beginning about his intended
audience. In the first issue Hefner opens by stating:
If you5re a man between the ages of 18 and 80, Playboy is meant for you.
If you like your entertainment served up with humor, sophistication and
spice, Playboy will become a very special favorite.
We want to make clear from the very start we arent a family magazine.
If youre somebodys sisterwife or mother-in-law and picked us up by
mistake, please pass us along to the man in your life and get back to your
Ladies Home Companion12
This text is blatantly sexist. Go read a Ladies Home Companion, implying women5s
interests are domestic and different than mens. It also assumes the woman or girlwho
picked up the magazine by mistake has a man in her life.
Carrie Pitzulo is especially helpful to unpack Hefners intentions and goals of the
magazine, because during her research she had access to all of the archives from Playboy,
including letters between staff members and certain interviews and memos that are not
accessible to the public. She discussed numerous articles from the early years of Playboy
that represented women in a negative way in the magazine. Some of the common themes
suggested that women were conniving and after men5 s money.124 125 Jules Archer, a Playboy
writerwrote an article called Dont Hate You in the Morning that many theorists use
to depict the sexist attitude present in Playboy. The article argued that women were just
as willing as men to have pre-marital sexbut women just want to go on record as
protesting and regretting. He argued thatbreaking in a woman before she got married
124 Hugh Hefner, Issue 1,(December 1953):1.
125 Pitzulo, 23.
actually rendered a service to societymaking a better lover to her future husband.126
This statement is simply inexcusableand supports the ludicrous attitude that no means
yes. Some feminist scholars have identified an attitude in society that suggests that
women say no to sex even though they really want to have sex. The no means yes
argument is commonly heard as a justification for sex offenders to explain their sexually
abusive behavior. I am not saying that the magazine condones rape; however, publishing
any sort of writing involves taking responsibility for the content. Furthermore, the
statement that they are breaking a woman in is belligerent. Is it a service to society
because the women are also helping break a man into being a better lover for his future
Unfortunately, when looked at within the time period the article was written it is
not surprising. Pitzulo explains these attitudes, while unfair to women, were a reaction to
the pressure for men to get married and start families.127 The attitude toward women was
not specific to Playboy, it was the "product of the cultural climate of postwar. America,
when such gender antagonism was common.128 Even though womens equality has still
not been realized in America, it is still difficult in 2014 to imagine a time when women
were excluded from the public sphere and denied rights to their own bodies. Betty
Friedan5s book The Feminine Mystique provides context for the way women were treated
in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Her book describes the problems women faced. She
describes a time in recent American history when women "were defined only in sexual
relation to men as motherswivesand sex objects.129 She describes a time when women
126 Pitzulo, 25.
127 Ibid., 23.
129 Betty Friedan. The Feminine Mystique, W.W. Norton & Company Ltd. New York, N.Y.: 1997/1963.18.
were confined to very strict gender roles; for example, she describes a woman who had
cancer that would not undergo chemotherapy because the side effects would be
unfeminine.130 While the body is still disciplined there have been great strides to fight
back against the limiting and oppressive gender norms women internalize.
Pitzulo argues that there is some good to be taken from the sexist banter in
Playboy. She explains that while Playboy was self-serving to the male bias and portrayed
women as deceitfulit also suggested that women have a right to be sexual creatures
outside of marriage.131 This is one way that someone could defend Hefners work;
however, we must be mindful that the right to have sex outside of marriage was
beneficial to their potential male partners who wanted to have sex without the
commitments of marriage. Pitzulo is arguing for the consideration or historical context
and advocates for the examination of the perceived good and bad effects of the magazine.
While I do argue it is important to be a charitable reader and consider the historical
context, I do not find this a good enough excuse. The issue is not that there was a sexist
magazine created in the 19505s but, rather, that it was created under the guise of
something else, liberation. I am not convinced we can call Pitzulo5 s perceived positive
effects anything positive. This liberationis allegedly existing via men permitting and or
excusing women to have sex outside of marriage. It could be argued that under the guise
of liberation Playboy created new ways of disciplining sexuality that expected sex from
women in and outside of marriage.
One recurrent argument against Playboy is that in its early years the magazine
advocated for less responsibility in relationships. This argument stems from the new
130 Friedan, 60.
131 Pitzulo, 25.
bachelor role who had sexual relations with women out of marriage that he did not
financially support, opposed to previous norms of sex existing exclusively in marriage.
The messages of the magazine changed and became more progressive over time. Pitzulo
claims in the 19605s, the magazine5 s tone shifted from the anti-woman tone it initially
possessed to a more compassionate view that emphasized personal responsibility in
romantic relationships.132 As the magazine evolved it became more inclusive of women
andin factproud of its female audience. In the magazines published letters to the editor
they would occasionally have women respondents. Meyerowitz analyzed letters to
Playboy in the issues from 1953 to 1959, she found that some women supported the
images viewing them as ua positive expression of heterosexual pleasure and feminine
appeal while others viewed the magazine as irresponsible smut that raised questions
of morality and the dignity of women.133 She also found letters that articulated
frustration over the stigma projected onto women who are openly sexualviewing the
images as a celebration of womens sexuality 134 She acknowledges that the letters
published were chosen by the editor, who is clearly biased and more than likely chose
letters that served an ideological function for the magazine; however, the presence of
these letters implies a female audience exists, and they were proud enough to publish
evidence. Buszek notes that some women readers may have felt comfort and support in
the magazine5 s acceptance and frank approach to sexuality, but this was undercut by the
way the magazine framed sexuality within the same misogyny that created the repression
the magazine is allegedly fighting.135 This argument suggests that the magazine only
132 Pitzulo, 105.
133 Meyerowitz, 22.
further disciplined the body while pretending to set us free from the previous forms of
It is tme that the magazine has more to it than the pages of sexually suggestive
womenbut what role does that give women in mens lives other than a sex object?
Hefner responded in an interview that "women are sex objects, they are a great deal more
than that. and he goes on to explain that without sexual intercourse the population
would not reproduce itself, and we would become extinct.136 This statement can be
analyzed many different ways. Some could interpret this as incredibly sexist and
suggesting that women are sex objects and reproductive tools to repopulate the earth. It
can also be interpreted as him stating he did not believe his representation was
objectifying, and thought women had more to offer the world than sexual arousal and
reproductive function. It seems he viewed his work as the representation of one aspect of
women that had previously been denied presence in mainstream society.
Prevalent Attitudes toward Women in Playboy9s Early Years
Dines historically situates Playboy in "the woman-hating, pro-family years.137
Pitzulo credits some of the sexist ideology present in the magazine to Philip Wylie5 s book
Generation of Vipers written in 1942.138 Dines also credits some of the attitudes in
Playboy to Wylie5 s book, which she describes as "one of the most woman-hating books
of the time 139 In this book, Wylie discusses the emerging new roles for women and men
with fear and contempt. He opposes the idea that women and men are equal, explaining
136 Hugh Hefrier: Playboy, Activist, Rebel, directed by Brigitte Berman (Los Angeles, CA: Metaphor
that women are certainly not identical to men from a physical or mental standpoint. He
acknowledges that some women may be, but this cannot be applied to all women.140 He
describes this predicament as Cinderellas Conditioning which he explains by women
wanting to get out of work, and live in the American legend of a handsome wealthy man
rescuing her so she no longer has to work.141 Women are characterized as taking mens
money, and using sex to get men to marry them. His work probably appealed to Hefner
because of its gender separatist belief; and his statement that there is nothing essentially
sinful in erotic activity for everyone 142 This is the same message proclaimed by Hefner
in The Playboy Philosophy which was discussed earlierstating that sex and sin have
been falsely linked together.
While Hefner may have published articles that aligned with Wylie5s thinking,
Wylie did not support Playboy. According to Pitzulo, he feared Playboy would^ limit and
divert honest libido to inferior ends 143 He was concerned with the sexual interactions
between men and artificial substitutes for sexual arousal. His issue was men being
aroused without an actual sexual outlet.144 For Wylie/VqyAo was seen as women
teasing men with sex. He was also critical of the advertising industry for ruining mens
expectations of average women by using extraordinarily beautiful women to sell
products.145 Pitzulo says later Wylie had a change of heart after a psychiatrist explained it
was not his concern if men were "turned on by Playboy and had sex with themselves, a
Phillip Wylie, Generation of Vipers (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2012/1942), 122.
doll or their wife.1461 agree with the psychiatrist in that it does not matter how people
express themselves sexually assuming it does not violate any person involved, and there
Regardless of how people end up expressing themselves sexually, Playboy plays a
part in the way its subscribers experience sex. It is important to analyze the ways in
which Playboy^ images of women effect sexuality. Wylie provides further context for
the hostile environment women faced during the 1950s. I certainly do not agree with
Wylies assertions about women; neverthelesshe raises some good questions about the
role Playboy played in shaping sexuality. I question what the element of fantasy can do
for liberating sexuality. Is it liberating to place sex outside of reality? It is true for some
that fantasy may be a part of actualizing their sexual desires. Previously, with cartoon
representations of womens sexualityfantasy played a clear role in allowing the viewer
to picture their lover in a similar pose, situation, or dress. Hefner brought the cartoons to
life by placing real women in similar pose and soft focus.
Fantasy is not somehow disconnected from freedom of sexual expression, but the
exclusive use of fantasy to represent sexuality is limiting. The fantasy here exists in an
unrealistic representation of women, and arguably an unrealistic representation of
womens sexual desire. The difference is his fantasy exists under the facade of reality.
Sexuality does not have to be based outside of reality because we as humans are sexual
beings. Sexuality is part of our human nature and also a byproduct of disciplined social
norms and expectations. Pitzulo states that "much of the fantasy lifestyle was just that, an
146 Pitzulo, 33.
unattainable vision of luxury in which many American men could never indulge.147 It is
not to say that Hefner is necessarily wrong for creating a magazine that sells sexual
fantasy and capitalist lifestyle; but it was setting sexual expectations and material
conditions that were unrealistic.
The images of women in Playboy were created through Hefner5 s fantasies.148
They were representative of his desires and notions of sexuality. I see it as fantasy-like in
the sense that the women who appeared as POM, appear/ed enhanced and airbmshed to
perfection, unlike the way they look in real life. Images were edited and not
representative of most women, not even the women pictured. The other fantasy he
created was that the girl next door co-workeretc. are eager and willing to have sex.
He created this fantasy about the girl next door which is fine except the girl next door
may not be interested in having sex! It only makes sense given Hefners logic that we are
all sexual beings for him to suggest everyone is sexual, but it is problematic when
everyones sexuality is being viewed through the preferences of Hugh Hefner.
Furthermore he frowned upon women for being sexually promiscuous. Dictating the
appropriate time and places for womens sexuality does not constitute empowerment or
Hefner and Feminism
Since Playboy first came out certain feminists groups have argued against the way
the magazine represents women. Pitzulo asserts that feminist arguments against Hefner,
such as the traditional critique that Playboy dehumanizes women are too simplistic,
because it does not take into account the historical factors of Postwar America.149 For
Pitzulo, addressing the visual representation of women in the magazine also requires a
historical analysis. I would also add to this that the traditional feminist argument would
not have needed historical context when it was created. Feminists were responding to the
magazine as it was created and grew in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s. I argue that the
traditional feminist critique against Hefner as objectifying was partially an anti-
pornography argument, and also a reflection of the sexist representations of women that
began to take over popular culture. The traditional feminist critique is not necessarily
wrong, but now that Playboy has been around for decades I agree it has become too
Playboy is no longer just a magazine: it is an industry. During the 19605s Hefner
opened clubs that served food, liquor, entertainment and had women servers dressed in
bunny costumes. The costumes were not comfortable or sensible for a waitress to wear,
which I will discuss in more detail in Chapter 5. Playboy has become very present in our
pop culture, on television, on the internet, on clothing, etc. Dines explains that "the
Playboy brand has penetrated the mainstream like no other pornographic product.150
Since then the Playboy Empire has expanded to clothing merchandise, pornographic
videos, television shows, etc., and has crept into popular culture. In current times, it is not
unusual to see a female teenager in a shirt with a Playboy bunny logo on it. My critique
of Playboy and its representation of women is multi-faceted, but it is important to address
this common critique of Playboy dehumanizing women.
14y Pitzulo, 35.
150 Dines, 21.
Hefner dismisses the argument that his magazine dehumanizes women by
explaining the images of women in the magazine are surrounded with details about who
they are as people.151 On this note, I agree with Hefner. He does tell a story about the
woman featured in the magazine each month, and he goes above and beyond to make her
appear real. The dehumanizing argument cannot be ignored for his Playboy Clubs
though. There is definitely legitimacy to the critique that dressing a woman up in a bunny
costume is dehumanizing. While all of the women associated with the magazine did not
wear bunny outfits, this claim still misses the point. Where I believe he went wrong was
by showing only one shape of woman each month in the magazine, enforcing rigid
disciplining of the sexual female body. My issue is the unrealistic image of women the
magazine has created, and it certainly has not created this image alone. Womens
magazines, such as Cosmopolitan and Vogue, are just as much to blame for unrealistic
representations of women. Playboy is often discussed in comparison to Cosmopolitan due
to their pro-capitalist and pro-sex nature. Due to the space limitations of this thesis, I will
not discuss their relationship or similarities, but they undoubtedly both played a role in
creating beauty standards. Their work has created and normalized the beauty standard.
The problem is the portrayal of woman as only young and exceptionally beautiful
by social standards as the norm desexualizes the majority of women who do not fit his
mold. I use the term desexualize because Hefner creates an image of womens sexuality
that is not congruent with the way that a majority of women actually look. His lack of
diversity among the Playmates creates a new image associated with sexy that many
women do not fit. It is not to say that it is wrong of Hefner to have a certain taste;
151 Pitzulo, 35-37.
howeverhis preferences created a monotonous representation of womens sexuality.
This creates Hefners image of womens sexuality as the norm.
Pitzulo argues that the images in Playboy were a "joyous celebration of female
sexuality before the feminist movement began to argue against the double standard.152
The problem with this is that double standards were being argued against; feminism has
had a voice long before the 19505s. It seems to me Playboy was a celebration of young
womens bodies to view for mens pleasure. Hefner created a form of pornography which
I am not arguing is wrong per se; howeverit is hardly a joyous celebration for the
Hefner claims to be a feminist, but also states that he does not look for gender
equality; rather, he enjoys affection from women and conversation with men.1531 am not
sure why he considered himself to be a feminist; his claim is illogical according to most
feminist ideology. He admits that he believes men are more intellectually stimulating
than women. The most common support for his label as a feminist is based on his
financial contributions to the v. court casewhich addressed abortion rights.
While I am happy to hear he aided in this important cause, it is not exclusively a feminist
issue. He had personal motive to be involved with reproductive rights so that bachelors
can continue to participate in pre-marital sex without reproductive repercussions. He
created a philanthropy branch of his empire in 1965, called The Playboy Foundation,
which focused on civil rights, censorship, laws pertaining to sex, and also helped support
research in human sexuality and population control.154 It is not to say that Hefner did not
152 Pitzulo, 6.
153 Levy, 59.
154 Pitzulo, 156.
make generous financial contributions to womens causesbut this does not make him the
victor of womens liberation.
Hefners most disturbing claim of aiding feminism is a delusion that he should be
credited for sparking the feminist movement. Hefner argued in an interview that
""Playboy was there from the beginning, before feminists even had their voice, fighting
for birth control and abortion rights.155 His editor Nat Lehrman adds that Playboy "came
out on [these] important feminist issue[s] before the feminists had figured out what their
issues were.156 This statement is simply false. Feminist work has existed for centuries.
Women have been oppressed but they have also fought back, and pushed the bounds of
gender norms for a long time. Women fought for equality in education, in the public
sphere, for political rights to vote, and birth control, to name a few important issues. I
would like to know which feminist issues Hefner believes he identified. The fact that
Hefner and his editor can make such statements only reiterates their ingrained notions of
male supremacy and female dependency. According to this logic, if something is not
acknowledged in mainstream social channels of communication it does not exist. Just
because he had a lack of knowledge about feminist history does not mean it does not
exist, it simply means he is uninformed.
There seems to be a misunderstanding that Hefner is somehow responsible for the
legalization of birth control. In a documentary about Hefner, Congresswoman Loretta
Sanchez of California says contraceptives were illegal. He was one of the first people
out there putting cases before the court157 I am not sure why he would be credited with
Sexy Baby: A Documentary About Sexiness and the Cyber Age. Interview with Loretta Sanchez, directed
by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus (New York, NY: Two to Tangle Productions/Fork Films, 2012), DVD.
the legalization of birth control. The legalization of birth control was the result of the
hard work of many different people and organizations. For example Margaret Sanger
advocated for birth control in the early 19th century, long before Hefner had his
Levy describes Hefners connection with feminism as a shared distaste for
conventional family arrangements and repressive laws.158 These issues are some of the
issues that women have struggled against. Perhaps some feminists have rejected Hefner
because he has failed to acknowledge the uniform image of womens sexuality he has
represented, and also because he openly admits he believes in sexual difference. He
argued for womens sexual freedom outside of marriage, but believed that men and
women were different. Hefner claims to be a feminist, but also states that he does not
look for gender equality; rather, he enjoys affection from women and conversation with
men.159 He was not advocating for gender equality, which I would argue is one of the
most general desires of feminism. There are many different types of feminism, and no
one can speak for all feminists; I am just unsure why he feels he is a feminist.
He insults many feminists because he continues to try to tell feminists what their
issues should be! Levy quotes Hefner in an interview in Esquire in 2002 stating sexual
revolution benefited women, and that is where their focus should have been.160 Hefner
seems to grant himself an authority to identify struggles women should focus on. Hefner
seems genuinely confused and baffled by any feminist rejection of his magazine.
According to Levy, he believes he was a liberator, and his opponents are "the
unenlightened and the uptight.161 Clearly he feels feminists are unenlightened since he
feels he has to help find their issues. To put it frankly, feminists today probably do not
bother engaging with Hefner because he is so closed minded about womens equality
and sexuality outside of his normative terms.
What Makes Hefner Different?
Hefners intentions are what differentiates his workoras he calls itart from
the work of other pornographers. He tested the market for pornography in our culture.
Pornography for Hefner was a political statement, one that was consumed by capitalism
but not created for the sake of capitalism. In other words, I do not believe that Hefner
created the magazine for the sole interest of growing excessively wealthy. In fact, Hefner
took a risk by printing the magazine during a time when sex was still heavily censored in
The political statement he made was about censorship. Can we call anti-
censorship and liberation the same thing? One could argue that reducing censorship is
liberating because it helped sex out of hiding. Is censorship the underlying source of
anguish for sexuality? He claimed to send the message we are all sexual, but that is just
accepting a human characteristic not championing sexual liberation. The only
justification I can make at this point for Hefner5s perceived positive effect on sexuality is
that he liberated it from the grips of censorship. In fact, the lift of this censorship has
aided pornography industries to constantly push the limits of sexuality.
Hefner disagreed with some of the expectations placed upon men but he did not
disagree in all the differences placed upon women and men by the social construction of
gender. Pitzulo explains that he promoted male centered heterosexuality and celebrated
capitalism.,,162 The magazine also celebrated heterosexuality as the best form of sex. It
seems to me he was interested in liberating womens sexuality, but his work only
considered womens liberation from the perspective of the androcentric heteronormative
sexual ideology of the bachelor.
Hefner advocated for the social acceptance of sex outside of marriage, but not for
sexual equality. In a Playboy panel discussion he and his staff concluded that uas we
remove sex from sin, attitudes regarding sex will be healthier; we will acquire a mutual
appreciativeness and not an end to differences.162 163 Pitzulo explains that after going
through the Playboy archives she saw Hefner as believing in sexual liberation for all;
however, he also advocated maintaining conventional gender difference, particularly in
terms of appearance and seduction. He wanted women to look like women and men to
have the traditional thrill of the chase.164 Hefner did not acknowledge women and men
Kinseys research showed that sexual ideology did not match practice in many
different ways, but Hefner was most excited that it created evidence that sex outside of
marriage was common. This was a shift in the social perspective of sexual norms, but this
does not mean a sexual revolution. Especially since Kinseys study indicates that before
Hefner5 s magazine was published, people were having sex outside of marriage.
Foucaults argument for sexual explosion rather than sexual repression is more
convincing than arguments of sexual revolution in the 1960s. Arguably, reproductive
control revolutionized the way women could participate in sex acts without the fear of
162 Pitzulo, 73.
163 Ibid, 31.
164 Ibid, 33.
pregnancy, but it took a very long time for this to be accepted by the general public. In
fact in the past few years womens reproductive rights have been in jeopardy; radical
conservatives have attempted to reverse birth control rights.
Regardless of Hefners effortsFoucaults work explains that eliminating
constraints of censorship only alters one form of power relations in sexuality, and
arguably allows sexuality to be disciplined in new ways. So while Hefner did push the
limits of censoring sexuality, he could not liberate sexuality from the constraints of the
remaining power structures that shape and hold it. In factthe notion of sexual
liberation in itself is used as another form of power that disciplines the body and
AGENCY: A WORD FROM THE WOMEN INVOLVED
In order to be fair in my assessment of Playboy and its so-called liberating effects
on women, I also must examine how women who were involved in Playboy interpreted
their experiences. In what ways did they determine they possessed their own sexual
agency? I looked at the perspective of women who worked in the Playboy Clubs, posed
ior Playboy, and a woman who lived in the Playboy Mansion as one of Hefner5 s
At the Playboy Club
After Hefner created a sexually charged fantasy lifestyle in his magazine, he
decided to open clubs that would create a space for the Playboy lifestyle to exist. He
created a club that only admitted members they titled Playboy Club Key Members The
clubs served drinksfoodcigarsentertainmentand a sexy atmosphere. Katherine
Leigh Scotta former bunny from the New York Playboy Clubhad a positive
experience working at the Playboy Club. Scott5s book The Bunny Years includes her
experience working at the club, and interviews with 68 women who were formerly
employed as Playboy bunnies. Most of the women interviewed worked at the clubs
during the 1960s, and typically discussed their experience in a positive light. Some
women who worked for the club stood at the door to take coats, some to entertain in the
Living Room, some to sell cigarettes and some to take pictures, etc. Where an individual
worked depended on how busy they would be, and therefore, how many tips they would
Regardless of which task an individual was given, everyone wore the bunny
costume. The bunny costume consisted of ears, a collar, arm cuffs, a silk form fitted
leotard with boning, a tail, panty hose, high heel shoes, and the packaged Playboy bunny
attitude created through Hefners fantasy. Scott reported that it was not Hefner who came
up with the bunny costume, she claims he initially wanted to have the women dress in
shortfrilly nightiesbut as a serviceable waitress uniform but this idea was abandoned
for the bunny costume.165 A woman dating Victor Lownes, the production director for
Playboy, suggested he dress the women as rabbits to match the magazine logo. Scott
claims Hefner initially rejected the idea because he envisioned the Playboy bunny as
male.166 The bunny costume was made in 12 colors and sizes. Only two breast sizes were
available, 32D and 36D, which is more than likely the reason the women commonly
stuffed their top to fill the costume.167
An interview with Alice Nichols, who worked for the Playboy Club in 1960,
explains details of the costume that causecTcontention for the women working as
bunnies and the men running the clubs. She claims the tight headband that had the
bunny ears on it caused headaches, and also noted that the material of the tail had to be
changed to a flame retardant material due to customers always trying to light them on
fire.168 Judy Cander Heyden DeSerio stated in her interview that "when some girls
unzipped their costumestheir backs were bloody from the stays; in other wordsthe
167 Ibid., 55.
168 Ibid., 69.
boning in the costume was being pushed so hard into the womens body due to the tight
fit it caused bleeding.169
Regardless of the gruesome accounts of the costume nightmaressome still claim
to have enjoyed their experience. Some women claimed they used their experience from
working at the club as a springboard to their careers. Scott supports this claim by
detailing the stories of women who worked at the club, and later had careers in desirable
or prestigious fields such as law, medicine or television. Perhaps their job financially
aided in paying for education, but wearing a bunny costume while serving food and
drinks in no way shape or form enhances the ability to practice law or medicine. She
credits the Playboy Club with providing women a good way to make money. The most
convincing argument for empowerment is this economic argument.
Some women who worked in the clubs or appeared in the magazine were
compensated well. Barbara Bosson worked as an executive secretary prior to working in
a Playboy Club. She claims she enjoyed her job more as a bunny than an executive
secretary; Bosson figured I had to wear high heels and look good for both jobsbut
working at the Playboy Club provided a higher income.170 Many of the women
interviewed highlighted financial compensation as a benefit to working in the Playboy
Club. Francesca Emerson, who worked for the Playboy Club in New York, proclaimed
we were independent womensupporting ourselves and sometimes childrenhusbands
and boyfriendsand trying to make something of our lives 171
The financial compensation was well for some women, but it was short lived.
Emerson was fired after she had a childand was no longer able to fit the bunny look;
she couldnt get trim enough to continue working as a bunny.172 In 1966,16 women
were fired because they no longer fit the bunny image for reasons such as too old
overweightetc. Patti Colombo recalled having to weigh in every day at workand if
you gained weight, you were suspended until you dropped the pounds.^173 Colombo
worked in the club for 10 years until she became too old.
Emma Patterson was one exception to the age mle; she worked at the New York
Playboy Club during 1967, at the age of 33. She claims that the women were examined
and if a girl had crinkly skina crepey neckcircles under the eyeslaugh lines or crows
feet, she no longer had Bunny Image.,,174 The pay rate had an expiration date; the age of
women associated with Playboy is typically below 25. So most of the women start doing
this when they are young in their late teens or early 205s, but then what? How does this
prepare for work outside of the Playboy Empire?
Figure 15: Gloria Steinem at the New York Playboy Club, 1963.
In the name of research, feminist journalist Gloria Steinem worked undercover in
the Chicago Playboy Club. According to Scott, Steinem was able to work at the club
because she was friends with a famous talent manager Bud Prager who was a close friend
to Victor Lownes and called in a favor to hire Steinem.175 Show Magazine published the
article Steinem wrote in May and June of 1963. The article was written as a journal of
Steinem5s experiences at the club.
Although Steinem has not continued to write about Playboy, much of the current
literature surrounding Playboy discusses her work as both influential and detrimental to
constmcted notions of women in Playboy. Steinem5 s journal experiences at the Playboy
Club span from Jan 26,1963 to February 22,1963. She describes every step she took in
the process to become a bunny. She describes the advertisement for the position at the
Playboy Club in New York as misleading. It suggested that she would make considerably
more than she actually did in her days at the club. The ad claimed an individual could
earn between $200 and $300 a week.176 Steinem found one woman on the last day she
was there who claimed she made $200 the week prior. Steinem did not hear anyone else
say they were being compensated so well. Steinem was not paid for training, and also
noticed that the specific roles given determined how much money could be made.
The costume seems to be the most negative part of Steinem5 s experience. She
described the pain she experienced in her feet from walking around in high heels all night
as aching like bad teeth.177 Steinem complained that her feet were so swollen she could
not get them into her shoes, and she had to wrap gauze around her chest where the boning
1/5 Scott, 125.
'Gloria Steinem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (New York, NY: Henry Holt & Company,
177 Steinem, 63.
in the costume had rubbed her skin raw.178 She describes the women in the dressing room
squeezing into their outfits and stuffing the top of their costume to make them appear to
have a larger bust. Steinem even generated a list of common bunny bosom stuffers
which included Kleenex, plastic dry cleaner5s bags, absorbent cotton, cut up bunny tails,
foam rubberlambs woolKotex halvessilk scarvesand gym socks.179
Steinem described the procedure for becoming a bunny which included making
the costume fit, regardless of discomfort, personifying the ideal playboy bunny, and a
physical exam by a doctor with an STD test and vaginal examination.180 Steinem merely
documented her experience, which she found to be nothing like what the ad detailed as
the experience of working at the Playboy Club. Steinem received a letter from Hefner
after the article was published explaining that her article prompted him to remove the
physical exam requirement. She said, generally speaking, he did not seem to mind the
articleand he also included the first seven installments of his The Playboy
Scott describes Steinem5 s article as unfair, hurtful and misleading. She blames
Steinems work for the dumb bunny stereotype associated to women involved in
Playboy. As stated earlier, Steinem5 s article merely recorded her experience; she never
called the women who worked there dumb or stupid. I find Scotts charges toward
Steinem unfair; while she may have felt liberated, Steinem did not. Steinem should not be
expected to pretend she enjoyed her experience. Scott addresses Steinem numerous times
in her book; she seems very disgruntled about the perception of women who worked in
the clubs. She specifically identifies frustration over an image of the women as haplessly
downtrodden under the Playboy Club yoke unconscious of what they were doing and
incapable of making decisions.182 This ideology arises in current debates about the role of
women in pornography which will be discussed in Chapter 6. Scott attributes this
partially to Steinem5s article which she perceived as stereotyping women as young,
dumb, sexually objectified victims.183 Scott asserts that she was liberated by her position
as a bunny. She explainsWe flouted our beehive hairdospadded our bosomswore
false eyelashes and defied convention in our daring satin outfits.184 This image deviates
from the traditional notion of women as housewives in the sense that the women have
jobs, and acknowledge sexuality outside of the private sphere. She claims the women
involved willingly exploited our sexuality andas Bunniesalso exploited our
intelligence, wit, upper arm strength, youthful exuberance and full range of survival
instincts.185 But is this liberation? Is it liberating to go from a housewife to a half-naked
woman dressed like a bunny with false eyelashes and a padded bra?
Scott describes Steinem as the least liberated of all of the bunnies, since she did
not embrace the changes that were occurring for women through the Playboy Club.
Perhaps that is because Steinem was busy continuing to fight for women rights, such as
equal pay. Steinem has been a successful advocate for womens rights. Scotts experience
defying traditional gender norms and exposing her body for the world to see allowed her
the freedom to express her sexuality. I question if the sexual expression she represented
was Scotts or Hefners.
182 Scott, 275.
183 Ibid., 275.
184 Ibid, 6.
185 Ibid., 275.
The women who participate in the Playboy Empire are not given freedom in their
image; they must maintain an image synonymous with his pure idealistic representation.
Women involved exposed themselves for the world to see, but only through a
representation continuous with the Playboy image. They women were not allowed to date
customers; the only men from the club there were allowed to date were eight of the men
who held positions of power in the clubs and in Playboy.186 In 1975 there was a strike at
the New York Playboy Club; the women demanded that they be given the freedom to
date club members, to use their real names if they wanted and to be able to become
members of the club themselves.187 Hefner responded to them that the mles created in the
1960s did not make sense in 1975 and agreed to the demands and made all bunnies
honorary members of the Playboy Club 188
Many of the women expressed great support for Hefner, and viewed him as a
victor of the sexual revolutionwomens liberation and a civil rights activist. Scott
provided the most compelling evidence for Hefner5 s support of the Civil Rights
movement. Hefner faced complications when he opened two clubs in the south. Hefner
had franchised the clubs out, and the locations in Miami and New Orleans were not
operating within the policies and structure of the other clubs. These clubs were not
hiring black Bunnies; they were also not accepting black membership.189 Hefner
bought the club he had franchised out in Miami for much more than he sold it for, and
regained control to stop the racism that was operating in the club. The club in New
1 Scott, 57.
187 Ibid., 206.
188 Ibid, 208.
Orleans had laws that prevented socializing between blacks and whites.190 Hefner
bought back the New Orleans franchise as well for almost twice the cost for which he
sold the franchise.
Hefner challenged racism in the south and advocated for equal treatment of all
members of the club. It seems there was a more racially diverse group of women who
worked at the clubs than the women represented as POM. Gloria Hendry worked as a
legal secretary for the NAACP and claims while working there she dealt with the reality
of prejudice and racial slurs every day; howevershe found her experience working at
the New York Playboy Club to be very different.191 She thought her skin color was
glorified at the club.192 Hendry only recalled one experience of prejudice at the cluband
the man was kicked out and his membership to the club was terminated.193 Hendry felt
that the club always supported the women who worked there.
Each month Playboy includes the POM feature analyzed previously in Chapter 3.
The woman who is featured as a Playmate is compensated financially and also gains
publicity. Izabella St. James, a former girlfriend of Hefner5 s, reported that the women
who appeared as a Playmate in the magazine paid them $25,000 and could potentially
land them modeling careers.194
One woman I came across in my research appeared in the magazine to help her
writing career. Alice DenhamMiss My 1956, had a Masters Degree in English and was
iyu Scott, 107.
191 Ibid., 190.
193 Ibid., 190-191.
194 Izabella St. James, Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors at the Playboy Mansion (Philadelphia, PA:
Running Press Book Publishers, 2009/2006), 81.
a writer/model. Hefner agreed to have her work published in Playboy along with her
centerfold. Pitzulo explains that she received a book deal after her appearance in Playboy,
but that she felt as though the magazine was both liberatory and sexist.195
Levy argues that the sexual liberation Hefner claims to reach for is undermined
for women who switch job fields. She points out that women who leave will be viewed
by the large audience of Playboy not as themselves, but "spread out, in soft focus wearing
something slight and fluffy.196 It is hard to determine how someones appearance in a
magazine could affect their reputation later in life. An appearance in the magazine, or
working at one of the clubs, could be perceived as advantageous to a career in modeling
or the pornography industry, but not in many fields outside of that.
Pitzulo describes another Playmate, Victoria Valentino, who viewed the magazine
as both good and bad. Valentino viewed the magazine as allowing women to experience
themselves sexually, but also allowing men to have less responsible sex. Valentino
appeared in the magazine in September 1963. She described her nude appearance in the
magazine as liberating; however, she thought the magazine advocated for pre-marital sex
and portrayed women as out to trap men into marriage. Some saw their appearance in
Playboy as a way to rebel against society and take control of their sexuality.
POM was not the only feature in the magazine that included sexual
representations of women. There were typically one or two other features in the magazine
throughout Sample 2 that had celebrities, fetish, or a specific categorization of women
represented, such as Women from Latin America, Women of Enron, Women from
Professional Wrestling, College Girls, etc. Typically these women seem to have eagerly
195 Pitzulo, 53-55.
196 Levy, 41-42.
and happily participated in a photo shoot and interview for the magazine. These features
tend to be less ageist than the POM feature. During my research, however, I came across
two different cases where Hefner had printed images without consent from celebrities. In
September of 1985 Hefner published a feature on the famous female musician Madonna.
He published nude images he purchased from two photographers who had taken pictures
of her in 1978 prior to her becoming famous.197 The feature of Madonnatitled Unlike a
Virgin.. .For the Very First Time showed numerous pictures exposing her breasts and
pubic area. Charlize Theron, a popular actress, had a similar incident with Playboy. She
also had nude photographs taken of her prior to becoming famous, and Hefner purchased
and published these images against Theron5s will. Theron attempted to sue Hefner for
this, and she lost; however, the nude images of Theron are not accessible on the archive
used in my research that contains every complete issue of Playboy from 1953 to 2010.
Publishing nude images of women to the public against their will is not cohesive
with Hefners proclaimed activism for womens sexual liberation. In factthis removes
the agency these women possess over their bodies. It seems that nearly all of the women
who appeared gave consent for publication, but Madonna and Theron were exploited by
him. Figure 16 illustrates that not only did the magazine use images of these now famous
women for a feature, but also on the cover. He used their faces and fame to attract
potential buyers. Legally speaking, Hefner did purchase the images and the women more
than likely signed waivers to their rights to the photographs; but this is exploitive not
197 "Unlike a Virgin.. .For the Very First Time^ Playboy, (September 1985). See Figure 16.
iNTf tTAINMKNT FOK MiM mntmtrn m '
Figure 16: Playboy, left Madonna September 1985, right Charlize Theron May 1999.
Izabella St. James was one of Hefner5 s former girlfriends; she resided with him at
the Playboy Mansion between 2002 and 2004, alongside his other girlfriends. Hefner was
involved romantically with multiple women.198 It is not uncommon to see images of
Hefner surrounded by women as he is in Figure 17. The women in this picture are
identified as Hefners girlfriends in the caption. Hefner is almost always standing in the
middle of a group of stereotypically beautiful blondes. St. James appears in the image
below second from the left.
St. James met Hefner while she was attending law school at Pepperdine
University. Accepting the role of Hefner5 s girlfriends meant representing the "Playboy
Life that Hefner was trying to sell. She wrote a book about her experience living at the
Playboy mansion, which describes very intimate details about her relationship with
Hefner and his other girlfriends, and her public role as one of his girlfriends. The
girlfriends who lived at the mansion with him were financially compensated, and were
See Figure 17.
expected to live by Hefner5 s mles. They received a weekly allowance, clothes allowance
for big events they went to such as the Oscars, and an unlimited beauty allowance for
plastic surgeryhair coloretc. According to St. JamesHefner had a running account
with a plastic surgeon that performed any plastic surgery procedures they desired.
They were also given $10,000 toward a car of their choice.
Figure 17: Hefner and his girlfriends from Playboy, UA 50 Anniversary Fete at Hefs
Issue 5102, February 2004,11.
There were 6 bedrooms in the mansion hallway next to Hefners with numbers on
the doors. The first room was Hefners and the other rooms were for his girlfriends or
visiting guests. The girlfriends typically had their own rooms, and were allowed to
decorate them, but all major changes such as wall and floor carpet had to be approved by
Hefner. St. James claims that they were only allowed to have white carpet and pink walls.
The girlfriends living at the mansion were given a weekly allowance of $1,000 which
they went to Hefners room on every Friday morning to ask for.201 She claimed that
Hefner would use this time to bring up whatever issues he had with them in the
1 St. James, Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors at the Playboy Mansion (Philadelphia, PA: Running Press
Book Publishers, 2009/2006), 109.
relationship, such as fighting with the other girlfriends, not spending enough time with
him, not enough sexual participation, etc..
An unspoken mle was that the girlfriends who resided at the mansion were to
have sex with Hefner. She states that the sexual encounters were short and not necessarily
as frequent as rumor suggests; howevershe describes this as one of the duties she had
which she differentiates from a desire. She claims she almost felt obligated to have sex
with him in return for all of the things he did for her, and that he would remind them of
their lack of sexual participation when they asked him for something.202 She claims they
were expected to go out with him 2 to 3 times a week, and when they returned, they were
all expected to spend time expressing their sexuality together in Hefner5s room. She also
states that participation was not mandatory.203 Later, she states that if participation was
lacking he would confront her about it; but then get defensive when she would remind
him that he said there was no pressure to participate.204
She discusses numerous rules they had to follow. They had a curfew of 9:00 pm
unless they were out with Hefner. They were not allowed to have bottles of alcohol in
their room. They were expected to stay at the mansion every night.205 She claims that if
she wanted to leave to visit family, he would quickly remind her she would not receive an
allowance.206 She admits that some of the women who lived there had husbands or
boyfriends, but this was not supposed to be the case. According to St. James, they were
expected to be faithful to the polyamorous relationship between Hefner and his
girlfriends. She claims that when any rules were broken Hefner would act very
St. James, 158.
disappointed and make us feel bad. She felt he liked making them feel guilty;
however, if any of them cried he would stop and be nice.208
Short of the sexual expectations, the relationship she describes Hefner desiring
seems like a father/daughter relationship. They have a curfew; this seems controlling not
liberating. They collect an allowance, which they have to come ask for weekly. Why
would he have the rooms painted pink with white carpet? She said he liked our rooms to
look like little girl rooms.,,209 St. James compares Hefner to Peter Pan, the boy who never
grew up. She reasons, why else would he get excited over his girlfriends collecting
Barbies and stuffed animals.,,210 She acknowledges he is an intelligent business man, but
also notes his immature hobbies and interests.
St. James seems to have contradictory feelings about her time at the mansion. On
the one hand, she is grateful to Hefner for the opportunity to live with him at the
mansion, participate in big social parties and events, and receive monetary compensation
for performing the role of one of Hefner5 s girlfriends. On the other hand, she seems
frustrated by the stereotypes he placed upon her as the token smart girlfriend who had a
law degree. St. James believes that he values women based on their role in his magazine,
money, and fame. She explains he is not interested in much outside of their physical
appearance. She claims he believes his magazine aided in women5 s sexual liberation by
telling the world nice girls like to have sex too.211 She claims that while he claims his
magazine gave women sexual freedom; however, he actually just "made it easier for guys
St. James, 89.
to get laid.212 She also claims to have felt liberated by her experience at the mansion and
the sexual energy it possessed. The way she details his disciplining of her body and
sexuality makes it seem that the alleged liberatory aspirations could just be a mask to
hide the power relations controlling sexuality.
Hefner9 s Expectations
Women associated with Playboy were expected to maintain high morality, and not
sleep with anyone or appear in pornography.213 The women who worked at the clubs
were not to be romantically involved with any of the customers. Hefners girlfriends were
expected to only have sex with him, while he openly slept with his multiple girlfriends.
Levy quotes Hefner explaining that they would lose their job if they accept a date. She
concludes from this statement women were meant to be ornamental entertainment not
partners.214 Hefner granted himself permission to sleep with whomever he desired; while
the women were expected to be monogamous. This is a double standard. The girlfriends
are expected to abide all of his mles about their sexual expression, while Hefner has the
freedom to express his sexuality however he sees fit. Empowerment, liberation and/or
freedom do not occur by paying women to appear nude, dress sexually promiscuous, to
be coy and flirty, confident in their sexuality, but to not be sexually active. Hefner instead
creates a double bind that women are to be both sexual and chaste at the same time. Levy
quotes Hefner stating that he did not want his daughter to live the same promiscuous life
that he did.215 There is a disconnection here between Hefner5s stated purpose and his
actual goals. He wants sex to have an acceptable presence in or outside of marriage. He
212 St. James, 129.
213 Ibid., 57-59.
214 Ibid., 58.
215 Levy, 59.
wants women to dress and pose provocatively; but he does not want them to be sexually
active. Pitzulo explains that Hefner wanted the photos to be wholesome, sexy, and
sophisticated, but not as if they were sexually promiscuous.216 217 In other words, the women
are represented as sexual, but should appear innocent, untouched, and wholesome.
This ideal that women should be sexually available, but also innocent and pure,
sets women up for railure because they are represented in a sexual way but also judged
for behaving promiscuously. These statements exemplify the ways that Hefner was
interested in liberating male sexuality and not womens. He argued that pre-marital sex
was the norm; but he idealized pure women who were not sexually promiscuous. It is a
double bind; one that is commonly accepted and used to reinforce the notion that it is
okay for men to have sex outside of marriagebut not women. Sexuality is constructed
through an androcentric lensby which I mean sexuality is structured around male desire
and orgasm. Women are represented as the means to orgasm, but not desirable after being
Pitzulo quotes Hefner discussing a model who had the hardened look of a
stripper.,,21? He went on to say she did not appear ttfresh,, enough for the Playmate look.
This is very confusing; why would Hefner describe a stripper in a negative way. Strippers
dance and perform while taking their clothes off. They have no fancy editing to their
bodies; they present themselves as they are. If he can deem it liberating to pose in his
magazine, why could it not also be liberating to strip? He certainly does not seem to be
very open minded when it comes to sexual representation outside of his magazine. His
statement suggests that there is something unappealing about strippers. He places himself
216 Pitzulo, 47.
217 Ibid., 49.