Return of the nudes

Sarah Davis discusses the return of nudity in Playboy magazine, and what it purports for the female body.

Sarah Davis
27th February 2017
Sarah Davis discusses the return of nudity in Playboy magazine, and what it purports for the female body.

Playboy is reverting back to the bare essentials. After a year long nudity ban, the publication has decided to strip the constraints (pun intended).

In October 2015, Playboy announced from March 2016 it would no longer publish full frontal nudity within its magazine. However, Cooper Hefner, 25-year-old son of Hugh Hefner and Playboy chief creative officer expressed last week the decision to remove nudity was an “entire mistake”.

The change was signalled in a Twitter post by Cooper on 13 February 2017, declaring: “I’ll be the first to admit the way in which the magazine portrayed nudity was dated,” but “nudity was never the problem because nudity isn’t a problem.”

Playboy has since promoted its new March/April cover with a topless image of model Elizabeth Elam with the hashtag #NakedIsNormal. It seems over the years Playboy has been working hard to try rebrand itself as a progressive, mindful and proudly feminist publication, challenging issues such as cat calling and questioning the consensual nature of shouting sexual comments towards one another. Its nudity ban was welcomed by many women’s rights activists. Therefore, is it fair to regard this reversion is a step backwards for feminism? The answer is ambiguous and often resides on prejudice rather than objectivity. Nevertheless, a sense of discontent surrounds Playboys motives for the reintroduction of nudity.   

Superficially, impressive sentiments surround Playboys #NakedIsNormal. Removing the stigma of the female form and celebrating each individual naked body is a profound foundational attitude. But, actions speak louder than words. In the publishing sphere normality seems to have a certain definition. Naked may be normal, but women of all shapes, sizes ethnicities, religions and degrees of physical ability, do not seem to be worthy of publication.

"The publication has, however, dropped the subtle 'entertainment for men', but hypocrisy still stands between content and intention"

The hyper-photoshopped stereotype of the female and male form which is promulgated on most magazine covers is not normality. It, therefore, seems difficult to congratulate an outlet for taking such a progressive step without exhibiting their shortcomings, and Playboy would do justice by highlighting the obstacles magazines face when accurately representing body positivity.

The publication has, however, dropped the subtitle “entertainment for men”, but hypocrisy still stands between content and intention. March’s issue advertises an essay by Scarlett Byrne on the Free the Nipple Campaign. The core of the campaign is emphatically not sexual in nature; it attempts to challenge the sexualisation of female bodies.

"Naked may be normal, but women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, religions, and degrees of physical ability do not seem to be worthy of publication"

It is, therefore, extremely problematic to see a movement like Free the Nipple, that seeks to confront the inequality of female and male bodies, being advertised in an outlet that has been historically dedicated to selling the female form for sexual gratification.

Observing a decline of sales from 7.2 million in 1972 to 700’000 in 2016, the publication originally made the decision to ban nudity in a bid to save flagging circulation and to attract a wider readership and more mainstream advertisers. With Playboys plummeting sales, it seems problematic and unavoidable to cynically view the reversion as anything other than a marketing ploy. It is increasingly difficult to suppose the move was based solely on sentiment alone, in a world that is constantly diversifying enterprise.

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