Playboy recently made an announcement that I’m sure made many heterosexual males who grew up with the magazine curse the sky in disbelief. After over 60 years of being the definitive nudie mag, a monthly treasure trove of pictorials featuring young beauties, airbrushed to perfection, the iconic publication said it will no longer feature nudity in its pages come March.
Did you ever think this day would come? I mean, Playboy without nudity is like a Reese’s cup without the peanut butter. And yet, with circulation dropping from 5.6 million in 1975 to 800,000 today, the higher-ups knew that the magazine’s relationship with the bare female form was coming to an end.
“That battle has been fought and won,” Playboy chief executive Scott Flanders told the New York Times. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”
And there it is. Playboy realized that it couldn’t compete with the plethora of pornography just waiting for you on your laptop/smartphone/tablet. Simply seeing women au naturel no longer cuts it in our freaky, sneaky culture.
Also, female celebs haven’t been jumping to take it all off for Playboy like they used to. Back in the day, actresses and supermodels often made headlines when they posed nude in Playboy. But these days, when a starlet’s phone can get hacked and her personal photos leaked for the world to see, famous females usually try to stay clothed as much as possible. And those who don’t mind getting nekkid in print, like Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and Kim Kardashian (who did a nude Playboy layout in 2007), will often do it for more fashionable publications.
Playboy isn’t the only magazine trying to clean up its act. Earlier this year, Maxim, the last of the frat-boy mags, revamped its image, going for the sophisticated, men’s-magazine style pioneered by Esquire and GQ. Just recently, a man – the persistently cool actor Idris Elba – made its cover, which would’ve been unheard of a decade ago.
Seeing Playboy and Maxim both distance themselves from nudity could be seen as a virtuous response to how intensely sexualized our culture has gotten. But truth be told, it’s been like this for more than a minute. I remember reading a piece in GQ in the mid-’90s titled “The Porning of America,” where writer (and future O Magazine editor-in-chief) Lucy Kaylin pondered how porn had become such an unstoppable cultural force. “When exactly did we stop flinching at the sight of people’s privates?” Kaylin asked. “When did we lose the reflex to blush? At some point when we weren’t looking, porn slithered into the mainstream, and now we find ourselves awash in skank.”
Even though the Internet has made porn more instant and accessible throughout the years, I doubt that the men of tomorrow will have fond memories of it, unlike those who remember the first time they discovered Playboy, an adolescent rite of passage for many older generations.
As for Playboy’s future, I’m not that worried. As someone who has actually read a Playboy article from time to time, I’ve always known that the magazine could stimulate the mind. (This is the same periodical that once had a young journalist named Alex Haley interview such figures as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.)
There is certainly one bright spot in all of this: Playboy will finally be a magazine that guys can read in public with no shame.