In the past 24 hours, much has been said and written about Playboy magazine. On Thursday, founder Hugh Hefner passed away peacefully at the age of 91. While it's always sad when someone dies, I find it interesting that so many men and women herald Mr. Hefner as a legend. To me, he always appeared as a male profiteer of women's bodies and a symbol of female subjugation; the "iconic" Playboy bunny suit costume a manifestation of scratchy, tightly-zipped oppression. And according to undercover reports by feminist trailblazer Gloria Steinem, wearing the original Playboy bunny suit wasn't such a hoppy experience, after all.
In 1963, Steinem went undercover at a midtown Manhattan Playboy club to write an "exposé for intelligent people” in Show magazine. She called herself "Marie Catherine Ochs" for her essay "A Bunny's Tale," and just as her body was on display in the club, her wit and resolve are apparent in every word of the three-piece story.
In order to qualify for the waitressing position, the former Phi Beta Kappa sorority member was required to undergo a physical examination for sexually transmitted infections, as well as supply her dimensions. In short, long and slender legs were a prerequisite. Steinem's fit figure enabled her to snag the role, which she would come to realize was an impossible balancing act.
"We don't like our girls to have any background," said the Bunny Mother, "We just want you to fit the bunny image."
Case in point: "Table Bunnies" employed at the club would run up and down staircases in search of ever-thinner gams (curious, given how every time I tried that in my early twenties, my legs would bulk up like Hulk Hogan). That exercise, plus the act of pulling double shifts to compensate for low wages, resulted in the desired weight loss. Sounds ideal, but it wasn't all bouncing tails. On account of being too thin, the Table Bunnies would then be prevented from working in Playboy photoshoots.
Another frustrating side-effect of the bunny get-up was induced by high-heels. Steinem claimed her feet permanently grew a half shoe size from sporting the required three-inch heels during her shifts.
Women, man. When physically forcing our bodies into someone else's ideal, we just can't win.
But back to the suit. You'll never believe what Steinem reported the Playmates would stuff into their bras for additional cleavage: Plastic dry cleaning bags! The original boob job. I can't even imagine how uncomfortable rough plastic wrap must've felt over one's chest, pressed in by a scalloped neckline.
But of course, the most significant danger to the Playmates was losing precious weight in their busts, which "Marie Catherine" said occurred as a result of sweating under all the plastic. The corset worn underneath the costume was so tight that when Bunnies sneezed, it would rip. “The boning in the waist would have made Scarlett O'Hara blanch. I was sure it would be perilous to bend over," wrote Steinem.
If you are considering reviving the Playboy bunny suit costume for Halloween, opt for a modern adaptation with a flexible fabric, so you can dance like no one's watching, take shots, and all other things antithetical to the strict Playboy bunny image of yesteryear.
Beauty-obsessed readers might be surprised to learn a little-known makeup fact from Steinem's story. In 1963, you couldn't just hit up Duane Reade for some Ardell, you actually had to go to a 24-hour beauty supply store to get personally fitted for false lashes. That part really does sound glamorous.
Not so flattering, however, was how white Playmates referred to women of color as "chocolate bunnies," who Steinem classified as "negro girls." Truly cringeworthy, which in the end, is how Steinem characterized the entire experience. "I think Hefner himself wants to go down in history as a person of sophistication and glamour. But the last person I would want to go down in history as is Hugh Hefner," she reportedly stated.
The exacting specifications of Mr. Hefner were largely reductive, prescriptive, and unrepresentative of the diverse pool of female pulchritude. Perhaps you grew up in The Girl's Next Door era, and witnessed Holly, Bridget, and Kendra acquiesce to their boss's bedtime, travel, and beauty and fashion regulations. The women were white, with long, white-platinum hair and surgically enhanced figures, matching the overarching aesthetic Hef pushed on the pages of Playboy.
With that said, Hef's 26 year-old son Cooper Hefner took over the reigns at Playboy in July 2016 as Chief Creative Officer, and in that time, has expanded the struggling periodical's definition of beauty. Most recently, a bald, small-chested Halsey graced the cover, loud and spunky in a sheer pink top. The younger Mr. Hefner, currently in a long-term relationship with British actress Scarlett Bryne (who portrayed Pansy Parkinson in the Harry Potter films), even expressed regret for having Donald J. Trump as a cover star.
Notwithstanding his role in the sexual revolution, the legacy of Hugh Hefner is muddled at best. But with Cooper at the helm, the passing of the guard for Playboy might just mean a better experience for Playmates, and women everywhere who look up to who Steinem described as "the most envied girls in America."
All I know is, I'm not going undercover to find out.