Passing of the Playboy

by Ashley Roling

The death of Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, was lauded as the passing of an icon. Hefner- coincidentally the son of Prohibitionist, Puritan parents- characterized the American Dream through his rags-to-globally recognized brand and Gatsby lifestyle in the construction of his Beverly Hills Playboy Mansion. While, he undoubtedly served as a catalyst for the national sexual revolution of the 1960’s, his death sparked contrast over his influence on women’s rights and empowerment.

After graduating college and working several unsatisfying jobs in magazine promotions and creating cartoons, Hefner admitted thinking “that my life was not going anywhere.” Shortly after, with $600 of his own and $3,000 borrowed from family and friends, Hefner launched his own publishing company. The idea of Playboy magazine spurred from a timely report that females were becoming more open with their sexuality via the growing prevalence of premarital and extramarital sex. The first cover declared “First time in any magazine, FULL COLOR, the famous MARILYN MONROE NUDE” with the purchased images of the blonde icon’s calendar shoot four years prior. But it was later revealed that Playboy magazine and its editor-in-chief used those photos without consent from Monroe and without compensation.

Although Hefner’s uncertainty of the inaugural issue’s success led him to conceal his name and publication date, the nude photos of Monroe settled the adage that sex sells. This led to the “Playmate of the Month” feature centerfold. In Hefner’s passing, many were quick to credit the magazine for giving rise to philosophical content- monumental interviews, premier writers, and featuring stances on progressive issues. However, the magazine was always created by men for men. In Hefner’s first editorial, he wrote, “If you're somebody's sister, wife 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 Companion.” Hefner, it appears, brought women into his project for visual exploit and sexual appeal for his tailored audience. 

Simply put, Hefner cannot be equated as a feminist by cause of destigmatizing and liberating women sexually- or the twelve annually that met his fixed standards. Women featured met a guideline of beauty not all of unique shapes, sizes, and colors. Further, his personal relationships with women decades his junior and lack of high-powered careers support the idea that he placed women in an exclusive box to be acknowledged for personal use of sex and pleasure. Hefner used a woman’s sexuality and dare to break society’s expired standards for fiscal advantage. Feminism is equality between the sexes- not at an ill-intentioned compromise or tradeoff between money and basic civil rights. 

“I’m a believer in things symbolic,” Hefner stated after purchasing the gravesite beside Marilyn Monroe- the very woman that lofted his brand. The truth is that Hugh Hefner’s life should be celebrated for the vision and ambition he set towards creating a brand. But, the symbolic message to review, as a woman, is that any feminist issue won’t be solved in a single lifetime or by a single person.

So, the dare is to not allow anyone- especially in a position of power- to undercut your success through exploitation or material benefit. Further, stand up against society’s expectations and be well-purposed towards the equality of everyone as you set and reach your goals. One can never become aptly revolutionary or iconic without being mindful of everyone in the generations they hope to inspire.

Ashley Roling