Playboy and Pornification: 65 Years of the Playboy Centerfold

Abstract

In the more than 6 decades since its founding, Playboy magazine has had to contend with a great deal of cultural change, most significantly the rise of the Internet pornography industry. The magazine, particularly its signature centerfold, the Playmate of the Month, has had to adapt accordingly. In this visual analysis, I review 65 years of Playboy centerfolds to consider how their bodies—physical characteristics, positions, contexts, and explicitness—have changed, and how this reflects the broader social change to which they are subject. I find that, overall, very little changes over the years, with two notable exceptions: increased visibility of the montes pubis and the slow decreasing in the amount of pubic hair the models have, and the brief time period in which the magazine attempted to remove nudity altogether. My results show that the magazine appears to place more value on staying true to the Playboy image than to adapting to a new market and has continued to be a recognized symbol of gender and sexuality even in light of decreasing readership and publication.

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Fig. 1

Availability of data and material

All data is available online through the Playboy archives.

Code Availability

Stata code is available from the authors upon request.

Notes

  1. 1.

    This is, of course, a very small sample, especially when compared to Playboy’s circulation of about 3 million at the same time period as the study (Watson 2019), and is therefore likely not generalizable.

  2. 2.

    There have now been 2 transgender Playmates, but only one is captured in this sample. They have both been women of color.

  3. 3.

    The camera angle for every single centerfold is straight on, with only a slight upward or downward tilt in a few cases.

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Correspondence to Hannah Regan.

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Regan, H. Playboy and Pornification: 65 Years of the Playboy Centerfold. Sexuality & Culture (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-020-09809-2

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Keywords

  • Pornography
  • Visual analysis
  • Sexuality
  • Mainstream media