In the Age of Naked Selfies and hacked celebrity smartphones, it is hard to recall the time when nudity was dispensational, handed out like wafers at a Catholic communion ceremony. For a while, that right was owned by the likes of Playboy and the skin magazines that evolved from it. Penthouse came later. Then Hustler. There were obviously others.
My dad kept his Playboys up on a shelf in his closet. I’d sneak them down and pore through the nude photos. Mostly I wanted to know what women were really about. How did their breasts work underneath those clothes, inside those bras. I was utterly fascinated by all of that.
As a budding artist, I’d take tracing paper and place it over those photos to copy the lines of those women’s bodies. Somehow the act of making those drawings was as great a turn-on for me as looking at the photos on their own. Perhaps it was my way of owning those images, of bringing them into my head.
Then I began to copy the photos in real drawings. Some of these took hours to execute. I’d set the centerfold out on the table and make elaborately detailed pencil drawings of those women. Sometimes I’d have to scramble and put the sketchpad and magazine away if a family member was headed toward my room. I still have a few of those drawings from my early teens. In many ways they were lovingly executed.
I know a woman who modeled for Playboy lingerie editions. It’s a funny thing, but I don’t think about her naked when we meet. She’s smart, funny and behaves like a sister with me. She’s also an extremely talented artist. Her life has been full of challenges that most people can’t imagine, but her having posed nude in her youth has nothing to do with them.
Her modeling career was not that long ago, but things have massively changed since she posed before the Playboy cameras. Now there are women and men who take their own photos and post them on Reddit or other Internet sites. Some of these people have thousands of followers. Some do it for money. Some do it for self-esteem. Some do it because they’re bored, or horny, or drunk, or all of the above.
Some credit for these freedoms must come from Playboy. One can argue all day about whether the freedom of nude or sexual photos is good for society or for the soul, but let’s face it, things have not really changed that much in the last 60 or even the last 2000 years.
Nakedness and sexual stimulation is chronicled without apology in the bible. In some places it is condemned. In others, it is celebrated. Yet the repressive side of religion says that nudity is only acceptable within the boundaries of marriage, and that sex is reserved for the confines of matrimony. Conservative Christians blame the sexual revolution for the breakdown of marriage as an institution. Others would argue that male discovery of the clitoris is what might save it.
Hugh Hefner came along to challenge all that. But it’s not like he actually invented adultery, sexual promiscuity or the marketing of lust for profit. Yes, he treated women as objects to a degree, and some contend he exploited women as a whole. Those arguments are hard to defend these days as women have either learned or chose to objectify and exploit themselves.
I say the process has gone a bit further than that. As this image copped from a Pinterest site illustrates, the sight of buttocks in public is no longer such a shock. They are just buttocks. The clothing women wear now, even athletic wear, is form-fitting and leaves little to the imagination.
But, it’s like this: “Oh look, that woman has an ass. Imagine that.”
Deal with it, in other words. The recent repressive tiffs over the idea of women wearing “yoga pants” in public was based on the idea that men can’t control themselves when confronted by the sight of a shapely woman. Our repressive Vice President Mike Pence will not even allow himself to dine with a woman alone. It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing. It matters that she’s a woman, and somehow he is threatened by his own weakness.
That’s a sickness of the mind. A far healthier mind should be able to deal with women dressing in almost nothing, like they do at the beach, and not lose control of the emotions or succumb to wanton lust. Learning to be discreet and respectful is a sign of maturity. Apparently some men never gain that skill.
And that’s a problem, for sure. But as the Mike Pence issue illustrates, it’s not what a woman wears or does not wear that is the problem. It is the repressive need to control male insecurities and fears that religion affirms in men. Even the Genesis story in which Eve leads Adam to temptation is an example of chauvinistic male fears.
By contrast, the honest removal of secrecy and the fear of the taboo from regard of women’s bodies is a healthy thing. It has taken the sexual revolution a while to get there, but the increasingly honest regard for women’s anatomy is a product of breaking down cultural taboos that depend on the dichotomous view that nakedness is naughty and that righteous human beings need to hide from it.
Europe and other nations are far ahead of America in this regard. Our country pumps out titillating imagery, for sure. But in Europe you can actually got to a nude beach and naked bodies are simply not that big a deal. That’s maturity. That’s honesty.
Of course some athletes can get too relaxed about the whole nudity thing. One of the warnings issued by our local bike club about dressing outside the car during criterium weekends is that riders can get tagged for public nudity if the neighbors or the cops see you changing your bike shorts and displaying those white ass cheeks for all to see. The Velominati Rules don’t really cover that issue, do they? Be discreet.
Athletes in endurance sports get used to the sight of the female nipple popping out from a running top or an ass cheek protruding from shorts. So, what! We bear witness to asses and crotches in all sorts of gear. A little camel toe on a gal or an outline of a dick in bike shorts just isn’t a problem as long as it isn’t a chronic and therefore distracting condition.
We’re all just bodies trying to go faster, longer, harder. Wait, that sounds a little sexual doesn’t it? So be it. This whole idea that we have to hide from our own sexuality is absurd. Sex is frankly one of the drivers of the human spirit. Nudity is the natural condition of the human body. And the United States of America is still in the grips of uptight people who deny all that on grounds that they’re small minds are too hard to control.
Now that 99% of the population (even those who won’t admit it) has a naked selfie hiding on their smartphone, it’s time to admit that Hugh Hefner was never really the problem he was made out to be. That problem is prurient curiosity. Hugh Hefner somehow knew that a rabbit was a good symbol for that. And he pulled the rabbit out of the hat.
Playboy has now converged with reality. It is no longer the provocateur it once was. In fact it seems tame in some ways. But along with normalizing sexual orientation and the existence of transgender people, reality has a way of sneaking up even on those who cover their eyes and yell NO NO NO at the top of their lungs.
It never works. But it sure keeps the world from being honest about itself.