What Playboy’s Decision To Do Away With Nudity Means For The Models

“I wanted to pose for Playboy since I was a little girl, which might be kind of weird,” Bunny* told me. To me, it didn’t sound weird at all. It sounded like any goal you set at a young age — some of them stay with you, some of them don’t. Bunny followed through on this particular dream when she was 20 years old. Like many defining moments we build up in our heads before we actually do them, posing naked for Playboy did not entirely live up to her expectations. “I have a lot of mixed feelings about Playboy,” Bunny said, explaining why she wanted a pseudonym for this piece.

It’s no surprise that the men’s magazine’s recent decision to do away with nude models stirred up these confused emotions more. Bunny was especially skeptic about the corporate reasoning behind it.

“We are more free to express ourselves politically, sexually and culturally today, and that’s in large part thanks to Hef’s heroic mission to expand those freedoms,” Playboy Enterprises CEO Scott Flanders stated in an October 13th press release.

I could feel Bunny rolling her eyes along with me as I asked what she thought of this self-congratulatory statement. “I don’t think I, or the other models that posed for them, ever thought of them in that way,” she responded. “I don’t think Playboy ever intentionally tried to liberate women.”

What’s being spun as a bold step forward — “We’ve liberated all the naked women we care to, and now it’s time for them to put their clothes back on!” — is, in reality, a cost-cutting measure that, however you feel about the magazine’s standard of female beauty, further discredits the very women who helped make the brand a huge success in the first place. After all, if Playboy had really set out to liberate women by giving them a place to pose nude, and wanted to declare any semblance of success, wouldn’t the truly progressive move be to increase the value of their work by paying and treating those models better than ever before? Instead, eliminating nude modeling entirely is the final step in what has been a long-running attempt by the magazine to cut costs incurred by contractors, specifically the models who are splayed between its pages.

When she first posed for Playboy eight years ago, Bunny was paid $500 to shoot all day, and though Playboy used and reused the images up until recently, she never received any additional compensation. Being only 20 years old at the time, $500 and a photoshoot for Playboy seemed like a huge opportunity for her, when in reality it was a bargain for them. “They think that it’s such an honor for people to work for Playboy that they don’t have to pay them or treat them well, because so many girls want to do it,” Bunny said.

Still, decently-paid opportunities for this kind of mainstream work don’t grow on trees, so Bunny took more jobs from Playboy when they came her way. Most recently, she worked with Playboy TV and was told she’d be paid $850 per day, but after completing two days of shooting, she was only paid a flat fee of $850. Bunny found out that another model on the same project was paid the same after only one day of work. When she called Playboy to resolve the issue, they denied that $850 was the daily rate, then “called me a bitch and hung up.” Every opportunity to work for them since has hardly felt worth it. “They’ve been making price cuts on models for a long time,” she said.

For example, around the same time last year, Bunny also referred several models for Playboy jobs, one of whom, a single mother, flew out to Los Angeles from New York after the magazine led her to believe they had a job for her. The trip ended up resulting in one unpaid radio show spot and no future gigs lined up. Bunny has experienced herself and heard countless stories from other models about Playboy’s lackluster treatment, a reflection of their diminishing value to a brand literally built on their bare backs – and now, instead of spending the money to correct it, Playboy is further devaluing this profession by eliminating a mainstream opportunity for nude models all together. And all while patting themselves on the back for a job well done.

What Playboy hasn’t been talking about is the huge decline in circulation, from 5.6 million in 1975 to a mere 800,000 now, which has no doubt taken a toll on their ad revenue. So ultimately, the decision to cut out nude models isn’t any more progressive than good old-fashioned corporate downsizing, which is to say, not at all. We reached out to Playboy’s VP of Public Relations, Theresa Hennessy, for comment, and her brief response noted that the magazine will “continue to publish sexy, seductive pictorials of the world’s most beautiful women, including its iconic Playmates, all shot by some of today’s most renowned photographers.”

Regardless of the reasons for eliminating nudity from their pages, this pivot by Playboy has already devalued the work of these nude models in more ways than one. In addition to there suddenly being less opportunities for nude models, there’s the looming threat that with Playboy out of the picture, the opportunities that remain will be more competitive and be able to pay even less than before. But also, there’s the fact that no one seems to particularly care what they think about the decision that impacts them the most — very few news outlets have bothered to actually ask any of Playboy’s models what they think about suddenly being out of a job. This not only undermines the progress Playboy is claiming to have made, but to women like Bunny, it’s insulting.

“The naked girls made Playboy’s whole empire,” Bunny said. “Now they’re acting like we were never important to begin with.”

*not her real name, but for purposes of anonymity.