Hugh Hefner, the ultimate robe wearing, pipe smoking playboy, died Wednesday at age 91. Many are calling Hefner the “leader of the sexual revolution,” as he founded the magazine in 1953, a time where even the discussion of sex was considered taboo. While others may feel conflicted on whether or not they supported him, the motto of Playboy magazine has always been about the celebration of women and sexual empowerment, despite being accused of sexual exploitation.
In today’s craze of social media, the newly found appreciation of sexual empowerment and body-positive advocates, we’ve come a long way in terms of embracing and normalizing sex. While slut shaming is still heavily prevalent, for women, posing for Playboy or publicly showcasing your sexuality in general, used to result in serious repercussions that outcast women.
Take Vanessa Williams, the first crowned, black Miss America winner of 1983. With nearly two months left of her reign as Miss America, Williams was forced to resign after being notified that Penthouse magazine would be publishing nude photos of her without her consent.
Hugh Hefner was also given the opportunity to publish the photos, but declined to avoid wrongfully publishing photos without Vanessa’s approval.
Williams filed a $500 million dollar lawsuit against photographer Tom Chiapel and Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, but eventually dropped the charges to move past the scandal all together. She was shamed, bullied, and denied jobs for nearly ten years for the unauthorized photos that exposed her sexuality. Hefner and his legacy of Playboy proved that their morals were about the female’s consent rather than humiliating them for profit or male enjoyment.
In 1950’s American culture, sexuality was confined within marital relationships. But that mentality has slowly changed over the years.
Hefner once said, “If you don’t encourage healthy sexual expression in public, you get unhealthy sexual expression in private. If you attempt to suppress sex in books, magazines, movies and even everyday conversation, you aren’t helping to make sex more private, just more hidden. You’re keeping sex in the dark. What we’ve tried to do is turn on the lights.”
Fast forward to 2017, sexuality and body acceptance is almost praised and valued. Several Instagram “It” girls shamelessly post photos of their bodies, in attempts to promote self-love and body diversity, without the fear and shaming most women would have faced years ago.
Playboy was ahead of its time by way of body acceptance and inclusivity. Carolina ‘Tula’ Cossey was featured as the first transgender model to grace the cover of Playboy in 1991, and remains the only transgender model to receive a spread in the magazine. Cossey explained in an interview, “I remember being invited to the Mansion to meet Hugh Hefner. He looked into my eyes and I immediately knew he felt my story. He felt my cause.”
Perhaps we can appreciate Hugh Hefner’s legacy that started a conversation on sexuality and promoting sex-positivity among women, and how far we’ve come as a society in regards to mainstream views of what it means to be sexually liberated.