Playboy's plan to take naked women off its pages could have major impact

Oct 13, 2015 at 10:54 a.m. ET
Image: Images

Forget everything you've seen in Playboy and especially on The Girls Next Door. Hugh Hefner has just approved a major change for the magazine that longtime fans never saw coming.

By this point, almost everyone can agree that the Internet is oversaturated with porn and all things sex. You can get any kind of porn you like, and however much you like, at the click of a button (and without a virus, in most cases). Playboy, a traditional "nudie" mag, recognizes the irony here: Too much porn is turning people off.

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It was on the heels of this realization that Playboy editor Cory Jones met with The Hef to discuss the future of their iconic nude magazine. Jones suggested jumping the shark by doing the opposite of what most Playboy readers would expect — ceasing to print images of naked women, and publishing photos of partially clothed women in provocative poses instead.

Hefner agreed, and now the Internet is going crazy.

Of course, there are those in the pro-nude camp, who claim they grew up on Playboy just as they grew up on Saturday morning cartoons. For these men, naked images in a Playboy magazine are classic and should remain sacred (never mind the fact that you can still find these nude Playboy images with a quick Google search).

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Other, more objective fans of the female form are quick to admit that Hefner's big move makes sense. Playboy may have brought tasteful nudity mainstream mere decades ago, but now the tides are turning. It's possible that loyal readers may be even more turned on by partially clothed women, considering the vast amount of nudity and penetration available online. Even more interesting is the fact that when Playboy removed images of nude women from its website last August, the average user age dropped from 47 to 30, while web traffic rose from 4 million to 16 million visitors per month.

The common excuse for the heavy porn push online is that "sex sells," but Playboy's numbers prove otherwise. Even in our sex-saturated online world, Playboy's very own website saw a fourfold bump in the numbers when nude pictures of women were eliminated. In translation, sex doesn't always sell, especially when a growing number of readers are asking for the media to stop objectifying women.

We saw this same phenomenon earlier this year when the British tabloid The Sun chose to remove its long-running topless woman on page 3 (otherwise known as the Page 3 Girl) after more than 215,000 readers campaigned against the paper's treatment of women as sex objects. Contrary to what movie producers and advertisers want us to believe — that men are foaming at the mouth for a glimpse at a few breasts — many viewers want women to stay dressed.

For many men who consider themselves Playboy-superfans, this change, in effect March 2016, may take some getting used to. But for the many women who are sick of seeing their sisters objectified on the Internet and in magazines, Hef's power play is a big step in the right direction.

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It speaks volumes when the biggest nudie magazine in the world decides that women don't need to take their clothes off to boost sales. While much of this decision has to do with our porn-heavy Internet culture, it still sends a message of empowerment to women from the mainstream media. Publicity stunt or no, Playboy is bringing a different voice to the objectification conversation, providing women with a respectful option to participate in the porn industry — without the porn.

Whether or not we care to admit it, the way a mainstream media outlet treats women has significant cultural implications. Playboy says it's OK for women to put their clothes on in a move toward a more modern, sex-positive female, and the world is still spinning. We can only hope a ban on airbrushing will be next.