Playboy’s move to a nearly-nude cover cannot be called progress

The Playboy bunny is one of the most notorious symbols in the western world; it is recognised as instantly as a Coca-Cola bottle, an Apple product or the Nike swoosh, regardless of its being an international symbol of male sexuality rather than commerce. Yet the most infamous trait of the men’s magazine is being given a millennial revamp; Playboy will no longer publish sexually explicit images. The March 2016 issue is being hailed as the first ‘non-nude’ issue since 1972, however, this move toward the ‘demure’ is ultimately redundant.

The changes also include a female columnist feature every month, a monthly interview by James Franco, more artwork and less re-touching on photos. By attempting to rebrand the bunny as ‘feminist-friendly,’ Playboy comes across as even more disturbing than before. How are you supposed to keep your enemies close if you do not recognise the enemy at all?

The news that Playboy was reinventing itself hardly came as a surprise given the immense pressure put on print media in recent years; Playboy’s circulation has plummeted from 5.6 million copies sold in November 1975 down to 700,000. Some people may still be willing to pay for a broadsheet for their news – rather than relying on whichever Buzzfeed articles your Facebook friends litter your newsfeed with – but you will be hard-pressed to find anyone that is willing to pay for their pornography in 2016. This is the fatal blow for magazines like Playboy, FHM and Nuts. The internet can make or break a business and, as such, Playboy is trying to keep the wolf from the door by rejuvenating their image.

The first step came last year when Playboy made their website ‘safe for work’ which allegedly led to a 400 per cent increase in web traffic. This year, Playboy publishes a scantily clad Instagram model Sarah McDaniel on their March cover in an effort to boost readership. Unfortunately, the ‘non-nude’ cover appears to be a step further in the wrong direction.

The cover depicts a doe-eyed McDaniels in a gaping vest, a striped pair of underwear and, oddly, the famoust snapchat text overlay which reads ‘heyyy ;)’. I was left wondering, exactly who is McDaniel addressing? She is quoted as saying that the point of the shoot is that the reader can see her from the perspective of a boyfriend, however, it just seems invasive.

The image is manufactured such that it appears she took the photo herself, yet we know there is a photographer out of shot who is instructing her every move. Playboy has incited a shift of power away from the model. McDaniel does not give off the impression of a woman in control, whereas cover girls Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Pamela Anderson emanated authority when they graced the cover (no matter what their states of undress were).

The message sent by the new cover is disturbing. Buying into the millenial obsession with self-promotion actually suggests that the photo of McDaniel has a darker directive for her character. Perhaps she took the photo in the privacy of her bedroom? Perhaps she sent the image to a boyfriend? And maybe they broke up and he has since chosen to circulate the image of his own accord? The images of Sarah McDaniel reek of an obsession with teenage sexuality rather than a celebration of the female body. The story that the pictures tell is overly familiar and adulterated.

Nudity is not something to shy away from, yet Playboy is being applauded for making the titanic leap from portraying naked women on their cover to nearly naked women. It has become unclear exactly what Playboy is trying to sell, but I know I am not buying.

Image credit: Rasmus Olsen

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