|Playboy makes appeal to women with charming Witt
November 22, 1998
Do you have your December Playboy—you know, the one featuring seven very tasteful nude photos of gold-medal ice skater Katarina Witt? No? Then you’d better head to a news stand double quick. Women are said to be buying it like crazy—that’s right, women.
In fact, this issue marks the second time in three months that Playboy has scored with female fans. October’s issue featured Cindy Crawford, whose last pictorial spread was in 1988. “Seemed more like a fashion story” is how a 28-year-old woman described it to the Wall Street Journal.
Playboy’s appeal to female readers, though, is no accident. According to the Journal, the magazine is losing ground, so chairman Christie Hefner is trying to recruit women to the magazine through celebrity pictorials, a female-friendly web site and a clothing line. This may be a tall order, but if the results of the Crawford and Witt issues are any indication, attracting women to the magazine isn’t impossible.
I decided to see what all the fuss was about, so I went in search of the Katarina Witt issue. I finally found a copy in a convenience store near my local SkyTrain station. Upon perusing the feature in question—purely in the interests of investigative journalism, of course—I found that what Witt had to say was more important then what she had to show.
“Basically, I have a very comfortable feeling about my body,” she told Playboy. “I was ready to do this…I’m proud of these photos… The pictures are beautiful and pure and natural. They’re nude, but they still have a feeling of innocence.”
What comes though clearly is the voice of a confident woman who chose to display her body for personal aesthetic reasons, and enjoyed doing it. It was the same when she skated competitively: “People said the costumes were too sexy, too low-cut, but I think my costumes always supported my program,” she said. “I hope I brought more passion to ice skating than most skaters, and maybe more sensuality as well.”
In a similar way, Crawford consciously chose to pose because she wanted to assert control over her image. “People have to compartmentalize me,” she told the media. “They can’t deal with a woman who has a serious career taking off her clothes and being sexy. I don’t want to turn into the Redbook girl too young. I still want to do different things, to take chances with my career.”
The idea that women could find posing nude to be liberating might seem odd, but that’s only because feminists have controlled the politics and language of pornography, sex and equality. In the feminist world view, magazines like Playboy are exploitative because they reduce women to “sex objects.”
So long as men lust after beautiful naked women in these magazines, women can’t rise out of their subordinate social, economic and political status. Consequently, sex and sexual attractiveness, like everything else, becomes politicized.
Not surprisingly, this new women’s liberation doesn’t go over well with feminists at Ms. magazine. “It seems absurd. If ever there were a time that women had the most credibility in the music scene it’s now,” its pop music critic told the Globe and Mail. “It’s so frustrating for me. It’s baffling.” Of course, the connection between credibility and nudity is asserted not proven, and why she should be frustrated is irrelevant.
Feminists may not like it, but sex appeal is becoming fun again. Hefner calls the new feminists “pro-sex,” but to include these women under the name “feminist” reduces the term to meaninglessness. “Independent” is better, because it confirms the decline of feminist group-think and the rise of “re-liberated” women who prefer to assert themselves as they see fit.
This evolution has been credited to Madonna and the way she manipulated her sexual persona to superstardom. As Rolling Stone music editor Joe Levy told the Globe, she made it possible for the likes of Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette and P.J. Harvey to take control of their respective images.
The idea that sex sells is hardly new or noteworthy, but it is important that successful, wealthy women today are choosing to use their physical appeal in a way that would have been unthinkable five or 10 years ago. The Sept. 3 cover of Rolling Stone, for example, features Twain in a most beautiful, sensual Botticelliesque pose.
Certainly, women are more than sex objects, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be objects of sex if they want to be. Morevoer, there’s nothing indecent or oppressive or “sexist” about anyone of either sex enjoying them.