[NSFW] I recently came into possession of a stack of French Playboys from the early ’90s. They were a vestige from a former occupant casually left behind or my friend, the new renter. She took one look and ceremoniously handed me the box saying, “You have to look at these, they are incredible,” and so look I have. From Novembre 1992 to Mars 1996, I have a dazzling display of tanned breasts fanning out before my eyes. And recorded for posterity, here is the trip I took down Playboy Lane.
The first thing that struck my eye was a Janvier 1993 cover that invites you to read their exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein. In it, the now-executed former dictator explains that he always tries to keep good relations with other countries, including the United States. He goes on to blame Bush’s aggressive policy on Iraq for his failure to be reelected and calls the Gulf War just another way to establish colonial exploitation of Iraq’s petrol.
I turn the page, completely lost in thought over the interview and am greeted by the tan breasts of a blonde ski bunnie named Morgan Fox. She is a fan of the gym, both weights and aerobics. But now I want more articles and so I began flipping the pages with a sort of unrequited fever for vintage journalism. I flip past two blonde twins whose large natural breasts and saucer-sized nipples would be considered unsightly by today’s standards and arrive upon an article labeled: The Dictators. Duvalier, Bokassa, Amin Dada, Pinochet, Polpot, Batista and Franco are all laid out with various facts, figures and pictures. I am wrapped up in a sense of history as I browse the stories and compare it to the state of current events. Bebe Doc has just returned to Haiti following Haiti’s reconstruction after the Earthquake, but this article brings all the scars of his reign back into clear focus. The incarceration of opposition, the bullshit reelections, and thousands tortured and murdered by his regime. I turn the page.
Vicky Smith, now known as the late Anna Nicole Smith, is near the back of the magazine as is Stephanie Seymour, Cindy Crawford and Pamela Anderson with her original cheekbones. The next magazine offers photos of Elizabeth Gracen, the “Other Girlfriend of Bill Clinton.” This one is marked as Novembre 1992, and follows up the cover with a ten page spread of the woman in question who, at the time was denying that the events took place, until later in 1998 when she admitted to a one-night stand with the former president in 1982. Not exactly a scandal so much as a way to hype the rare brunette cover. Yet the article that is attached is damning on both her actions and those of former President Clinton.
A well written history of Jazz and Rock is followed up with a Naked Bridesmaids pictorial and then comes a section called Vivid Black. In it a black woman lies across a motorcycle dressed in a sparkling ripped body suit. The typeset reads: Like the soul of the devil, they are both black. But one has wheels and the other has curves. Which one do you prefer to ride? After that are cartoons in which a nurse sucks the dick of a dying man and, after he shoots a load in her mouth, she spits out his soul and he ascends to heaven. I take a second to ruminate on the fact that first class journalism would be followed up with the kind of cartoons my brothers drew when they were twelve.
The Special Humor addition with Leslie Nielson is less interview with the famed (now deceased–notice a theme?) funnyman and more him posing in famous cinematic scenes of his past with naked women. Fun for Mr. Nielson perhaps, boring for me. This is followed up by a montage of naked women yawning (funny because they’re bored?) and naked women sticking their tongues out at the camera.
I put the Playboys down with a strange feeling in my stomach. It is one that remains unsure if we’ve actually progressed in the realm of socially accepted female sexuality since the Janvier of 1993. The women back then are certainly larger and more curvaceous than the flesh we see exhibited in pictures that grace both Playboy and popular women’s magazines such as Cosmo or Glamour. There was no size zero when Cindy Crawford was rolling around in sand for the photographers. The women are more natural, and proudly display some bodies that would be dismissed today as “too chubby” or “too droopy” by today’s industry standard.
So I am left with a bag of mixed emotions. I showed the magazine to a male friend of mine and the first thing he said was, “Whoah, take a look at that bush!” The woman had normal pubic hair, but being twenty-seven, he’d grown up in an age where all of his girlfriends either shaved, waxed or trimmed their pubic hair into oblivion. He explained later, after my chastising rebuttal of, “Oh no, natural female bodies!” that he’d never actually been with a woman who had more than a thin line running down her mons pubis, and it had honestly just taken him by surprise. So on one hand I feel like these magazines display relics. A time when a woman’s natural form was actually appreciated and considered ideal. Then again, it still represents a whole bag of objectification that I can’t even begin to unpack without writing a novel.
Yet it does leave me wondering where is left to go? If we have moved so far beyond the natural female form that even large breasted, thin women of the ’90s seem like revolutionary models, what on Earth can the future hold for female beauty modification? I suppose that’s the final emotion this stack of glossy bodies and in depth reporting has left me with: apprehension. I miss the journalism and the thick thighs. The age of Salt n’ Pepper. Nostalgia. And if French Playboy’s from the ’90s are giving me emotions, I fear what stirrings Maxims from the early 2000s will create in me, should I happen to find a stack of them, some twenty years from now.