I woke up this morning and saw the news that Hugh Hefner passed away, at 91.
I know there are many mixed feelings about him, and about the business he conducted during his life, but I’ve always admired him as the leader of the sexual revolution, a cutting-edge publisher, and an activist for women’s rights, civil rights, and equality.
In college, I cheered when “Playboy” came to town – complete with its writers and famous photographers. I had my photo taken as part of an audition for a college issue of “Playboy”, and although I didn’t make the cut, I was interviewed and featured in the Baton Rouge newspaper, and had an op-ed on Playboy.com and in my college newspaper (shoutout to “The Reveille”!).
As I said then, I’ve always associated “Playboy” with some of the most beautiful, iconic women of our time: Anna Nicole Smith, Vanna White, and Madonna, among many others. “Playboy” celebrated sex in a way that made it socially acceptable for women to admit they enjoyed sex, and they enjoyed it before marriage.
The magazine highlighted social issues over the years and was used as a platform to highlight the AIDS crisis, support gay rights, and announced its support for abortion eight years before Roe v. Wade. Hefner funded the reward money to resolve a civil rights case and established a foundation that supports rape crisis centers and the Kinsey Institute.
In my bathroom, I’ve got a small collection of framed “Playboy” covers from the 60s and 70s, including one that features one of Hefner’s girlfriends, Barbi Benton, playing a game of chess (with bunny pieces, of course). Benton was famously featured in the magazine four times and was trusted at the center of the “Playboy” enterprise. She even founded the Playboy mansion west, it’s most famous location in California.
In 2006, I traveled to Los Angeles for the first time and was lucky enough to take a trip to Playboy Radio, where models of all sorts were interviewed for the radio show. It was just another side to the industry Hefner created.
On the way to work this morning, a radio show I like was trying to decide if Hefner was generally a thumbs up or a thumbs down for women. I’m sticking to it and saying he’s a thumbs up. Yes, I’ve heard about some of the things that happen at the playboy Mansion, but I’m chalking that up to environment and culture. People will be people.
I’m thankful for Hefner paving the way in publishing; for celebrating women’s bodies and our right to have sex like men. I’m thankful for his contributions to social justice.
Stay cool, Hef.