What Working at Playboy Has Taught Me About Feminism

by Raya Carmona

Admittedly, when I first applied to a job at Playboy almost one year ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew a little bit about the brand. I knew some of my favorite writers – Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, and Chuck Palahniuk had written for the magazine. I knew that beautiful, naked women also graced the pages. And of course, I knew that the brand carried a stigma. 

With that being said, I still applied enthusiastically. Unlike some other women, I grew up with a surprisingly positive view of Playboy. While others may have been raised in an environment where “Playboy” was synonymous with a four-letter word or something only bad grown-ups looked at, mine was not the case. 

I was raised by a very liberal, independent, single mother who worked too many jobs, and a sister who was 12 years my senior. She was 21 years old in 2001. A real 90’s girl. So, while mothers shuffled their children onto the bus for field trips in their cardigans and now ever-so-stylish mom-jeans, my sister was chaperoning me – low-cut Brazilian pants, baby blue glitter Playboy purse, and all. 

Of course, like all young girls I wanted to be just like my cool older sister. Cue my affinity for the iconic Playboy logo. 

During my interview process in November 2017, two things stood out to me. 

First, as I was led through the building by my future boss, we casually strolled by someone’s office, and they had a giant neon sign that glared, “Ass City.” 

Second, out of the 6 people I had to interview with, 5 were women. 

I was sold. 

As I began to make friends in the office, I couldn’t help but notice the culture. While I had been conditioned to believe that too many women in a work environment could sometimes lead to competitiveness, and even cattiness, I quickly learned that I wouldn’t have to worry about those things. Everyone was incredibly helpful and sweet. The other women went out of their way to get to know me and ask me about my goals and aspirations at the company. Most importantly though, I noticed how many women there were in leadership positions – and let me tell you, they are all amazing. The women I work with are fun but serious about their jobs, smart and beautiful, and pretty much overall bad-asses. They’re the kind of women that, every day, I learn how to be a better person from. 

These aren’t the only women at Playboy I look up to though. The Playmates and Bunnies that I’ve met on sets or at events embody every single one of those qualities as well. They are equally as fierce, and smart, and independent. The only difference is that they choose to be naked a bit more often. 

I will say that nudity has never really been a huge deal to me – as you probably noticed by the accompanying photos or a quick scroll through my Instagram. I attribute that in part to growing up with two very uninhibited young women. With that being said, I do think a lot of girls, even those who may seem totally cool and confident, still carry a bit of chagrin at the thought of showing skin, or even a little judgment toward women who choose to. We’ve been conditioned to think this way. I used to get nerves before posting a somewhat sexy photo on Instagram. Thoughts like “What if that guy I’m talking to thinks less of me when he sees this?” or “Will my friends judge me for posting this picture?” would go through my head. 

After working at Playboy, I don’t think much of those things anymore. 

It’s not that I hadn’t always had these thoughts or considered myself a feminist. It’s that I think the more you’re around women who are strong and confident and own their sexuality, the more you respect those qualities and in turn become confident in yourself. I think that’s a big part of feminism – respecting your fellow woman’s right to do what they want and respecting yourself to do what you want, without worrying about what anyone thinks. 

Another thing I’ve found through working at Playboy, is that I notice things that I probably wouldn’t have noticed before. 

One of the biggest things is the way that Playmates are described in the news, like when they’re seen out with a celebrity for example. To the media, and to many women, they’re not a real person. Hell, most of the time, they’re nameless – reduced simply to “Playboy Model.” “Oh, did you hear so-and-so was seen out with a Playboy model?” As if her decision to be nude for the magazine defined her. As if it made her less-than-worthy. 

This angered me to my core. It made me furious. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed how fucked up it was if I hadn’t worked for the brand myself. I guess it makes it more personal, but I’ve learned that making things personal can really open up perspective, even if it upsets you more. It’s important to be upset, you know? If you’re not upset right now, in this climate, you’re really not paying attention. 

I think that’s what I love about Playboy. In many ways, it feels like we’ve come a long way for feminism. Yet, a woman wants the right to pose naked, or enjoy sex, or choose sex as a career, and all of the sudden we’re jumping three steps back. “Oh my god, a woman taking her clothes off? Oh my god, a woman enjoying sex? Alert the media!” 

Well, guess what? We are the media, and it’s totally cool with us. 

With all of this being said, I understand why some woman have their qualms about the brand. Truthfully, you can say whatever you want about Playboy starting out as self-serving, or that Hugh Hefner wasn’t exactly an angel, or that everything the company’s done hasn’t been perfect, but I can say with certainty that the Playboy brand has made countless women feel like they could bare it all, feel sexy, and completely own that side of them, without it taking away from their other qualities. That has to count for something, right? 

Not to mention that they showed that this woman could be a woman of color. Whether it was Jennifer Jackson who became the first black Playmate of the Month in 1965, or what has since become the iconic image in 1971, Darine Stern becoming the first black woman to appear on the cover of Playboy solo, the brand has never shied away from accepting all women. I won’t even get into the fact that for years, Playboy has wholeheartedly thrown their support behind legalizing abortion, sex education, birth control, and destigmatizing sex-work. 

Basically, Playboy has taught me that feminism is ever-evolving. In this polarizing political climate, people on both sides are tired of labels and the harsh culture of outrage. They’re just “over it.” The thing is though, feminsim is not something that one can just be “over.” It is not something that can be described in one word. It’s just as important today as it was during women’s suffrage, as well as in the second and third wave. I’m not discrediting what those movements have accomplished or how far we’ve come – but we still have a lot of work to do. 

You see, I have this vivid memory of instances that came from growing up in a “you can’t show your shoulders because it will distract the boys” and a “make sure you don’t act a certain way so you don’t end up in a sticky situation” culture – back before the fourth-wave of feminism. I look back, especially after working for Playboy, and think – that’s such a fucked-up mentality. What I wear and how I act does not determine my consent nor does it give anyone the right to act a certain way towards me. I can be sexy, and sexual, and that doesn’t mean that I’m not also funny and intelligent and respectable. I can be both, and that feels pretty damn good. 

BY RAYA CARMONA

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ASHLEY WILHARDT