The news that Playboy will no longer be publishing images of “fully nude women” within the pages of its print magazine is not as “radical” as it might sound. This was a profit-driven decision, plain and simple. The magazine, in the age of internet pornography, has become unnecessary and irrelevant. Why would men buy magazines to look at nipples when they could just open their laptops and get gangbangs?
Last year the website went “safe-for-work” as part of their effort to rebrand and in order to access to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and the traffic they bring in. Like their recent decision about the print version of the magazine, this had nothing to do with a rejection of objectification and everything to do with a changing marketplace. I mean, essentially their choice was to go full on PornHub, or try to get more actual readers in somehow. Ravi Somaiya at The New York Times writes:
“Its executives admit that Playboy has been overtaken by the changes it pioneered. ‘That battle has been fought and won,’ said Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive. ‘You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.’”
One of the few models working these days seems to be Vice, so it’s unsurprising Playboy execs are vying for their audience. Unlike so many other traditional news media outlets, most of whom are laying off staff and making cuts all over the place, Vice continues to expand. So Playboy will, naturally, be going after an audience similar to Vice’s, albeit “the guy with a job.”
So what does this all mean for women? Well, nothing. Playboy will continue to feature sexualized images of women in the magazine, they just won’t have nipples. (Because as we all know, the problem with pornography is nipples.) As Playboy CEO Scott Flanders says, “Sexy, beautiful women that men aspire to want to have attracted to them, that will never change in the DNA of Playboy…”
Cory Jones, a top editor at Playboy clarified that “There will still be a Playmate of the Month, but the pictures will be ‘PG-13’ and less produced — more like the racier sections of Instagram.”
And in case you haven’t visited Instagram lately, it’s pretty porny, despite the fact that Instagram’s “community guidelines” ask users not to share “graphic nudity” and every so often images that show the ever-odious nipple are taken down. In fact, Instagram is kind of the perfect place for Playboy. The male gaze — internalized or not — rules, from belfies to photoshopped selfies to promotional ads for bars to Sluts Against Harper.
What also won’t change in this move is Playboy’s commitment to coopting the feminist movement for profit. In fact, without the (technical) porn and with the help of so-called “sex-positive feminism,” they’ve got even more leeway to claim they’re “pro-woman.” Jones says the magazine will have a sex columnist who will be a “sex-positive female,” to write “enthusiastically” and uncritically about male-centered sexuality.
Even team Playboy admits the degradation and Americanization of politics continues to help their cause. Somaiya writes, “[Flanders and Jones] feel that the magazine remains relevant, not least because the world has gradually adopted Mr. Hefner’s libertarian views on a variety of social issues.”
Playboy is just giving the world what it wants. Nipple-free, it plans to become just like all the other liberal, bro-centric magazines out there, all of whom also caught on to the idea that there is a neoliberal version of “feminism” that’s totally sellable, will never challenge their corporate backers, and will definitely never spout a critical word about class oppression or male dominance.
Playboy hasn’t failed — Playboy won. They are merely being forced to adapt to the world they created.