I have a vivid childhood memory of a group of children, myself included, sneaking over to a teenage boy neighbor’s house and he would show us Playboy centerfolds through his window screen. That kid was a bit perverted showing such material to little kids but I remember being fascinated. I remember thinking how beautiful and glamorous those women looked. I was too young to wonder if they felt objectified or if they were being photographed on their own terms. They were just really pretty, perfect ladies.
In the years that followed, I didn’t give much thought to Playboy other than knowing it was a thing that my friends’ dads had hidden under their beds. I mean, I was peripherally aware of Hugh Hefner and parties at the Playboy Mansion but none of that was of interest. Now, with the news of his death this week, I am interested in understanding more about his life and his influence on society and sexuality. As one who also speaks openly about embracing sexuality and ignoring societal norms, I am digging into the life of Hugh Hefner with utter fascination.
One thing is for sure, Hef knew how to live. He spent the majority of his life in gorgeous custom-made silk pajamas and slippers, day and night, (this is my strategy on many days too – though not so much silk involved…). He moved his office into his bedroom – something I am seriously considering! He kept a schedule of nightly activities including new movies on Mondays, poker on Wednesdays, parties on Friday and surrounded himself with incredibly interesting and diverse people, world-class jazz and the finest liquor. He was a champion of non-monogamy way ahead of its time. In many ways, he lived his life the way I recommend to single women in their 40’s and 50’s to live theirs. Hmmmmm…..
Hef is also an incredibly controversial man. There is a fantastic post growing by the second in my Facebook feed. From a friend: “Wait. What’s all this “RIP Hef” crap. Am I missing something? Objectification of women? Promotion of unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of beauty? Purveyor of toxic masculinity and chauvinism? F that guy. Really.” Comments on this post are everything from complete agreement to total disagreement with some commenters noting that Hef loved and empowered women, supported birth control and donated vast amounts of money to Planned Parenthood. The comments in the NY Times and nearly every other article I’ve read are similarly disparate.
According to the NY Times, “The Playboy Philosophy advocated freedom of speech in all its aspects, for which Mr. Hefner won civil liberties awards. He supported progressive social causes and lost some sponsors by inviting black guests to his televised parties at a time when much of the nation still had Jim Crow laws.” The magazine was also known for publishing serious interviews with the likes of Jimmy Carter, James Baldwin and John Updike (to name a few).
I have a lot more reading to do to fully form an opinion but if Hugh Hefner, at a minimum, made us more aware of and accepting of human sexuality (he backed the Kinsey Institute’s research into sex), that’s a huge contribution. He would say that women can and do enjoy sex, and they should be allowed to show it. Points for that. He was also a great example of living an incredibly robust life. A life full of freedom. The kind of freedom I am constantly speaking about. I’ll leave you with his most famous quote, “Life is too short to be living somebody else’s dream.”