One shirt changed my perception of my classmate Raquel. It was the seventh grade – the awkward year of the transition from kids to hormonal teenagers. Boys no longer had cooties, and crushes turned into after-school dates, but for a majority of us, having sex was still far in the future. Despite this, many girls in my school received the promiscuous labels, and Raquel was one of them based solely on her attire. She didn’t wear crop tops, see-through shirts or the low-rise jeans that were against school dress code. Instead she wore was a white shirt with a picture of a bunny in a tux—infamously known as the logo for adult magazine, Playboy.
I didn’t know my classmate very well. We were cordial to one another, and yet that simple t-shirt caused an instant judgment to form in my mind. In my opinion, it was tacky and tasteless, and she was making herself a target for snickers and demeaning remarks. I was confused as to why she would wear it, and even more confused as to how she got away with it. The same school that banned jean jackets and camouflage for gang affiliation allowed a young girl to wear clothing associated with pornography. I also wondered how she got it past her religiously devout Muslim parents.
I thought maybe she wore it to rebel against religious expectations, or maybe because she thought it would give her a cute and flirtatious look. Perhaps she desired any sort of attention, or she was completely naïve and unaware of what that image stood for. After all, logos are a popular merchandise trend, and what would make this one any different? Should we judge a female’s sexual reputation on the shirt she wears?
What strikes me even more is that there are kids able to recognize the image and the assumed negativity, while a teenage girl casually flaunts the apparel.
Playboy was founded in Chicago in December 1953 by 27-year old Hugh Hefner. The logo was designed by artist Art Paul, who needed just a half hour to draw the iconic bunny. Hefner thought a rabbit would be the perfect choice for a mascot due to the animal’s “sexual connotation” that would offer a “frisky and playful” image. The tuxedo was later added to bring a sense of sophistication and class. It also stood apart from other magazines such as Esquire and The New Yorker that used men as their icons. The bunny first appeared in the second issue and has appeared in every issue since. It not only served as the magazine logo but became a widely recognizable part of pop culture.
“If I had any idea how important that little rabbit was going to be, I probably would have redrawn him a dozen times to make certain I was doing him justice…” artist Paul said.
When people see the bunny, they think of bleached blondes with large bust sizes, sexy lingerie and Hef wearing his usual silk robe and surrounded by beautiful young women. They are reminded of Playboy itself with its plethora of nudes and celebrity Playmates.
In 2000, the company’s value reached $1 billion, and it now has a total circulation of more than 1 million. Even if someone has never looked at an issue they still know Playboy and its popular associations.
Creating merchandise benefits the company even more, but most of it is not targeted towards its male audience. On its website, there is double the amount of women’s apparel than men’s. You can even find the bunny shirts in malls and chain stores, popular shopping areas for teen girls. Everything from bikinis and panties, to pink necklaces and bed sheets, Playboy merchandise is dominated by feminine items.
Since the magazine attracts a male audience, they seek to also reach the female population and gain some sort of profit from them. Not only are women giving their money to the big company, but they also become a walking advertisement. Playboy knows how recognizable its image is and uses it as an advantage. It is possible that if a guy’s girlfriend starts wearing a Playboy shirt, it shows that she is accepting of the company, and it might inspire him to subscribe. And if women know the associations with the logo, then why become a consumer and wear it at all?
I asked several UAlbany students, male and female, how they would perceive a young girl wearing a t-shirt with the Bunny. Most admitted that “slut” would instantly pop into their heads. A male student commented that my choice to write about Playboy might cause some to consider me promiscuous. However, some thought differently and would assume the girl was going for an edgy look. A female student said she would view her as preppy, trying way too hard.
I made sure to phrase the question with “young girl” because so often do they become subjected to sexualized trends — especially in this case.
Most of them are aware of the logo’s associations, but they embrace it and use it as a way to rebel against feminine norms. It makes them feel flirty and seductive without having to expose a lot of skin, while also appearing highly sexual without sexual acts. Insecurity drives them to seek any attention, and they want to become as desired as the women in the magazine. Television shows like The Girls Next Door and Kendra make it look fun and socially acceptable to be a Playmate; they don’t realize the consequences of the clothing and how tarnishing it is to their reputation.
In a Los Angeles Times interview, political activist and founder of feminist Ms. magazine, Gloria Steinem said, “If men could get public notice by taking their clothes off, they would be taking their clothes off! The culture still rewards women for certain types of behavior.” Steinem is also known for her article “The Bunny Tales,” published in 1963, where she exposed the female exploitation and inappropriate treatment in the Playboy Club.
Media and society tell teenage girls to dress a certain way and purchase the latest trends, but then they are penalized for doing something they were influenced to do. Why are they rewarded for some provocative behaviors instead of others? Sex can be found almost anywhere in our daily advertisements. It becomes embedded in the minds of our youths at a time of vulnerability and insecurity. Some women may feel empowered to wear the Bunny, viewing it as a form of expressing sexuality, but wearing that animal gives power to a company known for exploitation. In the end they are fulfilling the magazine’s goal—to bring pleasure to men.
It amazes me something as simple as a cartoon rabbit could have so much power over individuals. That’s the thing about symbols – they provoke images that are stronger than what’s visible to the human eye.
We can assume that no matter what Playboy does in the future, the “sophisticated” bunny will continue to be associated with nudity and erotic pleasures. As long as society rewards and expects a provocative appearance, young girls will continue to become blind to the truth behind their choice of clothing.
T-shirts become torn and faded, but the pictures they leave behind can remain within our minds for years to come—especially if it has a well dressed critter on front.
Lisa is a journalism student at UAlbany, originally from Brookyln. She is a radio DJ for WCDB Albany, and is a proud coffee and astrology junky.