This story appears in the March/April 2017 issue of Playboy. Subscribe

When I first began to play with the idea of doing a pictorial for the magazine, I was primarily motivated by two factors. It was not only to support my fiancé, Cooper Hefner, who is the Chief Creative Officer of Playboy, but also an opportunity to make a statement about equality between the two sexes.

As this issue was being put together, Cooper and I had a conversation one evening about the possibility of PLAYBOY publishing a photograph of a woman on the cover showing her breasts. He explained that it would be risky considering some advertisers and business partners would likely take issue with it. The conversation made me think more about the role women are expected to inhabit.

Having the opportunity to be part of an iconic American brand that has fought to make sex and other topics considered taboo more mainstream seemed like a unique and special occasion. But the more I thought it over, the more hesitant I became. Simply, my interests lie elsewhere, and modeling has never been a professional north star in my life. The second and more important point is that when women associate themselves with anything involving ownership of their sexuality, they’re often perceived as having abandoned their intellect.

Shooting for the magazine meant that I could be part of a conversation about women unfolding in real time.

Was it just me who thought it was absurd that if PLAYBOY published a topless woman on the cover and Men’s Health put a man on the cover in a similar pose, PLAYBOY would be the one to be put behind blinders? When I considered that fact, it became clear in that moment that it didn’t have anything to do with PLAYBOY. It was about the double standards still being applied to gender roles.

The fact that women continue to be second-class citizens around the world was inherent even within this particular situation. Many in society continue to diminish female intellect, deny them ownership of their sexuality, reject feminism and all else that makes being a woman so powerful. It starts with equal pay and goes all the way to free the nipple.

As I continued exploring these themes and asked myself, “What does it means to be a feminist today?” it became clear that shooting for the magazine meant that I could be a part of a conversation about women unfolding in real time. As we flood the streets marching for choice, health care rights and freedom of expression, I realized how important this was to me. It’s about equality. It’s about liberation.

As we fight for these important issues, you begin to realize how ridiculous it is that the world makes a big deal out of whether or not I’m wearing a top. It’s time we let women own everything that men have had permission to occupy by themselves for far too long. 

Click for the non-nude outtakes of Scarlett Byrne’s Playboy pictorial.