Does nudity discredit intellect? That’s the question six female writers of various backgrounds wanted to present in our pages when they approached Playboy last fall. It’s a question that illuminates how views on feminism continue to shift post #MeToo: what it looks like, who can participate, the greater purpose. In think pieces, academic discussions, podcasts and tweets, society is still contending with women who reject the notion that sexual expression and success must be mutually exclusive. In a time when conversations about sex are increasingly politicized, these journalists, columnists and authors are uniting to speak out on what it means to be simultaneously autonomous, successful, proud and powerful. In a word, free.
Taylor Ferber, Celebrity Whisperer
Here’s the thing about being a reporter: People like to tell you what to ask and how to do your job. Ironic, given journalists are supposed to be protectors of free speech, right? VH1 once “suspended” me for being critical of a celebrity in an article. My words have been stifled by publications that claim to be progressive and feminist but are intolerant of views outside their editors’ comfort zones. Last year, The Blast, in a piece called “Morgan Freeman Openly Objectifies Female Reporter During Press Interview,” attempted to portray me as another #MeToo victim. The story was widely reported, but Freeman, though accused of harassment by other women, didn’t make me feel uncomfortable during our interview. I published an op-ed piece denouncing the article.
And so, throughout my career I’ve adopted one consistent message: Don’t tell me what I can and can’t say. In this era, too many people are torn down, devalued and ruined for saying something others don’t agree with. People attempt to silence one another under the belief that opposing views don’t deserve equal consideration. Many probably perceive this very story as something female journalists shouldn’t do lest we risk our reputations, our professionalism.
Yes, we’re showcasing our bodies and inviting you to look. No, none of that discredits our intellect, womanhood, integrity or ability to tell a story. I can no longer feed into a narrative that says displaying one’s beauty, brains and body are mutually exclusive. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be a Centerfold or a woman who can bring a story to life with pen and paper. They’re different forms of creative expression. A woman’s ability to exhibit either form, or both, without judgment? That’s freedom.
I hope you see in these photos the beautiful female form in all its glory. Go ahead, call these women sexy. When you do, remember we are all writers, journalists and thinkers helping to shape the world you live in via what you read, armed with nothing more than our intelligence and an unapologetic love for words.
Taylor Ferber writes about pop culture and entertainment, with bylines on Vulture, Bustle, UsMagazine.com and Fandango.
Megan Stubbs, Master of Sex
I’m sure you’ve seen my breasts by now. If not, take another look above—I’m standing there, in the middle, holding the handbag. Nice, right? Has your opinion of me changed now that you’ve seen my breasts? Unfortunately for some of you, it may have.
Such judgment originates with critics who don’t want to live in a world where women have nipples and own their bodies. Despite my authority on the topic, this story may reduce me in some people’s minds to nothing more than another woman who got naked for attention. In fact, I’m honored to be featured in Playboy for both my words and my flesh. To be part of this iconic brand, and to have the reach of its platform for sharing my ideas, is truly amazing and affirming.
In a society starved for honest, accurate information about sex, sexuality, relationships and body image, it is my mission to provide a fresh lens through my reporting. Shining a light on complicated topics such as the increase in male infertility and rising male interest in anal sex, being mindful of inclusion and bringing a sensitivity to ethnic diversity rooted in my own complex heritage are at the forefront of my work as a sex educator turned journalist. It’s wrong to relate my comfort with baring my flesh—no, owning it—to my intellectual worth.
As feminists, it’s our right to determine what empowers us. For some, that may be modesty; for others, it may be nudity. Neither is right or wrong. It’s about individuality. If the thought of seeing someone nude diminishes your opinion of his or her worth or authority, I’d encourage you to ask yourself why.
Even with all this said, some will be displeased with me. That’s okay. I’m not here to make you happy. I’m not a problem.
Megan Stubbs is a board certified sexologist and public speaker who writes about sex and relationships for Playboy.com.
Helen Donahue, Feminist Firebrand
Most men, I believe, imagine that feminism imbues every fiber of a woman’s existence. Those men don’t understand feminism. It is equality and freedom, but it also allows for imperfection—the ability to be flawed, both clothed and unclothed. I’m now attempting, through my writing, to make feminism more accessible to a Gen Z audience that may be alienated by modern media’s lack of consideration for them. It is important to tell young women today that being a feminist doesn’t mean blindly voting for any woman who runs for Congress. Or any woman who runs for president.
Coming into 2019 I’m no longer accepting the role that has tried to confine me since 2017. I have too many components, too many contradictions and complexities. In my teens and early 20s, I struggled with my mental health. At one point I was simultaneously a postgrad academic and a stripper. Today, I’m a writer who has the freedom to publish my thoughts even though my editors know they’ll trigger a backlash. No one will ever be able to identify me as this or that.
Knowing myself, I’ll continue to enrage and surprise people. I’ll continue to bring attention to wrongdoing, especially when minorities’ rights are threatened. I’ve abandoned much of the terminology that compromised the 2016 election—SJWisms such as smash the patriarchy—to speak directly to young people, who I hope read my op-ed pieces without pigeonholing them as feminist arguments. We need to let the next generation know that women (and men) are not just falling in line. We’ll speak up, write and report whenever we detect fissures in particular arguments. I want people to see that feminists can be intelligent and not take everything seriously—but take the correct things seriously. We can also choose to be naked. That’s the beauty of it.
Helen Donahue has written for Vice and Quartz and is a contributing writer for Playboy.com. She previously served as Super Deluxe’s social media director and as an editor for Hearst Digital Media.
Andrea Werhun, Modern Whore
Like the other women featured in these pages, I’m a writer. My book, Modern Whore: A Memoir, published in 2017, is about the two glamorous and grotesque years I spent working as an escort in Toronto. It features 27 short stories that run the gamut from funny and thoughtful to erotic and disturbing, sprinkled with some 60 (mostly nude) film stills of yours truly taken by filmmaker Nicole Bazuin. Come for the provocative pictures, stay for the pro–sex work feminist manifesto.
As a sex worker, I’m no stranger to the argument that I can’t make decisions about my body, especially decisions pertaining to sex and money. My body is literally my business. Sex work is how I’ve made money while pursuing my career as a full-time writer and performer. Sex work is flexible, well-paying and, yes, fun. It’s not for everyone, but it’s ideal for me, and I’m not alone. I’m not an exception to some rule; I’m part of an ever-growing chorus of voices that demands we recognize sex work as work and sex workers as people worthy of love, respect and full protection under the law. I use my privilege to tell my story because so many of us cannot.
So, yes, you bet your ass I consider myself a feminist, and posing nude—whether for Playboy, for my book or as a sex worker—poses no contradiction. My body is mine, after all. I can do whatever I want with it, which happens to include putting its glorious truth on display for all to enjoy. You’re welcome.
Andrea Werhun is an author, performer and columnist who writes about sex and consent for Playboy.com. She has been featured in The New York Times and The Guardian and on CBC.
Sofia Barrett-Ibarria, Professional Sexplorer
For many women, our entire existence is politicized. Who we have sex with, when we have sex, how often, whether we procreate, whether we talk (or write) about it in the media, whether we take off our clothes for money—all the above decisions are political in today’s climate. We’ll always be sexualized without consent and shamed once we capitalize on that. That’s all the more true should we enjoy it.
I can’t imagine a time when I won’t feel painfully uncomfortable in my own body because of this. That is why I’ve devoted some of my journalism career to writing about sex for men’s magazines. It’s also why I’m taking off my clothes for one. I’m a hairy, bipolar bisexual with cellulite, stretch marks, self-inflicted scars and some strange moles. I’m not supposed to be in Playboy, but here I am. If I’m not making people uncomfortable, or making them question their views on sex, sexuality and human attraction, I’m not doing my job well. Aside from that, I think I’m hot, and I want you to look at me. It’s only human.
I see my work as a writer and my position in the media as ways to reclaim the narrative of my sexuality and define it in new terms. It’s a way to take back my image, body and voice in the medium I choose. As the Trump administration works to redefine sexuality, citizenship, the free press and countless other things, I recognize that the freedom to define my own existence is an incredible privilege. And I feel it’s my responsibility, and the responsibility of anyone working in journalism and news media, to preserve that freedom for others as well.
Sofia Barrett-Ibarria is a journalist who writes for Esquire, The Cut, Allure, Glamour, Dazed and Broadly.
Bruna Nessif, Multihyphenate Mogul
A turning point for me was remembering when I found a stash of Playboys in our garage as a kid. I opened up the pages and admired how the Playmates oozed confidence in their bare skin and how unabashed they were about their bodies. Those feelings have stuck with me throughout my life. When I moved into my first apartment, I covered my bedroom walls with photography of naked or scantily clad women because I wanted to become one of those women. Proud. Confident. Sexy. I was envious of their ability to embrace their bodies without feeling they had to sacrifice dignity.
It became obvious to me that I had been waiting for someone else to give me my freedom. I was waiting for permission to be sexy and smart, among many other things. After years of searching for external validation, I woke up. Yes, I can be a multidimensional woman. But the only person who can allow that is me. So I’ve granted myself the ability to explore and exude all parts of me.
Know this: It hasn’t always been easy. Even on set for this shoot, I found myself wondering if I would lose respect and credibility after this issue’s release. But you know what? It became easy to stop caring. I fought to become this woman. I’m proud of this woman. I always wanted to be this woman, and by giving myself that freedom to become her, I know now that no one can take her away from me.
Bruna Nessif is founder of The Problem With Dating, a website that covers the dating lives of young people. She’s a former entertainment journalist and editor for E! Online.