Misjudging Playboy Bunnies
By Natalie Serafini, Opinions Editor
An acquaintance of mine is emphatic in asserting that being a Bunny at the Playboy Mansion in the ‘60s is the pinnacle of the ideal life. This always seemed preposterous to me; the idea of romanticizing a job that values you for your appearance—and would be quick to devalue you should said appearance become less than lovely—immediately gets my brow a-furrowing and my judgment a-jumping. Who would want to objectify themselves like that, and why would a job with such little longevity hold any appeal?
Although my apprehension about jobs that value appearance holds strong, I’ve definitely changed my mind about judging those whose goal it is to get such a job. I was specifically off-put by the idealization of Bunnies—possibly as a result of Hef becoming grosser with each additional crease in his face, and his long line of blondes who never seem to get any older than 30—but there’s nothing inherently wrong with Bunnyhood. To say that choosing to be a Bunny isn’t a perfectly reasonable goal is to say that models shouldn’t want to model, or that those who earn money for their looks are “just a pretty face.” Besides which, there’s no justifying a goal: a passion’s a passion, and it’s as simple as that.
Yet somehow Bunnyhood leaves itself open to criticism, which is perhaps understandable considering its history. Playboy has long been the subject of controversy for its treatment of the Bunnies, notably because of an exposé by Gloria Steinem. Fifty years ago, Gloria Steinem went undercover as a Playboy Bunny and wrote about her experience. Her tale of wearing the tail, titled “I was a Playboy Bunny,” recounts the interviewing process, her transformation into a Bunny, and the demanding aspects of the job. There were demerits for messy hair, missing a makeup appointment, eating while on the job, or calling the room director by his first name. Private detectives were reportedly hired by the club to check women for heels that were too low (a minimum of three inches), crooked or unmatched ears, and “tails in good order” (and a difficult feat it must have been to keep that tail in order—it was apparently a customer favourite to tweak it). Despite being promised $200 per week, the pay was often much lower, and the tips earned went directly to management.
Compare Playboy to the Lingerie Football League (LFL): the LFL is frequently under fire, and rightfully so, because of the ways in which it exploits their football players. Apart from the fact that the women are required to traipse about the football field in lingerie and protective gear that might as well be a ripped condom, the athletes are not financially compensated, and their health is a backseat consideration to their appearance. Perhaps saddest of all is that these women want to play football, and this is one of the few outlets for them to do so.
Bunnyhood isn’t exactly the same—the ultimate goal for the players in the LFL is to play football, whereas a part of the goal in being a Bunny is assumedly linked to appearance—but they’re comparable. The Bunnies of the ‘60s were exploited and treated pretty disdainfully because it’s easy to take advantage of someone when they’re desperate to pursue their dream. True, no one’s forcing women to play in the LFL, just as no one forced the ‘60s Bunnies to don their tails and ears. Yet if what you desperately want—whether it’s to play football or to be surrounded by glamour and sophistication—comes with a few G-strings attached, isn’t it possible that you’d put up with some unpleasantness? Doing so shouldn’t make you the object of judgment; instead, it should encourage sympathy.
I’d been quick to deem dreaming of being a Bunny as ludicrous, but whatever the ultimate goal is, that’s the dreamer’s business. Judgment should not be on those who are pursuing their goals, and who are doing so by the means necessary and available; instead, the focus should be on how they’re treated. Obviously if an employer is exploitative they should be assessed, but there’s no reason to pass judgment on the employee— especially if they’re being exploited.