Posing Nude In Playboy Was NOT Liberating, But It DID Come With Serious Benefits

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Comedian Felicia Michaels Reveals What It Was Like To Pose For Playboy
Buzz, Sex

Because life, sexuality, and feminism are all complicated.

Yesterday I saw this statement from a fellow comic: “I feel female comics on Instagram have taken the lack of slut-shaming a little too far.”

I’ve got to be honest. I sometimes kinda feel the same way. There are a handful of female comedians who regularly post suggestive and provocative pictures of themselves on social media, and it kinda eats at me, but then I find myself struggling to understand why.

Just so you know, I haven’t always been a feminist, but I do play one now on Facebook with complete, utter, and hard-earned sincerity.

Here’s the kicker. I posed for Playboy back in the day — October of 1992, to be specific.

Which means that yup, I showed it all.

You know why? There are two major reasons.

Reason number one:

I grew up sneaking Playboy and, weirdly, True Detective magazines out of a box my parents kept in the hallway closet.

I loved looking at the beautiful bodies.

When I look at this picture now of me, all I can think about is that I had Thai food for lunch — and as a result, I was trying to suck my gut in as much as possible. Hence the severe look of concentration seen here. 

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Sometimes, I liked the warm feelings that would spread across my own body when sneaking those peeks, and sometimes those feelings scared me. Thinking back on those physical feelings now as a grown woman who has raised two boys, I think they were normal, and I'm glad I was able to experience them on my own terms, and absolutely no one else’s business.

By the way, I learned how to read from those magazines. And while I was never the type of kid that liked playing Cowboys and Indians, I did love the moments when I could get the rest of the neighborhood kids to play a rousing game of Hot Missing Brides and Strangers.

Reason number two:

I was a stripper for a few years in the 80s to pay the bills while doing the rounds of comedy open mic nights in Colorado and Los Angeles, meaning I was literally and figuratively grinding it out for comedy.

When I was offered Playboy, I had just had the good fortune of winning Star Search, which was a bit of a fluke, as I had only a few minutes of clean material and was known for being a filthy-mouthed, dirty little comic in an era in which that just wasn’t cool.

At all.

Believe you me, I received a lot of backlash for it.

After I won Star Search, I became concerned my past as a stripper would be discovered and that the news would ruin my career. After all, Star Search had such a wholesome apple pie kind of appeal.

I reasoned to myself that if I did Playboy, it would shut the rumor mill right down and I could control my own story.

Ah, the silly ideas one has and actions one takes in their 20s...

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Since Hugh Hefner passed away, I’ve been reading a lot of opinion pieces about Hef being nothing more than a flesh peddler, pimp, and leech. I don’t think those thoughts are wrong. In fact, I pretty much agree with them. 

But as far as my experience posing went, everyone involved handled themselves with complete professionalism.

My memory of this one is that some grip had to keep popping up behind me to squirt lighter fluid on the bed. The first time he did it, I wasn’t expecting it and I fell off the bed with my legs wide open, pretty much sucking up the air in the room. I'm surprised the fire didn’t go out from the lack of oxygen!

There was no janky behavior. No one came on to me.

Do I believe other women who assert that they felt like prisoners in Hef’s mansion? I’ll always unequivocally answer, "You betcha!" 

Personally, never had an interest in going to the mansion. In comedy, I was already surrounded by men who were both encouraged to indulge greedily from the fairer sex and then handsomely rewarded for it with belly laughs from audiences whenever they shared their tales of sexual exploits whilst spouting dime-store philosophies — much like Hef himself.

But I had a career I wanted to shape on my own terms, and as a woman, Playboy was a piece of the puzzle that allowed me to do exactly that.

This was the only shot where my nipples stood at attention, not so much because of the cold mist coming from the perfume atomizer, but because the photographer told me that when the Swedish Swim team graced an issue, they used cold Coke cans to make their’s erect. One even kept clothespins on hers, only removing them right before the decisive moment. Ha!

I’m no exception when it comes to the influence Playboy and Hefner had in shaping women’s sexuality over the decades, as well as the traps many found themselves caught in along the way.

It’s a fool’s argument to say posing in Playboy was liberating, as I was and still am a captive in our patriarchal society. But I knew what I wanted, and I was able to cherry-pick from the dreck Playboy either intentionally or unintentionally provided.

I can also happily report that about a year after my issue came out, I was finally able to put my raging sexuality on the back burner where it belonged in order to go about doing the work of becoming who I really wanted to be.

So weirdly, I’m thankful for Playboy. I have to admit, it’s a bit of an emotional clusterf*ck.

Now, as far as those Playboys my parents kept, my father was an Army lifer and my mother was German, so both were very nonchalant about nudity.

As a child, I was taken to local swimming pools in Germany where women of all ages sunbathed topless. Later on, when I would visit aging relatives, I noticed German commercials showing bits of nudity. Growing up in my formative years with little shame associated with the naked body left me semi-immune to it when it came to showing mine.

So it’s odd to me that for even a few milliseconds I find myself judging for those women in comedy who today splash themselves about provocatively on social media.

But then I realize, it’s not judgment that I'm feeling, it’s anguish that young women still feel so unequal that they need to use their bodies in order to level the playing field or to grab at any power in order to get ahead. 

Sheesh, even writing that down feels wrong and unfair. Hmm…

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When the Kardashian clan first came into the public eye, I didn’t give much thought to them. To each his own, I figured.

That lasted until Kylie bordered on becoming of age. It really bothered me that she was being sexualized when she was still so young. That she was using her body to get any and all attention.

If I’m being honest, I have to tell you that when I came of age, I was already a graduate of the school of hard knocks — a welfare and food stamp survivor due to my parents divorcing, my dad disappearing, and my mother becoming handicapped.

And I was already divorced from an abusive husband who was a young G.I. when I found myself stripping at 18-years-old just to survive.

I was being just as sexual as Kylie — in fact, even more so.

I guess what bothered me was that she had parents and siblings with means. Why would any woman in her right mind choose to flaunt her sexuality so coarsely if she had the money available not to?

But maybe that's because it’s not about whether or not you have financial means and more about whether or not you have the means to be heard.

Maybe it's about wanting to be counted.

Oh sh*t, Y'all, we just went deep.

The day I became what I would consider a true feminist was the day someone told me point blank, “Feminism is about women who have the complete freedom to live their lives according to their own choices and desires, equally — just like men do.”

So when I falter and have moments where I go back to the patriarchal default of having negative thoughts about women choosing to express their own sexuality, I turn that thought upside down and keep in mind that these young women are rolling around in accord with their own feminist strength.

And honestly, once I get past that sticky emotional part, I genuinely feel that it’s kinda f**king glorious.

Felicia Michaels is comedian, writer, and filmmaker whose comedy has appeared on such networks as MTV, A&E, COMEDY CENTRAL, VH1, SHOWTIME, NBC, ABC, and FOX. She was nominated twice as Funniest Female by the American Comedy Awards before clinching it. Currently, Michaels keeps herself busy touring and putting the finishing touches on a new directorial project — all while raising two young boys as a single mother. 

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