A few months ago, I inherited one thousand Playboy magazines.

“Inherited” might not be the correct term. They weren’t left to me in a will. In fact, the whole collection had been stored in our barn for 12 years. But after my Uncle Tim died, his possessions had to be dealt with, and I was the only person in the family with the oddly specific combination of skills to do it: I was in good enough physical shape to haul them up from the barn; I have a degree in library science and experience working in archives, so I know how to handle and organize delicate paper items, and, perhaps most importantly, I don’t have an issue with seeing images of scantily clad women (I have to open each issue and check to make sure the centerfold is present and accounted for; otherwise, the market value goes down.) (Of course.)

Who buys them? Well, mostly men – although some women. Buyers tend to fall into one of two categories: Playboy collectors, who want complete sets of years or decades, and people looking for a specific article, or with a particular interest in a celebrity (one customer with an interest in the 1977s lo-fi sci-fi movie “The Deep” bought two issues containing a pull-out poster for the movie). I’ve shipped them all over – from Maine to California to Canada and even to a customer in Switzerland who paid $45 in shipping costs on a $2.50 magazine.

It’s fascinating to watch the image of what an ideal, desirable woman is change over the years as I go through the issues from the late 1950s up until just a few years ago. Of course, they are all young and slim (and the vast majority are white), but hair goes up, and back down, and gets curly, and then straightened, and back again.

For about two solid decades, almost every single centerfold has extremely noticeable tan lines – you can tell the exact shape and cut of their bikini. It makes me very nervous about their potential skin cancer risks. Until the ’80s and the popularization of the implant, the models are all-natural (after about 1985, it’s like someone took a bicycle pump to the population of Playboy centerfolds). Same with, um, personal grooming choices. Presumably, as Playboy began competing for market share with mass-produced and widely available pornography, the models became more shiny, hairless and vaguely oiled in their photographs. More plastic.

The part that surprised me the most, looking through them, was that up through the ’70s, the centerfolds weren’t just images – the magazine went to lengths to flesh them out. The centerfolds had whole articles dedicated to them: their career aspirations (usually being an actress or a model, but still), their hobbies, and what they liked in a man (to give a hint of hope to the audience that they might just be able to go out with a centerfold one day, I assume). When Playboy made a switch to “Playmate Data Sheets,” instead of the lengthier feature articles, the commodification of the women in their pages intensified.

My Uncle Tim died two months after my father. By then, I was already in a wine-numbed fog of grief, and his death didn’t hit me the way it should have. I didn’t have a chance to properly mourn him the way he deserved because I was already at such a low point. So it’s been soothing – therapeutic, even – to sit amid the piles of his hoard, to repetitively catalog and sort and package and ship them. To think about my uncle, and his various collections (of magazines, of hats, of dumb jokes). The headlines and article subjects show the world that shaped the edges of who Uncle Tim was – Vietnam! Watergate! Hippies! Ganja! (For the record, my uncle served in Vietnam, but he did not think highly at all of Watergate, hippies or ganja.)

Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same. A few nights ago, my roommate picked up an issue from 1968 and started leafing through it. Then she looked up. “They were arguing about weed and abortion back in the ’60s?”

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @mainemillennial


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