Playboy’s Transition to a Post-MeToo Brand after Parting Ways with Hugh Hefner | CNN

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Hugh Hefner introduced Playboy Magazine 70 years ago. The inaugural issue featured a nude photo of Marilyn Monroe, obtained and published by Hefner without her knowledge or consent.

Playboy’s foundation was laid on the portrayal of women in its pages, showcasing beauty and a heightened form of feminine sexuality that entertained readers for decades.

As Playboy nears its 70th anniversary, significant changes are underway. With the magazine discontinued, the Playboy Mansion sold, and London’s final Playboy Club shuttered in 2021, the brand is evolving to adapt to the post-#MeToo era.

Hefner passed away just before allegations against Harvey Weinstein came to light in 2017, propelling the #MeToo movement forward where survivors of sexual misconduct bravely confronted their abusers.

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In recent times, there has been a reassessment of Hefner’s legacy and his relationships with women. The documentary series “The Secrets of Playboy” in 2022 revealed allegations of sexual misconduct by Hefner from former girlfriends like Sondra Theodore and Holly Madison.

Hugh Hefner and Pamela Anderson during Playboy's 50th Anniversary Celebration at New York Armory in New York City.

The dynamics of Hefner and Playboy’s relationship with women have been complex. While supportive of certain causes like abortion rights and inclusivity, the magazine typically featured women adhering to a specific beauty standard.

Accounts from Hefner’s ex-girlfriends suggest patterns of control and emotional abuse in his personal relationships. Holly Madison, in her memoir, depicted Hefner’s treatment of her as akin to a possession.

Hefner’s demise spared him from facing the repercussions of the #MeToo movement. Nevertheless, Playboy distanced itself, issuing a statement denouncing Hefner’s actions as reprehensible and severing ties with the Hefner family to refocus on positive values of sexual openness and expression.

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Today, Playboy has transformed significantly from its origins under Hefner. With around 80% of its staff being women, the company has shifted its focus from “Entertainment for Men” to “Pleasure for All.” Additionally, 40% of its board and management consists of women, and the company is now publicly traded.

Playboy has also embraced creator-led content through its app, Playboy Centerfold. This platform allows subscribers to engage with content from creators known as “bunnies,” similar to the model of the subscription content service OnlyFans.


Playboy Centerfold enables creators, or “bunnies,” to present themselves authentically, giving them control over how they showcase their bodies. This shift suggests that Playboy’s future may no longer cater solely to the male gaze but to a broader audience.
served as a pivotal moment for the company.

In a notable quote from Hefner’s early editorial letter, he defined Playboy’s audience as men aged 18 to 80, dismissing women who may come across the magazine accidentally, urging them to pass it on to a man and return to traditional women’s publications.

The former stars of Playboy’s mid-2000s reality show, Holly Madison and Bridget Marquardt, have experienced a resurgence in popularity among fans.

The success of “The Girls Next Door,” which aired in 2004, introduced a new female audience to Playboy by focusing on the lives of Hefner’s three girlfriends. The show garnered significant attention and popularity, bringing the spotlight to the women involved.

“The Girls Next Door” portrayed a narrative of empowerment amidst patriarchal influence. The female leads transitioned from being known as Hefner’s girlfriends to becoming celebrities in their own right.

Each of these women eventually chose to part ways with Hefner, leaving the Mansion to pursue successful individual careers.

While the show highlighted the protagonists as empowered, vibrant individuals who embraced their sexuality, it also shed light on Hefner’s resistance to their growing autonomy.

Bridget Marquardt and Hugh Hefner with Holly Madison and Kendra Wilkinson in 2008.

The series revealed that Hefner maintained control over every Playboy photograph featuring the girls, implementing strict rules such as curfews and spending limits.

Madison and Wilkinson detailed their experiences in their memoirs, alleging mistreatment by the production team, including lack of payment, delayed recognition, and unauthorized use of their images.

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Interest remains high in the podcast “Girls Next Level” hosted by Madison and Marquardt, where they engage with fans and interview former playmates while reflecting on their time on the show “The Girls Next Door.”

The podcast has reached 10 million downloads by February 2023, showcasing the enduring appeal of the Playboy brand even years after the TV show ended, demonstrating that Playboy still resonates with certain women today.

Following the post-Hefner era, old Playboy imagery continues to inspire people to embrace their sexuality, evolving the concept of Playboy into something that is widely recognized and celebrated through various mediums like Halloween costumes and branded merchandise.

Women associated with Playboy are now seizing control and speaking out in the era following the #MeToo movement. With the mansion doors closed, they are reshaping the narrative of the brand.

How Playboy cut ties with Hugh Hefner to create a

Top Image: Hugh Hefner with Playboy “bunnies” in London in 1966.

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