At a newsstand the other day, I saw Maxim magazine’s “Hot 100 Women” issue. I paged through it — and after a while, the women began to look alike to me. They looked like haute couture models (which some of them are), which is to say that they were so glossy, shiny, sleek and slick that they didn’t seem very sexy.
Billy Wilder said of Marilyn Monroe, “She has what I call flesh impact. It’s very rare. Three I remember are Clara Bow, Jean Harlow and Rita Hayworth. Such girls have flesh which photographs like flesh. You feel you can reach out and touch it.”
But the women in the Maxim issue looked like their flesh was made of polyurethane. They were beautiful — clear skin, symmetrical features, toned bodies, luxurious hair — but the photos presented them as so flawless as to be almost robotic.
You can say that their perfect appearance in the magazine was all Photoshop. But I’ve encountered the phenomenon before, in real life, at the Playboy Mansion.
In the late 1980s, I knew a publisher who was putting out a coffee-table book of Playboy centerfolds. Hugh Hefner was throwing a party at his Los Angeles mansion to launch the book. The book’s publisher invited me and said that among the guests would be actual Playmate of the Month centerfold women.
I was thrilled. To meet women who were officially among the hottest and sexiest alive – woo hoo!
The Playmates were very friendly and perfectly nice, cheerfully urging me and other guests to eat the stuff from the food spread that they wanted to eat but couldn’t, since they were zealously watching every calorie. And they were unquestionably beautiful.
But they weren’t very alluring to me.
One reason for my surprising lack of interest (it certainly surprised me) was that I prefer curvy women who are close to my own height — about five foot six. These young ladies were tall and much less bosomy than I expected of centerfold girls.
Also, I was in my late 30s, and the young Playmates were literally about half my age. I had nothing much to say to them.
But a major issue was that the young women had that too-perfect look that the Maxim women had. They seemed lacquered.
I was more attracted to some of the older Playmates. They didn’t look quite so perfect, but their skin looked like skin and not like high-gloss varnish.
And they were fun to meet. For instance, 1965 Playmate of the Year Jo Collins talked about going to Vietnam for Playboy. At the time, it seems, buying a lifetime subscription to the magazine would ensure that a Playmate would deliver your first issue. Well, an Army unit in Vietnam bought a lifetime sub, and sure enough, Ms. Collins went overseas to deliver the first issue. She vividly described being among the soldiers when the enemy began attacking. She was still very attractive physically, and her accumulation of life experience made her attractive in other ways.
But back to the Maxim women. Whether in real life or in a magazine, women who look so thoroughly polished are less than steamy to me. Maybe I’m in the minority among hetero guys.
Still, I have to wonder: What were the editor and art director thinking?