Christina Aguilera and Marilyn Monroe

Peggy Wilkins <>, 23 Jul 2003

Some of us will recall that a couple months back there was a report on the PML saying that someone had heard from a very reliable source—a source who had never been wrong about such things in the past—that Christina Aguilera had agreed to pose for PLAYBOY, and was scheduled to appear in the 50th Anniversary issue. The rumor may also have involved CA being on the cover.

On hearing this, I expressed a wait-and-see attitude. Basically, I felt some trepidation that a CA 50th Anniversary cover could really be a good one, and there's absolutely no precedent for putting any celebrity on a Big Anniversary Cover, so who knows what would come out of this. I then laid these thoughts aside, until today when I happened on a profile of CA while changing television channels.

First let me say that I am not very familiar with CA—I know she is very big in some music circles, and she has been on many magazine covers, some of which have been controversial. I also have seen her pictures in Maxim. I have liked some pictures of her, and I have disliked others. That is about the extent of my exposure to her. So what I say here is based on this little knowledge plus the 15 or so minutes I saw tonight.

Consider for a moment that Marilyn Monroe helped launch PLAYBOY by appearing on the cover of the first issue, and also nude in her Golden Dreams calendar pose inside the magazine. Marilyn at this time was a figure of some controversy. She presented her sexuality to the public in a very open way, and many people reacted negatively to this. To give one of the more famous examples, at the Photoplay Awards in early 1953, Marilyn sauntered into the room, late, in a skin-tight gown and brought the room to a standstill. Men gave out whistles and catcalls. The next day, Joan Crawford was quoted as saying that it was a humiliating display, and that Marilyn believed too much of her own publicity—the public wants to believe that under it all, actresses are ladies. This was far from the only time such comments were made. I remember seeing a newsreel showing a woman watching a huge billboard of Marilyn in her skirt blowing scene go up; and she commented that she thought it was vulgar, and she didn't see what Marilyn had that a million other American women didn't also have, but didn't show.

Marilyn's nude calendar story had broken less than a year before the first issue of PLAYBOY appeared, and she worked what could have been a career disaster to her advantage by refusing to be ashamed of it. She publicly went on record saying that she posed nude because she needed the money—it was a straightforward matter of survival. When asked if she really had nothing on in the photos, she quipped that she had in fact had something on—the radio. Her humor and refusal to be embarrassed by what could have been a scandal won over many, and her career not only survived but flourished. Her matter-of-fact presentation of her sexuality, and her obvious and public acceptance that it was a natural part of life, was quite revolutionary for the time.

Another of her quotes from around this time: "Sex is a part of nature; and I go along with nature."

PLAYBOY itself was also a pioneer in taking a publicly accepting and open attitude toward sexuality. In this sense, not only was Marilyn a help in making PLAYBOY a success because of the public interest in her nude calendar, she was also symbolically an ideal way to start the magazine off because she herself embodied in her life what PLAYBOY expressed in print. Her Golden Dreams were also PLAYBOY's. This pairing could not have been more perfect.

Now, 50 years later, I can see Christina as possibly parallelling Marilyn in this regard. While I don't know that she will reach Marilyn's level as a permanent cultural icon—only time will tell that—she puts herself and her sexuality unashamedly out there like Marilyn did. Her way of clothing her body and presenting it publicly gets many of the same types of comments that Marilyn did 50 years ago. She stands for the empowerment of women, and speaks of her personal beliefs with conviction as Marilyn did. What is more, the public is just as interested in seeing her as they were in seeing Marilyn. Maybe she could help bring a new audience to PLAYBOY just as Marilyn did 50 years ago.

If PLAYBOY sees this parallel, and deliberately makes note of it in a meaningful way, whether in text or in cover art (or preferably both), this could be the perfect way to inaugurate PLAYBOY's second 50 years. It could be an auspicious start.

On the other hand, if they just slap her on the cover in the usual formulaic way and ride on the coattails of her fame, they'll likely lose my respect. I certainly hope that doesn't happen.

Peggy Wilkins
Last modified: Mon Apr 5 01:36:02 CDT 2004