"Hello, is this David Chan?"
"I hope I didn't call too early--" It was 9:30 a.m.
"It's not too early...Are you in bed?" That was the first question of many Playboy photographer David Chan asked me that I wasn't sure how to answer.
As I got ready for my interview, I worried that my face had broken out, that I was five pounds overweight, that I was dressed wrong--sweater, jeans, boots--was I trying too hard? I took my measurements for the first time, and had to wonder, Do you breathe in or out? Do half-inches round up or down? I found myself thinking, What should my measurements be, and then how do I get them close to that standard?
David Chan had been at the Somerville Holiday Inn for a week already, interviewing potential models for the "Women of the Ivies" issue, and his visit had been a subject of controversy in Cambridge for twice that long. I had joined most of the Crimson staff in opposing the publication of Playboy's ad, and I had a lot of theories about what posing as one of Hugh Hefner's "bunnies" does to a woman. But then I realized, how the hell do I know what it does to you?
Sixty women from Harvard supposedly applied to pose--why did they do it? Sure, much of the porn industry relies on women forced into it by their economic situation, but this could hardly be the case with an Ivy League Playboy issue that only pays $100 to $500. So I decided to see for myself.
I arrived late last Friday for the interview, with my friend Amy along for moral support. When we entered Room 525, the two of us were impressed by how nice the room was for a Holiday Inn, and we immediately noticed the camera equipment piled on the double bed. Chan guided us over to a sofa while he finished a newspaper interview. As he spoke to the young reporters, he called on us to corroborate what he was saying.
"If a guy says to you, 'You're beautiful, you should be in Playboy or Cosmopolitan or Vogue,' that's a compliment, isn't it? Whereas, 'You should be in Hustler,' that's degrading. Isn't that right, girls?" Chan asked. I knew that the right thing to say would be: 'Oh, yes! I can't wait to be in Playboy!" But I couldn't get over the feeling of playing a part, so I punted with "I guess that's part of it."
We filled out the application forms: address, social security number, waist measurement; academic major, minor, bust measurement; hobbies, activities, cup size; special achievements, college affiliation, hip measurement. I decided to include my school address, on the theory that once he had my name, he could get that stuff anyway, but I left out my home address. Under "special achievements," I wrote "aerobics instructor, dancer," figuring those were my only achievements that would be of interest to Playboy. For some reason, they didn't ask for SATs or GPA.
No den of iniquity, it looked any other normal room at the Holiday Inn. A nice room, even: plush carpet, sofa, chandelier. But this was no average hotel room, I reminded myself; this was where three-dimensional women with intellects and personalities are instantly transformed into two-dimensional sexual objects in a flash of David Chan's camera.
That was our conviction when we went in. But it wasn't easy to remember it. It was a nice room, and he was a nice enough guy. So there were a lot of pictures of naked girls lying around--so what? They were nice pictures, not like Hustler. It began to seem perfectly normal to sit and discuss topless, bottomless, nude and semi-nude, and completely natural to pose hips out, bust forward, lean a little, smile, a little more bust, turn your head...normal, natural, socially acceptable.
Chan centered in on the most marketable aspect of each of our bodies, and made no bones about concentrating on that. His eyes were chest level on me: he asked me if I had a strong bust. "Yeah, I can lift heavy objects with it--what do you mean?" He asked me if I would come back in a bikini the next day, and suggested I pose semi-nude. He noted that I was "hippy" and that that would be good for some poses.
He reached out and touched Amy's face. "You're so white. You have beautiful skin," he told her. "Heredity, environment, whatever it is...if you've got it, you've got it." Not really knowing what to say, Amy thanked him a little shyly.
When Amy asked what the Polaroids would be used for, Chan assured us that no pictures could be used without a release. The Polaroids were just for the selection process. If we didn't make it, they would burn the pictures. We talked about Vanessa Williams' Penthouse pictures. He said Playboy was offered those first and wouldn't touch the pictures. His organization didn't do that kind of work. The women who pose for him do it because they want to. Playboy had nude pictures of Caroline Kennedy, of jackie kennedy, but wouldn't use them.