In April 1972, Cosmopolitan published a nude centerfold of actor Burt Reynolds, lying on a bearskin rug, grinning at the camera. The layout became a national sensation. Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown, who had spent seven years searching for an appropriate famous man to do such a spread, wrote a letter to her readers describing the thousands of copies sold and the newsstands’ that were stampeded over this issue of the magazine. She was not exaggerating. One group of women, who described themselves as “The Girls in the Office” from San Francisco, CA wrote, “We work in a very casual engineering firm. Each month a new Playboy centerfold went up – and our egos, down. But now, because of you, there is a beautiful centerfold of Burt on our section of the wall. It hasn’t done much for the fellows, but for us girls – WOW! Keep them coming; we have much more wall space.” Brown, pleased with the response, explained that though this was a huge victory for women and men, the magazine wouldn’t stop with just one pictorial. The editors were “…quietly thinking about our next victim – I mean subject! If there’s a man you’d particularly like to see nude (famous, dear…that dishy account executive in your office won’t do), I’d appreciate your dropping a postcard to COSMOPOLITAN.”
And so begins my thesis. It has been done for over two weeks, and I still can’t get it entirely out of my head. I look at this picture and yes, there’s a lot of hair and a lot of fur and it’s super-70s and ridiculous. On the other hand, what does it say that for “us girls — WOW!” was the response from women when it was published? Sure, part of the sensation was how rare male-objectification of this kind was at this time. But what would it take now for women to be so moved by an image that they’d literally stampede a newsstand?