Beholder: Beauty in the eyes of Playboy

on: data visualization, long form

We’re looking at some risque data this time! I wanted to do something offbeat, but not quite Last Words in Texas-level soul crushing. So, I gathered some data on Playboy’s Playmates of the Month.

Playboy stopped picking the Playmate of the Month starting in 2021, and the 66 year saga came to an end. More, the physical magazine itself was discontinued in late 2020. There’s a rich history behind Playboy, the taboo element, sexiness and beauty. Let’s see what the data has to offer!

Since the subject matter is Playboy and their Playmates of the Month, you should beware that most links might be NSFW. I’ve taken care to not have any NSFW content on this page.

⚠️ There are mentions of body measurements, and some content in this article might be triggering to those who have current or past experiences with disordered eating or body dysmorphia.

Who Reads Playboy?

Turns out, Playboy is not very transparent about their demographics. But, I did find some information about it from their own media kit from 2004 and online demographics. More than a decade later, these numbers are very outdated, but I think it gives a bit of context into who Playboy is meant for. Some numbers don’t add up to 100%, and combined with its age, it’s best to take these with a huge grain of salt.

Reading it for the articles
Demographics breakdown of the Print (magazine) and Online ( versions from 2004. Playboy describes print readers as "brand conscious", "outdoor enthusiasts", "trendsetters" and "socially active". Online readers are "tech savvy", "gamers", "online shoppers" and "active & adventurous".
Male85%Female15%Male86%Female14%GenderPrintOnline18-3455%35+45%18-3452%35+48%AgePrintOnlineCollege+17%No college83%College+42%No college58%EducationPrintOnlineSingle63%Married37%Single51%Married49%Marital StatusPrintOnlineFull Time64%Professional/Mgr.13%Student13%Full Time68%Professional/Mgr.25%Student11%Employment StatusPrintOnline$50,000+53%$75,000+31%$100,000+19%$50,000+57%$75,000+35%$100,000+20%Household IncomePrintOnline


Since the first issue on December of 1953, Playboy has picked the Playmate of the Month 812 times. Among them are 806 unique Playmates. Playmates are generally featured in what’s known as the “centerfold” of a magazine, where the pages have no break between them.

Every Playmate of the Month is awarded prizes ranging from cash ($25,000) to other discretionary gifts. 2020 was the last year that had 12 Playmates of the Month, and since 2021 the Playmates are picked quarterly.

We’ll be talking about body measurements, and in this article you can pick which units you prefer to see these numbers in. You can change this at any time, and the visuals will adjust to your preference.

Show units in or .


The pink dots represent each individual Playmate of the Month. Click or Tap the circles at any point to get more information about them.


Marilyn Monroe was the first-ever "Sweetheart of the Month" before the introduction of the Playmate of the Month title. Hugh Hefner had bought previously unpublished nude photos of her for a calendar and picked the "sexiest" picture for the first centerfold. Although she was not the copyright holder, Ms. Monroe did not consent to those images' use in the magazine, and she reportedly was not compensated.

The hype around her appearance catapulted the magazine to success right from the start.


In March of 1955, the staff couldn't meet the deadlines to deliver the issue, so nothing was released.


For the first few years, some women were Playmates for multiple months. Marilyn Waltz also appeared under the name of Margaret Scott. Here are all the women who were Playmates for multiple months:

Marilyn Waltz: 3
Janet Pilgrim: 3
Margie Harrison: 2
Marguerite Empey: 2


There were 8 issues that featured multiple Playmates. Except for the first time in October 1958, all of them were either twins or triplets. Pat Sheehan and Mara Corday in 1958 were the only two that did not share the same centerfold image.

All others were on the same centerfold image, with their siblings.

In total, there are 5 sets of twins and 1 set of triplets that became Playmates at the same time and shared the same centerfold.

In addition, one set of twins, Kristina and Karissa Shannon shared the same centerfold, but were chosen Playmates for July and August of 2009 on the same issue.


China Lee was the first Asian-American Playmate. Her name is pronounced chee-na, coming from the nickname given to her by her Spanish-speaking neighbors "Chinita" (which apparently means "little Chinese girl"...)


Jennifer Jackson, model and now a social worker from Chicago, was the first Black Playmate ever to be featured in the magazine.

This was a time at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would be introduced only months later.

Years later, Playboy would tweet some of the angry letters they received after featuring a Black Playmate, as well as the support.


Karen McDougal made headlines when the story of her alleged affair with Donald Trump broke in the media 4 days before the 2016 election. Read more about that in The New Yorker.


In November 2017, Ines Rau became the first openly transgender Playmate in the magazine's history.

This was, however, her second appearance, her first image in May of 2014 was titled "Evolution."

After backlash, Playboy tweeted their support for this decision with the caption: "Standing on the right side of history."


Marsha Elle is a singer-songwriter and a motivational speaker based in Miami. She was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency, which required the amputation of her right leg, and she's had a prosthetic leg since she was 5 years old. After struggling with insecurity for most of her life - she didn't wear shorts until she was 23 - she became the first amputee Playmate.


Here are some of the other "firsts" in Playmate history, explore some of the unusual firsts for Playboy.


End of an Era

Hugh Hefner passed away on September 27, 2017. It's reported that he was personally involved in picking Playmates of the Month, and the data below suggests that the characteristics of who gets selected have started changing significantly after his death.

While Hefner had his fans, it is known that many of those who worked with him had harrowing experiences, and a lot of Playmates have spoken out against him.



+19%(4.2 years, 1954: 21.6 years, 2020: 25.8 years)

There has been an increase of about 4 years in the ages of Playmates since the first issue.

Note the highlighted area in red. Eight Playmates were under the age of 18 when photographed. By today's laws, this would be a felony. In the 1950s, Hefner was taken to court for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Still, the case was dismissed as the child had written permission from her mother.



+5%(3", 1954: 5'5", 2020: 5'8")

Playmates have always been taller than the average American woman, but they have gotten even taller through time, about a 5% increase since 1954.

The average height of women in the US was 5'4" between 2015-2018 [pdf]



+8%(9.4 lbs, 1954: 114.9 lbs, 2020: 124.2 lbs)

Weight has similarly seen an increase of about 8%. The average weight after Hefner's death strays sharply from the average prior, strongly suggesting Hefner favored women of a certain size.

Ali Chanel, dubbed "Playboy's curviest Playmate," is regarded as a champion of body positivity and has encouraged others to accept their bodies as they are.



−9%(−3.2 in, 1954: 36.4 in, 2020: 33.2 in)

There has been a significant drop in bust sizes, 9.6% decrease overall.

This is interesting, because most sources online claim that bust size, especially in the US has actually gone up, but without citing clear sources.

Between September 2012 and Hefner's death, there was an inexplicable upper cap on bust size. After his death, we start seeing huge variance again, like in the early days.



+11%(2.4 in, 1954: 22.9 in, 2020: 25.3 in)

The most significant change among body measurements is the waist, with an 11% increase. Playmates with larger waist measurements are featured more often after 2017. About 13% of the women were above 28" after Hefner's death, compared to <1% beforehand.

Even with that, the average waist measurement of women in the US was 36" between 2015-2018. No Playmate has ever been at the US average for waist measurement.

Having a smaller waist is the most statistically significant distinction between Playmates and the US average.



+2%(0.9 in, 1954: 35.3 in, 2020: 36.2 in)

Hip measurements have seen a minor 2% increase, yet most of that increase is carried by the post-2017 Playmates with much higher measurements than in the history of the magazine.

In fact, 20% of the Playmates had larger hips in the period after Hefner's death than at any other point in the magazine's history.


Hair color

Some of the most famous faces from Playboy, like Marilyn Monroe, Pamela Anderson, and Anna Nicole Smith, were all blond.

But there is an almost equal occurrence of brown and blond hair in the magazine. Black hair, however, is underrepresented.

Especially in the US, having light hair has become the "beauty standard," with 48% of White college women dyeing their hair blond or blonder, higher than any other color. In fact, a survey in 2003 reported that only 4% of adults in the US are naturally blond. So we see a considerable overrepresentation of blonds in the magazine. This might also be a reason why black hair is underrepresented.


Cosmetic Enhancements

Essential to the conversation surrounding Playboy's view of beauty is the lengths that many individuals went to achieve it. Cosmetic enhancements by way of surgical procedures are quite common among Playmates.

In this case, we can clearly see that enhanced breasts came into prominence starting around 1985 and peaked around 2010 before fading away again. This is doubly interesting when you consider that bust sizes have steadily gone down over the years.



Historically, the magazine has reinforced the colonizer perspective and constructs the "All-American Beauty" as a blond, skinny, white woman, with 90% of its Playmates being white. It featured a single Black woman for the first time in 1965, and it did not feature a Black woman again for four years.

Playboy's exclusion of BIPOC individuals from its pages impacts more than just its readers. The "blast radius" of its influence continues to negatively impact BIPOC communities, especially young women, and will likely continue to affect them for years to come.

Also, despite their progressive image, only 2019 and 2020 had 40% non-white Playmates, the most it has ever been in its 67-year history. In fact, these are the only years that reflect the actual population distribution in the United States.

In contrast, Hefner gave equal airtime to Black artists in his TV show "Playboy After Dark."

Show units in or .

The Hourglass

The costume and the three-inch high heels were not comfortable at all! The costume was so tight it cut off the circulation in my legs and at the end of the night I could barely walk because my feet were so sore.

- Sharon Rogers, about the Bunny costume she had to wear in the Chicago club.

“The Hourglass Figure” is one of the most well-known body shapes, and in Playboy, it is favored above others. Yet, there is evidence that the insistence on meeting this standard is responsible for the widespread prevalence of mental disorders surrounding body image, including body dysmorphia and disordered eating, particularly among young women. Research supports that the most commonplace efforts to change the body to conform to beauty standards do not often ultimately lead to positive body image.

Breaking the mold
2020 is the first and only year the hourglass-figure mold was broken. Bust measurements decline through the decades, waist and hips increase. What some call curvy or "thick" is finally welcomed by Playboy in 2020. The "Ideal" 36-24-36 shown in cyan. Projected dimensions of the Barbie doll in yellow.

Click on the decades to isolate.

As harmful as the hourglass ideal is, the popular slim-thick image has also been found to have adverse effects on young women.

The controversial measurements for Mattel’s Barbie doll are highlighted to show how ridiculous [pdf] the doll’s proportions used to be. Mattel, like Playboy, has used the sexualized female form to create a cultural product that both challenged and later maintained specific beauty standards for their time. While Mattel has, in recent years, introduced a more diverse set of body types for its Barbie dolls, ostensibly for body positivity, this new set has also increased their bottom line. Is Playboy following the same path?

Body-Mass Index

Body-Mass Index, aka BMI relates your weight to your height. As noted in the CDC page, it is a screening tool for weight-related risks. For some healthy people, and especially athletes, BMI is known to be inaccurate. Note that it is a screening tool and not a diagnosis of body fat or health.

CDC NCHS has results from 2015-2018 among a sample population, so we can compare the average 20-29 year old woman to the average Playmate.

BMI - Straddling the line
More than half of Playmates are Underweight, 48% are in the Healthy range. There are only 2 other Playmates (<1%) in any other category. The difference of the averages between US women and Playmates is staggering.
52% Underweight
48% Healthy

Waist-to-Hips Ratio

Waist-to-Hips Ratio, aka WHR is a simple ratio of waist circumference divided by hips circumference. It’s been theorized that it has critical bearing on attractiveness. Interestingly, the research done around this also used Playboy model’s WHRs in their dataset.

The Magic Number
A Waist-to-Hip Ratio of 0.7, which accounts for ~20% of Playmates is said to be the "perfect" ratio for attractiveness. Highlighted are the "most attractive" WHRs from other cultures/places. No Playmate has ever been above 1.0 WHR.

Here is some fantastic reading about “figure” and theories around attractiveness. A quote from it:

The more traditional the women’s role, the more curvaceous was the ideal figure. The greater the economic growth and the women’s role in the educational system and employment, the less curvaceous was the ideal body.


Let’s now take a little break from numbers, and look at some geography. Where are Playmates from? Despite its global reach (as is common with most US-based media), 41 countries have had Playmates outside of the US, and they account for only ~18% of the total.

Birthplace of Playmates
Only 18% of Playmates were born outside of the US. Focus on the regions of the world where no Playmate was born in.

Important thing to highlight here isn’t “how many Playmates came from which countries?”, but “what regions of the world have never had Playmates?”. Africa is almost completely left out besides Ida Ljungqvist from Tanzania. Middle eastern countries have never been represented, and most of Asia remains empty. United Kingdom and Germany lead among the European countries, and Brazil is the favorite in South America.

Below is a different view of the same data for those curious about the individual Playmates.

Birthplace of Playmates
Hover/tap over the dots to view details.
United States: 658 (82%)
Canada: 22 (2.7%)
England: 17 (2.1%)
Germany: 15 (1.9%)
Norway: 8 (0.99%)
The Netherlands: 8 (0.99%)
Sweden: 7 (0.87%)
France: 6 (0.74%)
Australia: 5 (0.62%)
Russia: 5 (0.62%)
Ukraine: 5 (0.62%)
Brazil: 4 (0.50%)
Denmark: 3 (0.37%)
Finland: 3 (0.37%)
Japan: 3 (0.37%)
Philippines: 3 (0.37%)
Poland: 3 (0.37%)
Puerto Rico: 3 (0.37%)
Jamaica: 2 (0.25%)
Latvia: 2 (0.25%)
Malta: 2 (0.25%)
Spain: 2 (0.25%)
Argentina: 1 (0.12%)
Austria: 1 (0.12%)
Belgium: 1 (0.12%)
Colombia: 1 (0.12%)
Cuba: 1 (0.12%)
Czech Republic: 1 (0.12%)
Georgia: 1 (0.12%)
Greece: 1 (0.12%)
Haiti: 1 (0.12%)
Hungary: 1 (0.12%)
Indonesia: 1 (0.12%)
Mexico: 1 (0.12%)
New Zealand: 1 (0.12%)
Panama: 1 (0.12%)
South Korea: 1 (0.12%)
Switzerland: 1 (0.12%)
Tanzania: 1 (0.12%)
Thailand: 1 (0.12%)
Venezuela: 1 (0.12%)
Vietnam: 1 (0.12%)

We can’t ignore ~82% of the data though, so let’s see the State’s breakdown of birthplaces.

West coast - best coast for Playmates. Vermont and Delaware are the only states that have never had Playmates.

Not surprising, as Playboy is headquartered in Beverly Hills, California and has largely carried some of the west coast sensibilities when it comes to beauty. Vermont and Delaware are the only 2 states that have never had Playmates. Also, Hawaii has had more Playmates than Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, West Virginia and New Hampshire combined.

Below a similar chart as the previous one, for the detail-oriented.

Birthplace in the US
Hover/tap over the dots to view details.
California: 178 (27%)
New York: 47 (7.1%)
Texas: 45 (6.8%)
Florida: 41 (6.2%)
Illinois: 41 (6.2%)
Ohio: 30 (4.6%)
New Jersey: 21 (3.2%)
Arizona: 20 (3.0%)
Washington: 19 (2.9%)
Pennsylvania: 17 (2.6%)
Wisconsin: 12 (1.8%)
Georgia: 11 (1.7%)
Louisiana: 11 (1.7%)
Missouri: 11 (1.7%)
Virginia: 11 (1.7%)
Michigan: 10 (1.5%)
Minnesota: 10 (1.5%)
Oklahoma: 9 (1.4%)
Indiana: 8 (1.2%)
Kansas: 8 (1.2%)
Alabama: 7 (1.1%)
Hawaii: 6 (0.91%)
Nevada: 6 (0.91%)
Oregon: 6 (0.91%)
South Carolina: 6 (0.91%)
Tennessee: 6 (0.91%)
Colorado: 5 (0.76%)
Kentucky: 5 (0.76%)
Maryland: 5 (0.76%)
Utah: 5 (0.76%)
Arkansas: 4 (0.61%)
Massachusetts: 4 (0.61%)
North Carolina: 4 (0.61%)
Idaho: 3 (0.46%)
Mississippi: 3 (0.46%)
Nebraska: 3 (0.46%)
North Dakota: 3 (0.46%)
Alaska: 2 (0.30%)
Connecticut: 2 (0.30%)
Maine: 2 (0.30%)
Montana: 2 (0.30%)
New Mexico: 2 (0.30%)
Rhode Island: 2 (0.30%)
Iowa: 1 (0.15%)
New Hampshire: 1 (0.15%)
South Dakota: 1 (0.15%)
West Virginia: 1 (0.15%)
Wyoming: 1 (0.15%)

The “Most Average” Playmates

We focused on how the “Average US Woman 20-29” differs from the Playmates, but what about within the group? Who’s the “averagest” Playmate, and who’s the least average? To find out, I first calculated the average values across all Playmates for their weight, height, body measurements, hair color and ethnicity. Then, I ordered them by their distance from this average.

Most/Least Average Playmates
Playmates ordered by their distance to the average Playmate. The most and least average top 5 Playmates split the age of the magazine into almost perfect quarters. The top 5 most average are from older issues, whereas the top 5 least average are from 2003 and later.

I was just excited for everyone to see [the photos] and just to start making people uncomfortable and shaking some things up.

- Ali Chanel

In addition, even the “averageness” of Playmates has been steadily decreasing every year, especially after Hefner’s death. Recent Playmates are much less likely to be “average.”

Difference from Average per Year
Playmates have been increasingly different from the "Most Average Playmate" through the years.

For the nerds among you, this is the euclidian distance from the average. I also computed the cosine similarity out of curiosity. Ask me about it on Twitter.


Another tidbit for the geeks: if you’ve ever worked with computer image processing, you have most likely come across lena.jpg. It’s one of the most used images in computer history. This iconic image is a crop of Lena Sjooblom’s (now Forsen) 1972 November centerfold!

The usage has been criticized, as “Suggestive pictures used in lectures on image processing … convey the message that the lecturer caters to the males only”. I have certainly come across this image when I was studying in university around 2010s. Does it still appear in lectures? Let me know!

Individuals All

It’s clear that Hefner’s death has significantly impacted who appears in Playboy. The world in which Playmates lived, a reality that was masterfully cropped out of photoshoots and public relations campaigns, has started to be reflected in the types of women featured. It has changed Playboy’s beauty standards ever so slightly, but it is a more inclusive shift nonetheless. One question remains to be answered: is this shift towards inclusion sincere or merely performative? Many a brand has made an effort to be more inclusive in their messaging but often fall short. A giveaway here is that this change has been led by primarily white models. The body positivity movement in Playboy — as is also the case in many other areas — has been co-opted and made palatable to their audience via white women.

What these data points can’t illustrate is that behind all the flash and glamour of being a Playmate of the Month and living in the Playboy Mansion, these women are like any of us. They went to college, struggled with drug abuse and overcame it, established philanthropic foundations, used their fortune to open restaurants and help those in need, had insecurities, got interested in politics, grappled with depression, led quiet lives and not so quiet lives. They were into LoL and Diablo 3, dreamed of becoming Playmates and worked at Dairy Queen. They were victims of domestic violence, wanted to become broadcasters, were single moms that got sued by Playboy, and on and on.

They were and are real people who had a real impact on others around them, good and bad. It’s worth noting this before we find ourselves worshiping or shunning models in this industry.

On December 2, 2021, Playboy announced its first-ever Creative Director In Residence as Cardi B. In choosing the musician, the magazine signaled a commitment to leaving its old formula and its limited perspective squarely in the past. Just how far will this development push Playboy and their Playmates? We will have to wait and see.

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