PARIS — It was a final gift from the American patron of beauty and pleasure: The sight of Hugh Hefner's silk-robed portrait, splashed across the top of the internet as Paris woke up this morning, was an odd kind of relief from the neverending stream of terrorism, natural disaster and nuclear threats.
The death at the age of 91 of the Playboy magazine founder will no doubt be hailed as the end of an era, both in the U.S. and abroad. Of course that era was over a long time ago. As a colleague noted this morning, there is no "Controversies' section on Hefner's Wikipedia page. For more than a decade, following the founding of his magazine in 1953, the man was a walking controversy, the male embodiment of the burgeoning sexual revolution. Post revolution, someone so openly dedicated to living his life in a bathrobe is hard to accuse of anything approaching controversy or hypocrisy — even if American feminists still decry his view of women as anything but progress.
Across the Atlantic, the question of nudity (which was central to Hefner's publishing success) has always been seen rather differently. The outrage at Facebook's famous "nipple ban" is just the latest example at how Europe scoffs at a uniquely American brand of prudishness.
A walking controversy, the male embodiment of the burgeoning sexual revolution.
Today, it turns out, is also the 83rd birthday of Brigitte Bardot. The famous French actress, who was on multiple Playboy covers in multiple countries, chartered a very different post-60s path than the immutable, Viagra-fueled party guy in Los Angeles. Once she put her clothes back on, she turned into a virulent animal-rights activist with far-right anti-Muslim views. Regardless of the many controversies on her biography, a statue in Bardot's honor is being unveiled today in the resort town of Saint-Tropez, Paris Match magazine reports.
That brings us back around to some of the pressing questions of the current era. That same French Riviera where Bardot famously disrobed in the 1960s has lately been making headlines over proposed bans on the so-called "burkini," which religious Muslim women wear to cover their bodies at the beach. Yes, a significant portion of liberated French society believes that a certain lack of female nudity is a form of provocation.
It's a reminder of what Hugh Hefner understood a long time ago: A woman's body is a beautiful vessel for talking about everything that divides us.