The world first got a glimpse into the dark side of life as a Playboy Bunny back in 1963, when feminist writer Gloria Steinem wrote about her undercover stint as a Bunny at the Playboy Club in New York City in a two-part exposé for Show Magazine. Nearly 60 years later, the harsh realities behind the glamorous image of one of the 20th century’s most iconic sex symbols have once again come to light thanks to A&E’s new docuseries, Secrets of Playboy.
Several former Playboy Bunnies (an oft-misused term that actually refers exclusively to the waitresses at the Playboy Clubs) spoke out about the abuse and humiliation they endured in order to maintain the sacred “girl next door” image to which Bunnies were beholden.
“The Bunny image was the Playboy girl next door,” said Gayla Guenot, who worked at the Playboy Club in Los Angeles from 1978 to 1986. “She wasn’t really a real person, so to speak — it was an image.”
In addition to the iconic Bunny costume — which consisted of a satin corset so tight women often wound up with kidney infections, according to former Bunny Mother PJ Masten — maintaining that Bunny image also involved “humiliating” monthly weigh-ins, the results of which were displayed publicly for all a Bunny’s coworkers to see.
“I think that was part of it — to humiliate these girls,” said Masten, who explained that women found to be “five pounds over” received a warning, followed by a suspension if they failed to lose weight by the next month’s weigh-in.
But even if you managed to hold onto your job, Bunnies who gained weight faced more immediate problems. “The costume has 18 metal stays in, so it took two people to put it on — you would have to hold it in the front and someone would zip it up the back,” explained Suzanne Charneski, a Bunny at the Playboy Club in Great Gorge, New Jersey, from 1979 to 1982. “If you gained five pounds, [with] those 18 metal stays, you couldn’t breathe. Literally.”
But while the physical and aesthetic demands of the job may have been grueling, the highly sexualized role also left Bunnies vulnerable to much more extreme forms of abuse and misconduct. While the Playboy Clubs famously boasted a no-touch policy, and Bunnies were reportedly barred from dating or otherwise entertaining club members outside of work, multiple former Playboy Club employees detailed horrific incidents of abuse at the hands of Keyholders.
“From what I know and what I’ve been told, there were many women that were assaulted after hours,” said Masten. “Bunnies were easy prey.”
Jaki Nett, a Los Angeles Bunny and Bunny Trainer from 1967 to 1979, recalled being “drugged and raped” (off Playboy property) by a Playboy Club Keyholder. Nett said that her attacker was later barred from the club, but other women who found themselves in similar circumstances weren’t so fortunate.
Both Masten and former Director of Playmate Promotions Miki Garcia made reference to a “cleanup crew” of Playboy insiders responsible for keeping scandals out of the press. According to Masten, women who were assaulted were not provided medical care, nor were their assaults reported to authorities. “As Playboy rules were, you couldn’t call the police, you call the mansion … and that’s when Playboy security takes over.”
Other notable incidents of abuse revealed in the series include the kidnapping and assault of multiple women who worked at the Great Gorge Club by men who were pretending to be VIP Keyholders, as well as accusations that Soul Train host and VIP regular Don Cornelius brought two Playboy Bunnies to his home where they were drugged, bound and assaulted for days. According to Masten, Cornelius never faced any consequences related to the alleged incident, and was back in the Playboy Club the following week.
“You would think that Playboy might want to help young ladies by preparing them for something like that,” said Charneski. “But that didn’t happen, because the image of the Playboy Bunny had to remain sterling silver.”
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