Margot Kidder: Playboy 1976

Sadly, Margot Kidder passed away this week. She was a genuine star, who brought so much to some great films. Personally, enormously fond of Superman, The Amityville Horror and the criminally underseen Black Christmas.

In 1976, she posed naked for Playboy, under the condition that she wrote the accompanying article. It was a brutally honest piece about how Playboy had made her feel inadequate as a teenager.

It’s a wonderful piece of writing, and someone asked me on twitter if it was available somewhere more accessible than scans of old magazines. It appears not, so I took a little time and typed it out.

Some content warnings around weight loss and body image are necessary though. If they’re likely to affect you, please be aware.

I told the editors at Playboy that they could publish these pictures of me if they’d let me write the words. The possibility of someone writing “Margot has more curves than the Santa Monica Freeway” under my naked body didn’t appeal to me. Now I’m not sure of what it was I wanted to say. Maybe I only wanted to rid myself of a still-lingering irritation over all the time I wasted as an adolescent bemoaning the fact that my body didn’t look like the ones in the Playboy layouts; or the hours I spent trying to figure out how I, too, could get my breasts to shoot sky-ward when I lay on my back instead of having them fall down on either side of my armpits; or the trauma I went through at 14, knowing that my true love of all time, Peter Kendall, was in love with Miss January’s long slim legs, and that pretty soon he was going to discover – as soon as I let him remove my Hidden Fingers panty girdle – that I had lumpy upper thighs.

Fourteen is a nervous age for a girl. You want to be perfect and no one will tell you how. Your self-confidence is frail as glass, easily shattered. Playboy used to smash mine regularly.

When I was 14, I bought Playboy every month. I’d get if off the rack at Kerrisdale Pharmacy in Vancouver and then hide it under my Scientific American, so that the hidden thief-catcher camera in the store wouldn’t discover how low I’d sunk into the tacky depths of depravity. Then, when I’d pay for it, I’d keep my head down, so the cashier wouldn’t recognise me. If anyone I knew happened to see me with it, I’d toss my head back and say in snotty tones, “It has some great articles in it.” Actually, I never read the articles unless they were about sex. I usually just rushed home and locked myself in the upstairs bathroom and looked at the pictures.

It was always demoralizing. Miss January had long thin legs. I had short thick ones. The Playmate of the Year had bikini marks that blended imperceptibly into her skin, mine were like Magic Marker lines. And the starlet in the March issue was blessed with having no knees. It wasn’t fair.

Ah, sigh, sigh – I’d stare at page after page of coy dollies with dripping wet smiles and curse my mother for not bringing me up to look like them, all pin and perfect.

The memory is painful. I’d stand undressed on the edge of the bathtub with one hand on the ceiling for balance, the other holding the magazine out in front of me with the foldout folded out. And I’d compare our bodies, section by section.

The breasts first: Hers were so high and firm they practically put out her eyes – mine swung in opposite directions like a close-up of Jean-Paul Satre looking at his feet. Her nipples were the pink shade of spring roses – mine were a sort of muted mud brown. Then the pubic hair: Hers was back-lit from some mysterious source and glowed on her belly like angel floss – mine just sat there like a Brillo pad, even after I trimmed it with nail scissors. She had a delicious little dent for a belly button – I had a doorknob. Then I’d compare the thighs: Very upsetting. Hers flowed in one smooth line from her hips – mine looked stuck onto my torso as a fat afterthought. Each of her thighs measured a supple 15 inches – each of mine measured a Rudolf Nureyev 22 (my waist was only 23).

Then the worst part of the examination: the bottom: I’d look at hers for a long time, mostly to put off looking at my own. She had two perky, exactly round half-moons placed high on her back, and her skin was so taut over her flesh that it shone. There was no crease separating bum from thigh, only the slightest insinuation of a shadow under the cheeks. I’d force myself to look at my own. Carefully, so that I didn’t slip down and crash into the bottom of the tub, I’d turn so that I could see in the mirror. No two half-moons mine. It was all in one piece, a flesh-colored Baggie full of hard-as-rock Jell-O; a flat pear-shaped pancake dropping over my legs. And too low. Too low? Jesus, compared with hers, it hung practically to the backs of my knees.

Clearly, I was a hopeless case and would never get to sleep with Warren Beatty when I grew up.

My one consolation was that the man photographed with Miss January while she was trying on bras in Fredericks’s looked like someone who bathed in strawberry milk five times a day.

At least Peter Kendall could sweat. Still, I wanted to look the way she did. I wanted to be rosy and unflawed and spend my days romping naked through the woods without embarrassment. I wanted to be perfect and unashamed. But that seemed an impossible dream, my bottom and thighs being what they were. Week after week of trying to make my legs extend at right angles from my hips, and what did I get in return? A bottom that stubbornly refused to stand up and thighs like Tarzan’s. Short thighs like Tarzan’s useful only if you had to jump from tree to tree. I had no desire to jump out of trees. I just wanted to look like Miss January.

Young girls make heroic sacrifices in the pursuit of beauty. Somewhere along the line they’re conned into believing that beauty, once attained, will absolve them of all sin and justify their lives ten times over, no matter how wastefully they choose to spend them. Beauty would mean instant adoration. Beauty would mean the elimination of fear. Beauty would mean perfection.

Obviously, Miss January would have no responsibility in life other than that of keeping her fluorescent nipples eternally erect. With her thin thighs, she’d never need anything so worrisome as a career. With my thighs, I was going to need several careers. There was an ad in MovieLand magazine for rubber belts that you put batteries into and wrapped around whichever part of your anatomy you wanted to reduce – without diet, pills or exercise. The Hudson’s Bay store in Vancouver carried them in the lingerie department, for $49.98. I blew my savings account two thighs’ worth. I got home, went into the bathroom and read the instructions. I was to wrap the belt around me. Stick it shut with that prickly stuff they use instead of zippers on modern parkas. Then I was to turn the dials on the side up to five or six. Then I was to lie back while a million magic fingers miraculously broke down fatty tissue and firmed up my muscles.

I wrapped the belts around my thighs and turned up the dials. But who’s going to stop a dial at five or six when you’ve got 22-inch thighs? I zapped the dial instantly up to nine. This was not a good idea. The million magic fingers almost electrocuted me… lightning bolts shot through my flesh into my bones and my legs jerked wildly in an imitation of St. Vitus’ dance. I yelled at Playboy and cursed Peter Kendall and screamed foul things at Miss January – but I kept the belts on. Then I vomited. Very cute. A 14-year -old girl with two rubber straps lashed to her body, jumping around and throwing up. Playboy should have taken a picture of that.

I tried the belts a few more times, but the results were always disastrous. So, in desperation, I turned to Ex-Lax (I was never fat, but Miss January was much less fat, and that was all that mattered). A girlfriend of mine had told me that if you ate a whole 69-cent box of chocolate-flavoured Ex-Lax and washed it down with coffee, you could lose six pounds a day. So I bought two boxes of Ex-Lax (I’ve never been any great shakes on moderation) and ate them one morning after breakfast. Like a fool, I assumed that because my thighs and bottom were the problem, the six pounds would come from there. No such luck. I lost eight pounds’ worth of water, breakfast and lower intestine.

Obviously, I didn’t spend my entire adolescence trying to look like Miss January. But I wasted enough of it to make me hate her. I exercised in rubber sweat suits, walked around with a quarter stuck between my buttocks (the idea is that you use a lot of muscles just trying to keep it from falling to the ground at awkward moments). I painted my nipples with Blush-On, poured gallons of hydrogen peroxide on my pubic hair trying to bleach it. And no? Well, now I’m older. All I want now is to be human. But I’ve grown up, and finally stopped trying to change my body and what happens? Along comes Playboy, wanting to photograph it.

Hopefully, these pictures are of a real honest-to-God, in-the-flesh, fucked-up-like-everybody-else human being. At first, I said no to Playboy, pleading male chauvinism. Finally, I said yes in a fit of missionary zeal. I’ll show them what a real body looks like, I thought to myself. I’ll be brave and outrageous and get the photographer to show me in all my imperfect glory.

If I’d been brave enough, I might have let Doug Kirkland take pictures of me just before I got my period, when my stomach was all bloated. I’d have let him take close-ups of my face after I’d been crying, with black rivers of mascara running down my cheeks. I’d have sprawled out flat on a rug and let him shoot my bottom with a wide-angle lens. I’d have let him photograph my skin under hot, hard lights, to show all the little bumps of imperfection from being exposed to the weather. I’d have let him take pictures of my pubic hair, so that it looked as if it smelled of sex, not FDS.

But maybe I chickened out. When the contact sheets came back from the lab, I put huge Xs through the pictures that I thought made me look lumpy. However, halfway is better than nothing. If you’re 14 and reading this, take solace: You probably look a lot better than you think. And nobody looks like Miss January.