Ugly Bunny Tales
From the retro drama series The Playboy Club to Beyoncé shooting a video in a Bunnyesque costume, the Playboy icons are having a mega moment. But really? Despite how it looks, the job wasn’t pretty.
We take you back in time, to recount the harrowing time Playboy bunnies had during their stint as waitresses and the polarisation they suffered on the job. It wasn’t just about looking beautiful, it entailed a lot more. Many suffered, some rebelled, one went undercover to pen down what really happened behind the scene. It was quite a journey for these stunning and statuesque women as they tried hard to maintain their dignity and do a good job. Some were laid off when they got fat or tried to have a life beyond work. It was a tough ride!
Bunnies had to spread their legs... for a pelvic exam. Even though the Bunnies were waitresses, in the early club years, they couldn’t report to work without their gynecological health being confirmed. After feminist Gloria Steinem publicised the practice in her famous 1963 Show magazine exposé, Playboy Club CEO Hugh Hefner eliminated it from employment requirements.
Their costume hurt. The uniform consisted of an ultratight, corset- like leotard, ears, cuffs, and a tail. “We were actively encouraged to stuff,” says Mary Chipman, a Bunny in the early 1970s. Among the items Steinem reported seeing Bunnies use to enhance their chests: tissues, gym socks, and cut- up Bunny tails.
The shift was gruelling. Bunnies weren’t allowed to be seen drinking anything in front of customers— not even water. If they were busted, it cost them 10 demerits ( rack up 100 and you’re out). And taking a break from strutting in 3- inch heels was a no- no. They learned to master the Bunny perch— resting one hip on a banister or leaning on the back of a chair.
Their boss watched their weight. Remembers Lili Bee, a Bunny in the late 1970s. “A manager looked at me and said, ‘ I didn’t know Shamu escaped its tank.’ I was required to weigh in. When they realised I was almost four pounds over my hiring weight of 112, they suspended me for a week.”
Bunny wasn’t just their position; it was their identity. “We had to introduce ourselves as Bunny ( our first name),” recalls Sharon Bernstein Peyton, a Baltimore Bunny in 1964. “You couldn’t have the same name as another Bunny currently employed at the club. If you did, you had to make up a new name,” she says.
They could be fired at any moment. “A Bunny would look at the weekly schedule and realise she wasn’t on the calendar because she’d ‘ lost the Bunny image,’” explains Marcia Donen Roma, a ’ 60s Bunny. After witnessing co- workers being canned in this manner, Roma helped organise a strike. “We held it on a Saturday night, when business could be hurt,” she says.
It cost them a bundle. Make- up ( including false eyelashes), tights, and dyed- tomatch pumps were all out- of- pocket expenses not reimbursed by the club. Before each shift, women were inspected, and if they weren’t deemed “Bunny perfect” ( imperfections could be anything from tights with a run to too- pale lipstick to a tail that wasn’t fluffed), they could receive demerits.
They were spied on. “To ensure we weren’t breaking rules, like dating customers, we were told that men posing as customers would be sent in to watch us,” recalls Chipman. “It was waived if you were asked out by a Playboy exec,” says Bee. In fact, Steinem wrote, they were encouraged to date those men.
Forget about showing their guy where they worked. Steinem reported that she learned during her undercover stint that a Bunny was supposed to meet her husband or boyfriend at least two blocks away from work after a shift. “I always thought they had that rule because the managers worried a customer might see one of us smoking, drinking, or carrying on a smouldering affair with a guy,” says Bee.
“The bunny is ready for some play.”
Clearly, the challenge for a ’ 60s Bunny was not spilling... out In 2011 protesters picketed in front of the club reopening in London
Serving the customers with a smile and more...
NBC’S new series The Playboy Club has Amber Heard playing a naive Bunny
A young Hugh Hefner surrounded
by his playmates