During the 1970s, the Indianapolis resident worked as a “bunny” at the same Chicago restaurant-bar portrayed in the show — the same upscale club that, after its 1960 opening, spawned a worldwide chain operated by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.
For Golden, now 61, times have changed.
She and her husband are pastors at Unity Church of Indianapolis on the Near Northside. Though she considers her experience as a bunny to have some positive aspects, she encourages girls and women to reject the idea that feminine beauty is confined only to the physical.
“It is important for young women to realize that their true beauty comes from within,” Golden said. “They should focus on that. A compassionate and caring person is remembered more so than a physically beautiful one.”
The question, perhaps, is whether society has learned as much as Golden.
In education and the workforce, said Denise Baird, a Franklin College professor who teaches women’s studies, the progress is clear. Women have far greater opportunities than they did 30 or 40 years ago and often out-compete their male counterparts, she said.
Outside the economic arena, however, images of women in popular culture can tell a different story.
“You see this phenomenon of pornification,” Baird said. “In much of society, the mainstream expectation of women’s behavior, appearance and overall presentation is one that’s increasingly parallel to that of a porn star or a stripper.”
Want proof? Just venture out, she said, to your neighborhood department store.
“You only need to go to the girls’ clothing section at Walmart and see the low-riding tight jeans and lingerie they’re selling to 10-year-olds,” she said. “If that’s not evidence of the phenomenon, I don’t know what is.”
Women’s social and economic progress could be stymied, Baird said, by a culture selling the idea that women’s main role is “to look cute and flirt.”
Drawing on her experience as a Playboy bunny, Golden said she agrees with parts of Baird’s argument.
“You did have to maintain a bunny image. When I was hired, I weighed 95 pounds,” said the 5-foot-2-inch Golden. “After a few months, I had gotten a little healthier and weighed 105. I was put on a ‘fat list’ and told I needed to maintain the weight from when I was hired. For a lot of us, those rules led to unhealthy things like purging and anorexia.”
Still, Golden, who started out at the Miami Beach Playboy Club before transferring to Chicago, emphasized that she has no regrets about the job.
“For me, it was a job,” she said. “Following a divorce, I was putting myself through college. I’d go to the club and wear the costume, and then I’d get off work, take off the costume and put on my jeans and sweatshirt. I’d take out my contact lenses and put on my glasses. I’d be back at campus the next day talking about philosophy and theology.”
Beyond helping pay her bills, Golden said, the job helped her grow as a person.
“It was part of my spiritual journey,” she said. “We are spiritual beings having a human experience. I had to come to know who I was, and Playboy was part of that. I came to know I was not just a physical body. I was a soul, and I had brains and capabilities.”
When some people hear she worked for Playboy, Golden said, they assume she posed at some point for the magazine. She did not. Nor did bunnies work nude or topless.
“The Playboy bunny costume was seen as very revealing,” Golden said. “But what women and young girls wear at the beach is even more revealing.”
A University of Indianapolis professor suggested that, in some ways, the Playboy clubs of the 1960s and 1970s represented a tamer and more disciplined outlet for male lust in mainstream society than more recent venues featuring nudity and greater lewdness. By 1991, all 40 Playboy clubs had closed. Since 2006, however, Playboy has opened three new versions of the clubs.
“Porn imagery is all around us in ways it was not during the era of Playboy clubs,” said Jennifer Drake, who teaches women’s literature at UIndy. “You see it more on primetime TV, not just cable, and it’s easily accessible via the Internet. It is shaping both men’s and women’s ways of thinking.”