Men's lifestyle and entertainment magazine Playboy says its controversial decision more than a year ago to stop publishing photos of naked women "was a mistake" and nudity will return immediately with the release of its March issue.
Cooper Hefner, the son of Playboy founder and editor-in-chief Hugh Hefner, announced the reversal on Monday as the company released its March/April edition, which features a topless photo of model Elizabeth Elam along with the headline "Naked is normal."
"I'll be the first to admit that the way in which the magazine portrayed nudity was dated, but removing it entirely was a mistake," Cooper Hefner said in a statement. "Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn't a problem. Today we're taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are."
After it dropped nudity from its website in 2014, Playboy magazine announced in October 2015 that it had also decided to stop publishing nude photos. "You're now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture," Playboy's chief executive, Scott Flanders, told the New York Times in 2015.
Another change to the print publication is the removal of the "Entertainment for Men" slogan. "Playboy will always be a lifestyle brand focused on men's interests, but as gender roles continue to evolve in society, so will we," Cooper Hefner said.
Elam said she was "excited" to be on the cover of the return-to-nude issue.
"Not only am I excited and honored to be on the cover of an iconic magazine that has historically encouraged the dialogue of important social issues while standing on the right side of history; I'm so excited to be on the cover of this specific issue! If you know me you know I have always been team #freethenipple," Elam wrote on Instagram.
Elam added: "Women's bodies have always been a topic of conversation. We can be over sexualized and we can be made to feel ashamed of our bodies. I've never subscribed to those narratives and this issue of Playboy celebrates that. Naked really is normal. On top of that Playboy has always put a person behind the face. I was so excited to talk about things that are important to me, and read them echoed throughout the issue."
With the rise of the internet and online pornography, Playboy magazine's circulation in the U.S. has been falling for years, dropping from 5.6 million in 1975 to 800,000 in 2015, when the company announced its decision to steer away from nude photos. Its circulation has since dropped to 673,000 as of July 2016, according to figures from the Alliance for Audited Media.
Other properties of Playboy Enterprises - such as the Playboy Plus website, which offers subscription services for photos and videos of nude women, and Playboy TV, which airs pornography - were never affected by the year-long nudity ban.