Part 1: When Donald Met Vickie...

Anna Nicole Smith
A part of me has just been ripped
The pages from my mind are stripped
Oh no, I can't deny it.
Oh yeah, I guess I got to buy it!
My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is the centerfold.

— J. Geils Band,

Every great love story begins with that unlikely chance encounter between a boy and a girl that quietly sets them on the path to a grand destiny together. This one is no exception.

It all began once upon a time when I bought Anna Nicole Smith's original "Playmate of the Month" issue of Playboy on the day it was published. That historical event is actually far more improbable than it may sound.

Playboy's shallow pretensions of the urbane, affluent "good life" are appalling to my sensibilities, and neither does its pictorial content tend to interest me on a prurient level. That's because I am almost exclusively attracted to large, voluptuous women. The airbrushed, silicone-enchanced scarecrows that populate Playboy centerfolds really don't arouse my interest. Hugh Hefner's precision-calculated formula -- presenting a beautiful nude woman as the wholesome "girl next door," but also, at the same time, as an object of impossibly idealized perfection -- churns out a vapid assembly-line product that I've never found exciting.

Well, that's not entirely true. I can never forget my affections for Miss February 1980 Sandra Cagle, the Playmate from the treasured issue my Dad secretly supplied me in my budding preadolescence. But I was young then, and confused.

In the spring of 1992, I was one year out of college, stuck in a crappy job as assistant manager at a Waldenbooks, treading water while I tried to figure out what to do with my life. One day my roommate Greg, a fellow UNC graduate who was working as an airline baggage handler, came home with the April 1992 Playboy. Like me, Greg never bought Playboy, though for entirely different reasons -- his objection was that the magazine only showed "bush." Greg was strictly a Hustler aficionado. But he often pilfered magazines that passengers left behind on flights, and so this particular Playboy came to arrive in the home of two guys who were fairly indifferent to the publication's content.

After vacantly flipping through the magazine, I noted on the "Next Month" page at the end that the May issue was going to have an interview with Kurt Vonnegut. Since Vonnegut is my favorite author, I made a mental note to watch for that issue. Within a couple of weeks, I was setting that fateful issue out on the stands when I unpacked the Monday magazine shipment at work.

May 1992 Playboy Typically I would just read magazines for free in the stock room during my lunch break, especially if there was just one article I was interested in. But for some reason, I felt compelled to buy the May 1992 Playboy. I'm almost positive this was the first time I ever paid money for an issue of the magazine. I guess I must have been really into Vonnegut at that time. It certainly wasn't the bland, boyish-faced former Miss America on the cover that convinced me to buy the damn thing.

I recall the startled reaction of my female co-worker who rang it up for me on my lunch break, when I told her I didn't need a bag for it. "You so crazy, Donald!" she remarked with a sly smile. "You ought to be ashamed, walkin' through the mall with a nasty ol' Playboy in your hand!" But no, I have a far higher embarrassment threshold than a mere Playboy purchase can muster. And besides, I was reading it just for the articles. Honestly.

Or so I thought.

I took my Playboy down the mall to Tony's Pizza, got a couple of pepperoni slices, and checked out the Kurt Vonnegut/Joseph Heller interview. It turned out to be a forgettable bore. But I took a discreet peek at the centerfold pictorial, and that was when I first saw her.

Lone Star Stunner Was it love at first sight? Well, maybe somewhere inside, even if I wasn't fully aware of it at that moment. But undeniably, here was a Playboy Playmate whom I found deeply attractive... a rare phenomenon indeed. She had the big breasts, obviously, but the rest of her figure was also adequately filled out, as if she were accustomed to eating real food on a regular basis. And that face. Oh my, that angelic, heart-stopping face. Who was this vision of beauty? What was a nice girl like her doing in a place like this?

"Lone Star Stunner," read the headline for her pictorial. "Meet the best thing ever to come out of Mexia, Texas: Miss May, Vickie Smith."

And that, folks, is the incredible true story of how Kurt Vonnegut introduced me to Anna Nicole Smith. Just stop and think about how astronomically improbable this all was. The first time I ever buy an copy of Playboy -- a magazine I thoroughly loathe -- it turns out to be the one with her in the centerfold. On the very day it went on sale. And in a crowning touch of unwitting propriety, I took her out for pizza on our first blind date. Clearly, there were larger hands than ours at work here.

So it goes.

That night in the privacy of home, we were able to get better acquainted. The first time I unfurled that centerfold was a life-changing experience. Initially I was astounded by Vickie's Playmate Data Sheet. I have always had a geeky fetish for women's weights and measurements, probably as an outgrowth of preferring big girls: it's exciting when those numbers clock in higher than the accepted norm.

Playmate Data Sheet

Vickie Lynn Smith listed her measurements as 36DD-26-38. Wow. A Playmate of the Month whose hips exceeded the culturally mandated 36-inch barrier? This was practically unheard of. Even better, she confessed to weighing in at a whopping 140 pounds! Of course, in real-world terms, that's a perfectly normal weight for a woman who stands 5'11". But this ain't the real world -- this is Playboy. Playmates that tall usually max out around 125. One hundred and forty pounds is practically 50 percent heavier than Hef's typical selection.

Vickie's Data Sheet numbers were not record-breaking. There have been two Playmates claiming 39-inch hips, and three who weighed more than 140. But those women posed for Playboy in the '60s and early '70s. In the thin-obsessed world of 1992, those were some revolutionary figures Vickie dared to scribble down. And in accordance with universal feminine nature, she was most likely understating the truth. In fact, on her preliminary Playboy application reproduced in Eric Redding's Great Big Beautiful Doll, Vickie reported her weight at 150.

Centerfold And what can I say about her centerfold? Light-years beyond the rest of the Stephen Wayda pictorial photos in terms of sheer beauty, it remains one of my very favorite images ever taken of her. Vickie's face radiates a calm and soothing inner peace. Foregoing the conventional exaggerated expressions of men's magazine models (either a sultry scowl, a sleepy-eyed moan, or a big toothy grin), she has chosen a simple, subtle, knowing smile. The effect is marvelously disarming. Her face is almost enough to draw your eye away from the rest of her body... almost, but not quite.

Her breasts speak for themselves. What really makes this centerfold an immortal classic is those heavenly hips. I have to congratulate the Playboy editors for bravely selecting this particular shot for the all-important centerfold. There are a great many other photos from that shoot that downplay Vickie's width, with the camera angles and the positioning of her legs making her appear more like the average slender Playmate. The magazine could have played it safe and chosen one of those "more flattering" pictures. But they took a chance on a front-on, standing pose with Vickie saucily cocking those allegedly 38-inch haunches to her right, exhibiting wilder curves than a Six Flags roller coaster. A woman with real hips granted the endorsement of this major arbiter of feminine beauty? A Playmate of the Month flaunting a classical voluptuous figure while women are starving themselves to eradicate their curves?

This centerfold is a monumental landmark of American popular culture at the end of the 20th century. I think the single best word to describe it is powerful. It's powerful in its erotic impact, but more important, this photograph unblinkingly depicts the raw force of true femininity. Nude glamor photography may be guilty of objectifying women most of the time, as feminist opponents have long argued, but certainly not in this Miss May 1992 centerfold. When you look into her confident eyes and gaze upon her primally potent form, there is no question about who is in control here. If anything, Vickie is objectifying us.

After our first spectacular encounter, Vickie and I drifted apart. We didn't see each other for quite a while. I may have noticed the work she was doing for Guess? Jeans, but it didn't really register with me. That's one thing about Playboy Playmates: they're as disposable as Kleenex. You're supposed to use up this month's serving and toss it out when the next one comes along. Part and parcel of the fantasy Playboy markets is its endless parade of new naked girls, presented with no desire for attachments, no obligation to hang around while they grow old and stale. Nobody expects to see a Playmate again.

Unless, of course, she's the Playmate of the Year.

Playmate of the Year Vickie's return to Playboy didn't have anywhere near the impact on me that her Miss May debut did. In part, that's because I was confused by how much she had changed. I was still working at Waldenbooks when that June 1993 Playmate of the Year issue came in. I thought I recognized her face on the cover, but I was positive that hot blonde centerfold with the curvy hips was not named "Anna Nicole." When I did determine that this Playmate of the Year was the same person, I mistakenly figured that Anna Nicole Smith was her real full name, and she must have used a nickname for her first appearance, I believe I even misremembered her Miss May name as "Nickie Smith." Obviously, I was not yet totally into worshiping her at that point.

In fact, I didn't even buy her Playmate of the Year issue when it was out on the stands. I had to pick it up about a year later at a comics and collectibles shop. I looked at the new pictorial, and while I still thought she was beautiful, it seemed to me that none of the images were as compelling and revolutionary as that May 1992 centerfold. She was still indisputably more full-figured than your ordinary Playmate, but for some reason the PMOY photos didn't grab me.

I had the sense that the Vickie Smith I first met had been corrupted and assimilated into the Playboy norm. After all, Playboy represents the antithesis of my tastes in women. It's one thing to celebrate a shapely girl who subversively manages to sneak into a centerfold gig, somehow flying under the cultural radar... but to embrace the Chosen One anointed as Playmate of the Year? From my perspective that would be like turning to the dark side. Now that the whole world's eyes were trained adoringly on her, Vickie was no longer my own secret delight, and she'd cast aside the folks who knew her way back when. I even felt slightly resentful towards her for getting all uppity and calling herself Anna Nicole now.

But then again, a touch of jealousy and sour grapes is only natural when your lady goes away and makes it to the big time without you. But if it's true love, those petty hurt feelings will only last so long.

People I followed the media coverage of Anna Nicole Smith with increasing interest, rapidly warming up to her again. I was heartened by the recurring praise for Anna Nicole as a positive role model for full-figured women. A September 1993 People magazine cover positioned her as the antidote to "skin and bones supermodel" Kate Moss -- "Big girls don't cry: Jeans model Anna Nicole Smith is sexy and successful -- at 155 pounds." The anti-waif article inside quoted her voicing that great unspoken truth: "Thin models look so unhealthy... Who wants to hug a skeleton?" And I was tickled pink. Perhaps the promise of her Playmate debut would be fulfilled, and Anna Nicole might serve as the unlikely catalyst for revolutionizing our culture's ass-backward views of feminine beauty.

Several television reports on Anna Nicole included clips from her Playboy home video features (G-rated snippets only, of course). I found these bits of footage fascinating. She looked immensely voluptuous in full motion video, even more so than in her photographs. The old adage is true: the TV camera adds ten pounds, much to the delight of we who favor larger women. Or perhaps it's not so much an illusion of extra weight as revealing the truth than still photos conceal, showing us the various stretches and jiggles of the subject's moving form.

I clearly recall seeing one particular Playboy video clip on a news report when I was it a friend's house. Dressed in a blue country dress and cowboy boots, Anna Nicole was twirling around in slow motion and lifting up her dress to afford us a 360 degree view of her wide, round hips and generous thighs. Upon beholding her exposed haunches, my friend protested that she was way too fat to be the Playmate of the Year. "But not for me!" I said with a dreamy smile, and at that moment I resolved to go buy her Playboy video.

Playboy Video Centerfold And what a revelation it was. Anna Nicole's Playboy Video Centerfold was the first Playboy video I ever bought, to be sure, but I'd seen friends' Playmate Review tapes and some satellite dish reception of the Playboy Channel. I knew what to expect. As an extension of the magazine's hollow methodology, the "video pictorials" furnish interviews and personal profiles that ostensibly humanize the Playmate and let us "get to know her as a person," justifying the prurient thrill when she gets naked for the camera. The videos add the extra dimension of music, pairing innocent/flirty pictorials with bouncy tunes, and underscoring more sensual scenes with lugubrious ballads, all accompanied by sublimely banal lyrics. And in the same way Playboy is classier than Hustler and Juggs, Playmate videos are altogether more slick and and refined than your average porno flick, although the Playboy facade grows antiseptic and soulless in its cookie-cutter artifice.

Anna Nicole Smith, being anything but the typical Playmate, posed a formidable challenge for Playboy's video producers. They tried their best to conform her to their rigid template, but her uncommonly potent beauty overpowers and dismantles the conventions of the Playboy apparatus. The magazine and video pictorials follow carefully calibrated patterns to present a safe and generic brand of beauty that's the same every time -- as reliable and predictable as the taste of a Big Mac. Anna Nicole's beauty, on the other hand, is wild, dangerous, one-of-a-kind... and, in all kinds of ways, just plain huge.

Playboy Video Centerfold The video material gives a much more honest depiction of her than the magazine layouts, which airbrushed out her breast surgery scars and disguised her tumescent tummy and backside. She is so gorgeous, in such a wondrous and unfamiliar way, that she unwittingly exposes the fakery and flim-flam of the mannered Playmate video style: the artsy photography, the dramatic lighting, the MTV jump-cut editing, the sappy songs, the whole bit. Anna Nicole doesn't need all this flashy hokum to make her filmed image look beautiful -- her beauty is bigger than it. Anytime I look at a video of another Playmate, I can never take it seriously as a piece of enticing erotica, since Anna Nicole has laid bare the silliness of the format. Imagine getting Shakespeare to write an episode of a half-hour sitcom -- his talent would effortlessly overtax the paltry form like a redlined engine throwing a rod, leaving the entire genre broken and empty. You'd never be able to watch Malcolm in the Middle again.

So yes, Anna Nicole's Playboy videos mean a great deal to me. (They are currently available in DVD compilations, which I have reviewed in extensive detail.) As her most compelling work under the auspices of Playboy, aside from that incomparable May 1992 centerfold, these video vignettes allayed my concerns that Anna Nicole had been homogenized by the evil rabbit-head empire. But she would have to take that next crucial step toward self-realization before her ascension as a goddess in her own right.

People In April 1994, I ran into Anna Nicole once again at the newsstand, and she surprised me with yet another metamorphosis. There on the cover of People's annual roundup of Oscar night fashions, the largest figure (in multiple senses) was a jubilant Anna Nicole Smith clad in a low-cut, skintight red satin gown. Some synaptic connection inside my brain permanently fused, and my universe repositioned itself in a new alignment. Surely this was the most gorgeous woman I had ever seen. She had put on a considerable number of pounds since I'd last seen her, and brother, was it ever in all the right places. All the potential I had seen in her -- no, make that all the potential I had seen in womankind -- was right there on display. Not a dream, not a crazy fantasy, but a glorious reality.

The dawning of the red dress was the epochal event in my relationship with Anna Nicole Smith. It was more than just the welcome weight gain. It was more than just the sexy gown, or Anna Nicole's charming ebullience in the spotlight. I'll tell you what really mattered the most: her appearance in that red dress rang loud and clear as her declaration of independence. With a thunderous finality, Anna Nicole cast aside the confining shackles of Playboy and Guess?, and began playing by her own rules instead. She had ridden those media giants like a Trojan horse into the impregnable fortress of celebrity, and now she was ready to unsheathe her swords on our complacent standards of beauty... catching the whole world asleep and unaware.

Here was an outrageously beautiful woman of nearly 200 pounds smiling and cavorting on the cover of a top national magazine! People's intention may have been to ridicule her, but I know a vast many readers like myself chose our own interpretation of this immense amazon eclipsing the teensy Marisa Tomei and Winona Ryder. To borrow a phrase from my friend Heinrich Saint-Germain, she had now asserted herself as a one-woman aesthetic restoration.

From the moment I saw her in that red dress, I fell hopelessly in love with Anna Nicole Smith. She had taken her throne as the Goddess Supreme, a sublime personification of incalculable feminine power. Her newfound freedom meant she didn't belong to Playboy anymore... but neither could she now belong to me.

No, the truth is that I belonged to her. Forever.

Part 2: Enormous Beauty
The one and only full-figured sex symbol of modern times.

My Love Affair with Anna Nicole Smith

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