Monday, June 29, 2009

#1 - Karen McDougal

It's definitely been a while since I last left my long-running countdown of the Greatest Playmates of All-Time. It's been a thorough and comprehensive list, and although fans may have been waiting for their favorite gal to pop up without any result, there's been speculation about who the number one model would be. She's been identified with lots of accuracy, and for good reasons. The leading lady is a girl who I think is the most complete Playmate, and model, ever to appear in Playboy, on any level. She transcends the norms and raises the bar when it comes to true beauty in the world of nude modeling.

I refer to the late 90's and early 2000's as my "Golden Era" of Playboy. With such consistency in the quality of models, it's no wonder I refer to it in these words. The girls of these years were some of the all-time greats, as is reflected by my countdown, and it all was kicked off at the end of 1997...

'97 was a turning point for Playmates. There were many milestones before the year, but there was something special about this one. The year took the shape of a typical 90's era collection of Playmates - and had its fair share of great Playmates, such as Lynn Thomas, Kalin Olson, Nikki Schieler, and Inga Drozdova. However, this was all just a precursor for December, which brought about a turning point in the way Playmates were perceived and photographed.

I'm talking, of course, about Karen McDougal, Miss December 1997 and Playmate of the Year 1998. She easily won the title after a rather weak class of Playmates, but would have dominated in any other year, easily. She set a new standard for the way Playmates were shot: with a classy but strong presence, with a new standard of curviness and strength, and a sense of bodily conditioning and posing talent that could put any other girl light-years behind. Karen could easily exist in any Playmate era and overshadow the competition, no matter who it could be. That is why she is my #1 - there is no question that she is head and shoulders above anyone in terms of sheer quality. Karen was unlike any other, and it would take pages upon pages to truly describe just how special a Playmate she was.

Karen emerged from blue collar Gary, Indiana, a midwestern schoolteacher who was a smash-hit beauty from the very beginning. With rounded, modest measurements: a 34-24-34 frame and a busty 125 lbs, the numbers on her sheet don't do her justice. Karen's exotic traits come from her Native American heritage and Irish mixed background, and show in each and every photo. Her unique looks are understated to just the right level, and never take over her shots and become the focal point over her pointed, highly effective posing style. Her grace is impeccable, and she doesn't have a single shot that falls short of expectations. Truly a momentous Playmate.

It's hard to peruse Karen's material without going over her centerfold first. Possibly one of the great centerfold photos of all-time, Karen's is an iconic pose that doesn't go all-out with a frontal assault on the senses, but instead holds back just the right amount, showing off Karen's beautifully built backside. Her feminine shoulders shimmer in the soft lighting, and the wintry setting makes for a very memorable sight. With a pretty red ribbon to tie back those lustrous locks, you've got a centerfold that is extremely well-shot, and accomplishes exactly what all centerfolds should do: be something that can stand as a work by itself, aside from pictorial material, taking on a life of its own.

One always has to begin describing Karen with her most eye-catching feature: her body. It was not just another hot and stacked figure that set Karen apart from all the others, but it was the way it became an icon for the Playmate world. Karen's figure is a temple, a shrine to feminine perfection. Not only was it soft and accented in its curviness, which set the bar for voluptuous and sinewy models of the era, but it was also as hard as a rock. She is known for her athletic, muscular build, and it showed in her pictorials, with every single pose being complemented by her tight form and exquisite posture.

Karen's figure was also one of incredible feminine balance: while she had a rough and tough exterior that allowed her to strike contorting, innovative poses, she also had a glowing softness to her skin and face that truly made her cute and endearing.

I always say that the most important asset of a Playboy model is her material, as well as her posing talent. Karen was the consummate professional in this category, providing stunning montages and incredible sights to behold. She had an almost poetic flow to her pictorials, always changing her gaze and shifting through with ease of motion. In the snowy hills, she shot an iconic set, ingrained in the memory of many a fan. Throughout her pictorials, she also boasted incredible production value by her editors, something which has not ever been matched in a model's pictorial. The quality is unbelievable, with thematic layering and a textural feel to each and every one of her pictures.

Her pictorials are almost of a storytelling nature, and the Christmas-tinged wintry themes are spot-on. The sets and lighting cater to Karen's unique skin hue, and her playfulness is never forgotten, and always highlighted when the time is right. The outtakes never even seem as such, often creating a sense of sexual innocence that draws the audience even closer to its alluring nature. All-in-all, Karen was never overbearing in her posing, always taking her time and having a level of patience that I had never seen elsewhere. She always knew how to time her photographs perfectly, never seeming like she was trying too hard to get that perfect pose. She is an example that all Playmates and Cyber Girls alike could learn quite a bit from.

Karen McDougal's ultimate impact on the Playboy world cannot be easily described. To a new generation, she was an icon and a trendsetter. To a legion of dedicated readers, she was a breath of fresh air and an usher for a new era of revival and greatness. Indeed, "revival" is the best word to describe Karen's influence. She created a new image of the Playmate as a strong, intimate woman who was fearless and always in control of the way she would come off.

Karen greatly influenced the way in which Playmates' range of skills were evaluated. In other words, girls were put into "niche" posing styles and categories that would limit their abilities and close them in, but Karen always found new ways to expand and grow her talents. Even when she was selected as Playmate of the Year 1998, Karen found incredible ways to "wow" the crowds, with shots like this unforgettable mountain vista. Her PMOY pictorial, in fact, contains some absolutely breathtaking photos that define professionalism in nude photography, like this silhouette and this follow-up, which truly highlight just how perfect Karen's body was.

Karen was not only a prolific Playmate, but she truly had a sense of quality, and what made a great pose and what did not. She was consistent, had a wholesome presence, and natural photogenicity that is incredibly rare. She stood head-and-shoulders above all others in Playboy's history, and should be remembered as such. In crowd circles, it can be widely debated as to who is the greatest Playmate ever, since there have been hundreds who can qualify and compete. However, a Playmate is something more than just a naked girl. There are three billion women on this planet, and many millions of gorgeous ones. However, it takes a certain intangible to truly be a fantastic nude, and Karen McDougal proved that she absolutely had the greatest body and set of talents in Playboy's history.

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