Kicking off the new millennium was what I'd call the turning point of the "Playmate Golden Era" I so often refer to. This was a time that began in the mid-to-late 1990's and went up until about 2002-03, and contained some of the iconic Playmates that really caused a shift in our way of thinking about the Playboy brand. Before the impactful girls of this time, Playboy girls were low-key women who were certainly eye candy, but weren't necessarily the superstars that we see cropping up today. Today's Playmates are figures of statuesque power, and not just women in magazines. They represent a lot more than just women on a page -- they are a sign of the times, and follow trends in fashion and generally show what Americans and men all over the world value in their women. The girls' figures changed with time, mimicking the mentality of the era. As curvier women were more favored, more full-bodied Playmates made appearances, and as more exotic non-blondes were sought out, Playboy followed suit.
The turning point, as I have mentioned, was in the years 1999 to 2000, the dawn of the new millennium, when Playmates were substantially more advanced and were top quality girls all around. 2000 was a great year, with millennium anniversary Playmates Carol and Darlene Bernaola (#18 on my countdown) kicking things off, along with Suzanne Stokes, Nicole Lenz, #4 Playmate Brooke Berry, Neferteri Shepherd, #10 Nichole Van Croft, and Buffy Tyler. That's quite a lineup of lovely women. It really was a year for the fans, with the talent booming and busting out with extremely tantalizing pictorials of sizzling models.
No one, by the turn of the century and throughout the new millennium, epitomized all that is sacred in the Playmate world quite like 2000's Miss June, Shannon Stewart. Shannon took Playboy by storm, gaining a fair following of fans and spreading her beauty for quite some time to come. She had a plethora of photos to share, and posed for quite some time after her Playmate appearance, giving her loyal following a taste of what Playmate perfection looks like. However, I don't think Shannon ever got the love that she truly deserved. This southwestern beauty, making an appearance at #2 on my longtime countdown, is someone I believe to be the "holy grail" of Playmates, and may show outright Playmate sexuality and perfection better than the best of them.
Shannon Stewart's attributes alone are astounding. A young girl from Louisiana with an hourglass 34-24-36 figure at a sparing 112 lbs., Shannon has all the measurements of an archetypical Playmate. Her body was that of a Greek goddess, with all the right curves in all the right places, like you wouldn't believe. And her face! Shannon's face was one you could stare at for quite some time, taking in the beauty that was simply uncanny for a girl of only 22 years. I mean, Shannon looked and posed like a mature, grown woman with loads of experience under her wings, but at only 22 years, she brought a youthful zeal into the picture that took the experience of watching her to a whole new level. I simply rank Shannon so high on my list because of how much of a pleasure it is to take her in. Her Playmate pictorial is perhaps the most comprehensive and well-produced pictorial in Playboy history. That's a bold statement, but I'll try and explain.
The first thing you'll notice about Shannon Stewart's classic pictorial is how extensive her body of work is. Shannon's material isn't just lengthy, but it's also top-shelf stuff. There are almost no bad shots, and Shannon really knows how to work each and every photo. You could start off with her defining pictorial: an "office girl" shot surrounded by mirrors and in some ruby red lingerie. Shots like this classic strip tease can blow your socks off, with every little coreographed move done flawlessly, taking off her pants, and kicking off one of the symbols of Playboy perfection. Shannon continues to flirt with the camera in front of the mirrors, which is a great way of showing different angles of her spectacular body. In Picture 15, where Shannon eyes the camera through the mirror and every glistening curve of her body complements her face, there is a real sense of complete control.
Jumping on top of the bed, Shannon shines in a totally different light. Here, Miss Stewart looks different because of a different approach to production and editing, where a dimmer lighting scheme shows off a more sensual and subtle Shannon. She is a master of posing, getting behind the post in that ragged lacy pink top, and proceeds to unleash her sexual side, laying down on the bed and letting loose. One thing is certain: Shannon is undoubtedly one of the most, and arguably the most, dynamic posers in the history of Playboy. She's always striking interesting shots and never repeats herself with the same old, tried-and-true techniques. This dark photo exemplifies this, giving an idea of some of the exotic looks Shannon could offer. Behind her back, Shannon looks undeniably sexy, with suggestive themes pouring through and letting the audience's imaginations run wild. The pictorial continues by showing side profile vantage points of Shannon's figure, offering details of the hourglass figure and the subtle posing techniques that were employed by this once-in-a-lifetime talent.
One of the finest photographs in Playboy history is this behind-the-back photo of Shannon, with a look that could melt any man and lighting that delicately shadows her perfect buttocks and dreamy arched back. It's textbook posing by a not-so-ordinary model. Other highlights of this pictorial series included the emotional and expressive doggy style photo seen here.
After a radically different, brilliantly executed brighter look at Shannon swinging in a southern country-style setting, we get back to her office bowtie pictorial. The results are chock full of feminine power combined with a slightly masculine charm, slipping off work clothes to unveil a work of art. Fully nude and with a pair of wireframe glasses on, Shannon looks like a goddess, and the pictorial is a brilliant testament to how Playboy used ingenuity and radical ideas to suit models perfectly (something that can't always be said about the company today). She then squares her shoulders, looks to her right, and lets off another glance through the mirror. It's a shot for the ages, and shows a full frontal view of Shannon's tantalizing crotch as well as a view of the tapering quality of her hips. Photo 53 uses the mirrors to perfection, focusing on a bent over Shannon's butt but also exposing her toned frontside amazingly.
Shannon finishes off the pictorial by returning to the purple top, leaning back and just letting her body do the talking. This really shows off the stunning way in which Shannon alternates between "passive" and "active" posing styles, sometimes just laying back and showing off her fantastic breasts and stacked abs. Passive posing can be taken to another level, showing this risque shot as she parts her legs and lets the viewers in on an obviously candid look between her thighs. Shannon finally tops off her pictorial full of big hits with this dreamy look into the camera, penetrating with her amazing gray eyes and her beautiful face.
To top all of this amazing production and quality, Shannon's Playmate centerfold is one of the finest, with a great smile and excellent detail on her curves and a lovely tan without overproduction. As she loosens off those dress pants and tugs on those suspenders, Shannon exudes the ultimate confidence a Playmate can bring, and takes all of the ingredients that make a seminal Playmate and combines them together to perfection.
Perfection is a word I've used often in this reminiscent view of one of the great Playmate beauties in history. Shannon was a young lady from Louisiana who really had the goods to share with the world. Her face was that of eras gone by, when Playboy models were starlets with luscious hair and twinkling eyes. Shannon's glistening smile is something of legends, and does indeed hearken back to the 50's and 60's and girls like the Marilyn Monroes of the classic era. She then takes that winning formula and combines it with a body that is truly of the new millennium, complete with well-proportioned breasts and a body that has been refined and worked on. You can taste the hard work and sweat poured into her Greek goddess-like body in every photo, and every drop of her talent was squeezed out for each photo to make each and every one count.
The greatest Playmates have the greatest photos, and it's hard to argue that Shannon didn't have the goods. With all of her material, it's uncanny how it all was just so incredibly good. Not a misstep here or there, but she really was able to milk it for all it was worth. That's why she's my #2.
After taking care of the second girl in my countdown, it's been a long time coming. I'll reveal the #1 Playmate of All-Time very soon. I started this countdown way back when I selected Carrie Westcott as #25 in October of last year. Now, we'll finally uncover my favorite, and yes, there will be debate. I'll welcome it, and I would like to welcome all of you to debate my entire list as soon as it's over. Until then, look over #2-25, and place your bets...