A paraplegic Cal State Fullerton student who has posed for a pictorial spread in Playboy magazine says, "I wanted to make a statement that I was a total woman."
Ellen Stohl, 23, told reporters earlier this week that she agreed to the photo session because the focus is on who she is, not that she is disabled, according to the Associated Press.
But Stohl, the subject of a planned eight-page layout in the July issue, declined interview requests Tuesday after publicity touched off debate about her decision and Playboy told her to stop undercutting the upcoming article and pictorial about her, magazine spokesman Bill Paige said.
Stohl is partially clad in all of the photos except one, which has her sitting fully clothed in her wheelchair. The magazine is to go on sale in June.
Stohl was studying acting when she broke five neck vertebrae in a 1983 automobile accident; her legs have been paralyzed since.
"For a while, I tried to sublimate my desire to act and model by going to art school, but I came to terms with myself and decided I wanted to make a statement that I was a total woman," she said in an interview Monday, the Associated Press reported.
"I realized sexuality is very essential to who we are," she said. "America is so focused on not dealing with sex that we're obsessed with it. I went to Playboy because they handle sex very well. It makes a statement people will listen to.
"I didn't want to be treated specially when I approached Playboy, and I was happy when the first thing they asked me was, 'What do you look like? Are you Playboy material?' I think I am. The focus is on who I am, not the fact that I'm disabled."
"She wrote to the magazine, suggesting the article, and part of her letter is reproduced as part of the feature," Paige said. "She wanted to show that her sexuality was still part of her."
Brian Reedy, Stohl's friend, said Tuesday that the Cal State communications major has no regrets about posing for Playboy but is concerned about the media attention her decision has sparked because "she is trying to study for finals."
"Ellen is the most dynamic and outstanding person that I know," said Reedy, also a Cal State Fullerton student. "When she has a cause she believes in, she has no qualms about expressing her belief and that is what this is all about. All of her friends strongly support her."
Those views were echoed by Speed Davis, a spokesman for the National Spinal Cord Injury Assn. of Newton, Mass.
"She has the same right to pose for Playboy as any other woman who thinks she has the qualifications," Davis said. "It's a step forward for a disabled woman, and I see no reason to feel different about it because it is in a magazine like Playboy."
Davis said he thought that the layout is a good opportunity to educate the general public about sexuality among the disabled.
"Two centuries ago, the disabled were hidden so other people couldn't see them, and only seven or eight years ago the Easter Seal Foundation received a lot of negative comment when it skipped their usual 'little girl on crutches' poster and showed a young man in a wheelchair sitting in a park with his girlfriend in his lap," he said.
Television crews followed Stohl around campus Tuesday, but she merely smiled and attempted to hide her face.
Times wire services contributed to this story.