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Disabled Woman Looks Back At Posing Nude For Playboy, Challenging Stigmas

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Nearly 25 years ago, a local woman opened an arena of debate on disability by posing nude for Playboy magazine.

Ellen Stohl’s past actions have forced many to view the term “handicapped” in a whole different light and to make society take notice. She wrote to Hugh Hefner asking for a chance to appear in Playboy to slay the most persistant myths about disabled people.

“The reason why I chose Playboy magazine for this endeavor is that sexuality is the hardest thing for a disabled person to hold on to,”  Stohl wrote in her letter to Hefner.

Stohl said she wanted to send the message, “Look at me! I am a woman more than I am a wheelchair and you need to see that about me.”

That was nearly 25 years ago, when Ellen Stohl made history. She was photographed nude in an 8-page pictorial and became the first woman with a disability to appear in Playboy.

“Hef was really adamant that I had the right to have the same sexual voice as women without disabilities,” Stohl said.

“Disability is not going away,” Stohl said, ” and if we can’t deal with the changes in our bodies and the changes in our physique, whether it’s from aging or catastrophic injury, we limit what we can do.”

Stohl is an incomplete quadriplegic. She was paralyzed in a car accident from the neck down but has regained some feeling in her upper body.

She described laying in the hospital feeling hopeless and having lost the will to live.

But she has since learned that her disability didn’t have to stop her from living.

“I learned that life can be just as good. It’s different. But you can ski, you can horseback ride, you can skydive, you can get married, you can have kids, you can have a job — really, you’re just doing it sitting down.”

The model and actress didn’t let it stop her from pursuing her dreams. She returned to acting and her Hollywood aspirations.

Stohl lives with her husband and her daughter in Northridge. She teaches at Cal State University and tours the country, lecturing on sexuality and body image as they relate specifically to physical disability.

When asked whether she’d still pose in Playboy if she had the chance to go back in time, Stohl says, “Absolutely!”

“I wish society was such that I didn’t have to go to such extremes but I would do it again because it has made changes.”

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