Lenna Resigns from Playboy to Muse Science

After more than half a century of use in scientific research, the iconic photograph of the Lena Foresen model from the 1972 Playboy magazine has been officially retired. The IEEE computer society has issued a directive prohibiting scientists from including the image known as “Lenna” in their academic works. This image has long been a standard test material for digital media processing systems.

In a statement on Twitter, IEEE Vice-President Terry Benzel explained that continued use of the image from a men’s magazine goes against the society’s principles of inclusiveness, diversity, and ethics. The decision to retire the image was made in consideration of Foresen’s wishes.

The history of Lenna dates back to June-July 1973 when a University of South California employee scanned a portion of a Playboy centerfold featuring a girl. The resulting 512×512-pixel image, where the model posed with a naked shoulder in a hat with a purple scarf, was found to be ideal for algorithm testing due to its high contrast and detail.

Following its initial publication, the photograph of Lena gained immense popularity among researchers and was used in thousands of scientific papers worldwide over the following decades, despite potential copyright issues.

Although Playboy initially overlooked Lenna’s popularity, in 1997, the publishing house capitalized on the situation by organizing a public event with the model herself, garnering additional attention for their brand.

However, besides its acclaim in professional circles, Lenna also faced criticism from scientists and activists who argued that the image fostered an unhealthy environment of objectification in academia, making it less welcoming for women.

Efforts to retire the use of Lenna began as early as 1996, with the influential journal Nature officially banning the image in articles in 2018. Forsen, who initially responded to her unexpected fame in computer science with humor, expressed a change of heart in 2019, stating, “I have long left the modeling business. It’s time to move on from technology.”

Now, a complete ban on the use of Lenna has been implemented by one of the most prestigious computer communities. As Benzel emphasized, program committees and reviewers will rigorously enforce this rule and require authors to substitute the controversial image with alternative visuals.

/Reports, release notes, official announcements.