The first day of her entrepreneur class at Fresno State, Carly Lauren was asked what business she would like to start.
"I said I don't know yet. That's why I am in here," Lauren says.
The 23-year-old now has her answer — it's herself.
The attractive blonde, who grew up in Fresno and the foothills just north of Madera Ranchos, has become a major enterprise with her appearance in the October issue of Playboy magazine. Her photos — many with a circus theme — grace the magazine's centerfold section and may be the start of a hectic career for Lauren.
As she says, most people don't realize that once you are part of the Playboy family, there is online work, modeling, public appearances and a host of other ways to turn her instant celebrity into a profitable career. Some of the Playmates, such as Lauren's favorite, Jenny McCarthy, have used the magazine to launch TV, film and publishing careers.
Lauren gets asked what she thinks the impact of being in Playboy will be. Right now, that's a tough question for her to answer.
"I feel like I don't want to limit anything. I would love to try acting. I want to do more modeling. Those will come with being a Playmate," Lauren says. "Ultimately, I just want to be successful, happy and make a difference. There's just so much more you can do with the word 'Playmate' next to your name.
"Being in Playboy is going to help me with some of the business ideas I want to do."
As her centerfold profile states, Lauren was born in West Hills, Calif. But her family moved to Fresno when she was a child. She is not certain the reason for the move, other than she had grandparents living in Oakhurst. During the sixth grade at Mountain View Christian School, Lauren's family moved to the edges of Madera County. She was active in sports, playing volleyball at Sierra High School and one year at Fresno City College. Lauren also did gymnastics.
Lauren never had even seen Playboy until the idea of posing was suggested by Playboy photographer Josh Ryan. She saw his work on Instagram and really liked it.
"I didn't even know he was a Playboy photographer but was interested in his work because he has a really good eye for pictures," Lauren says. "He asked me if I was interested in shooting for Playboy. I looked into it, told him 'Sure, why not?' "
The process of becoming a Playmate started more than a year ago with photographs Ryan shot, which appeared on Playboy's website. There were several delays scheduling her centerfold photo session, including Lauren's final semester at Fresno State. The shoot takes about a week and Lauren didn't feel like she could give up the time working on a business degree just before graduation in May.
Once school was behind her, she traveled to Los Angeles for the shoot at the same circus set featured in the movie "Water for Elephants." The nudity for the photo session didn't bother Lauren. She's been doing swimsuit and lingerie modeling work for three years.
"I am very comfortable being nude anyway," Lauren says. "And, because I had worked with Josh and the same crew on the other photos, I felt very comfortable."
Most of the attention she has received since the magazine was released has been from family and friends, plus local interviews. Her work with the magazine will increase in the upcoming months and could skyrocket if she joins the ranks of Pamela Anderson, Anna Nicole Smith and McCarthy as being named the Playmate of the Year.
Lauren thinks she has a good shot.
"If you look at the past seven Playmates of the Year, they have all been brunettes. It's time for a blonde," Lauren says.
Even with the spotlight thrown on her, Lauren says she is not that different from the country girl who grew up north of Fresno. That's why she hasn't yet given up her bartending job at a local restaurant, though she knows a move to Los Angeles, when her work with Playboy begins to speed up, is inevitable.
The country girl in her has helped her stay grounded as this big life change unfolds. She says she has been shy around people ever since she was young.
"When I was younger, I would say I was pretty insecure," she says." I was awkward. If a boy was interested, I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, he thinks I'm pretty?' Whereas I have a little sister, who just turned 17, and she's gorgeous. She's never been awkward."
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.