When I was in high school, I was a massive closet fan of the hit reality show The Girls Next Door. The show featured a trio of busty babes, known for dating the notorious playboy Hugh Hefner: Kendra Wilkinson, Bridget Marquardt and, of course, Holly Madison. I stumbled upon a DVD of the first season at my local video rental shop in my senior year and was instantly hooked.
I can’t exactly put my finger on why I became so intrigued by the series, but after watching one episode I couldn’t get enough. Maybe it was the stunning shots of the Playboy mansion, with all the beautiful blond bunnies bouncing around in the California sun. Maybe it was the taboo of peeping into Hefner and his girlfriends’ lives, in an almost voyeuristic manner. Or maybe (and most likely) it was because reality television was in its prime, and I was eager to work my way through another mindless series during my study breaks (I had powered through Laguna Beach years before it came out in Canada, and wasn’t interested in Survivor or Big Brothers).
It just looks so glamorous, I thought to myself, as I watched Kendra, Bridget and Holly get all dolled up for the Playboy Midsummer’s Night Dream party in Season One. As much as I had zero ambitions of dating a man fifty years my senior or posing naked for the magazine, the Playboy realm had me transfixed – and the three peroxide princesses that appeared to rule by Hefner’s side were even more fascinating.
It wasn’t until years later when I started working in the fashion industry (another seemingly unattainable universe I was obsessed with as a teen) that I began to understand that the meaning of the phrase “Not All That Glitters is Gold.” Being a model certainly wasn’t as enchanting as the Victoria’s Secret Angels made it out to be. In Holly Madison's recently released memoir, Down The Rabbit Hole, Madison also makes it clear that being Hefner’s “Number One Girlfriend” and “being famous for nothing” isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be either.
I’m sure a lot of people have their opinions about Hefner, his slew of past girlfriends (for those of you who don’t know, he’s married now) and the Playboy brand in general. Many probably hold the opinion that Madison is a gold-digging whore in search of her next paycheck, and writing a tell-all book about Hefner is the best way to obtain it.
I, however, disagree. I think Madison has been incredibly brave to come clean about her time at the Playboy mansion. It takes a lot of guts to reveal the true dynamics in a relationship where one partner is inclined to express emotionally abusive tendencies towards the other, never mind his manipulation of the group dynamics between his multiple barely-legal girlfriends. Especially even so when that said partner is one of the most infamous media moguls of our generation.
I read “Down The Rabbit Hole” twice within a month of purchasing the book. At first, I wrote it off as a fun summer read by just another one of my former reality star heroes. I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for a good C-List celebrity book. The second time I flipped through the pages, I realized there was a lot more to the memoir than just juicy tidbits about Hefner’s bedroom routine with multiple bunnies (the one television hosts are so eager to discuss when they interview with Madison).
From the way Madison tells it in the memoir, Hefner is a far cry from the gentleman he portrays himself as in the media and on Girls Next Door (surprise, surprise, isn’t everyone different off camera?) What really shocks me, however, is the level of abuse directed at Madison throughout the course of their relationship. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor a few times when I reread certain passages.
In the time leading up to the breakup, Madison writes about Hefner having her followed during a routine work trip to Las Vegas, belittling her in public at a “Games Night” at the mansion, and calling her a “fucking cunt” when she questioned a Girls Next Door scheduling conflict. She also chronicles her depression in the memoir, describing suicidal thoughts while taking a bath one evening after a night out. When she approaches Hefner about seeing a psychiatrist for her mental health, he recommends she speak to his secretary instead of seeking professional help, clearly dismissing the larger issue at hand.
The majority of the media outlets that have recently interviewed Madison about the release of Down the Rabbit Hole avoid touching on the topics of the emotional abuse and manipulation during her seven-year relationship with Hefner. Interviewers are eager to discuss their sex life, drugs on the club nights out, and the drama between Madison and the other former girlfriends – which, to be fair, makes up a substantial part of the memoir – but don’t bother digging into the real issues at hand: one of the most powerful men in publishing is an emotionally abusive control-freak to his significant others, according to his former girlfriend. I guess discussing abuse of any kind on daytime television just isn’t as sexy as watching a former Hugh Hefner girlfriend try to gracefully volley questions about her past sex life with the old man.
I admire Madison for mustering up the courage to write Down the Rabbit Hole. She admits that the naiveté of her early twenties, combined with her desperation for Hollywood stardom, led her down a very negative path. I appreciate that she acknowledged that life with Hefner at the mansion did have its perks, but that the two were by no means in a healthy relationship. I applaud her for the success she attained after leaving the Playboy mansion (Madison went on to star in the Las Vegas burlesque show, Peepshow; had her own reality television series, Holly’s World; was on Dancing with The Stars; and is now happily married with a daughter).
Regardless I am still quite shocked that there isn’t more coverage in regards to Hefner’s unacceptable behavior, now that Madison has publically disclosed their former relationship dynamics. Mainstream media and press seem to do their best to steer clear of using certain terms that might paint the mighty Hefner in too negative of a light. Madison, as well, seems to avoid playing the role of the victim, but from her recounts in the memoir, it’s fairly clear than she was in more than just a “bad relationship.”
Perhaps Madison disclosing what Hefner was really like behind closed doors in Down The Rabbit Hole, manipulative tendencies and all, will prevent other young women from following in her footsteps (or in similar ones, as Hef is clearly off the market for now.) At the very lease, she’s a bit of an inspiration to anyone who’s ever experienced aspects of emotional abuse or have found themselves stuck in a toxic relationship – regardless of whether you believe she’s a gold digger or not.
Kudos to you, Holly.