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Holly Madison Says Relationship With Hugh Hefner Was "Stockholm Syndrome"

The former "Girls Next Door" star has been candid about her "cult-like" Playboy experience.

From 2005 to 2010, viewers got a look inside the Playboy Mansion thanks to the E! reality show The Girls Next Door. The series fascinated fans, because the world of Playboy and the life of Hugh Hefner were so strange and unconventional. But, in the years since the show stopped airing, one of Hefner's three girlfriends at the time and one of the stars of The Girls Next Door, Holly Madison, has been very outspoken about her relationship with Hefner, her living situation, and how it wasn't as carefree as the show often made it seem.

Madison opened up in detail about her time at the Playboy Mansion in her 2015 book Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny. And more recently, at the end of July, she shared on TikTok that she was suffering from body dysmorphia at the time. She also shared more about her relationship with Hefner in a podcast interview from April of this year. Read on for the latest revelations from Madison about her past life.

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Madison was Hefner's "main girlfriend".

Holly Madison, Hugh Hefner, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson attend the 35th Annual AFI Life Achievement Award in 2007
Tinseltown /

While Madison was with Hefner, she was considered his "main girlfriend," while her Girls Next Door co-stars Kendra Wilkinson and Bridget Marquardt were also his girlfriends. Madison was in a relationship with Hefner from 2001 to 2008. They broke up, in part, because Madison wanted to get married and have children and Hefner did not. Madison went on to marry and have two children with her now ex-husband Pasquale Rotella. Hefner, who already had four children, married Crystal Harris in 2012, and they were still together at the time of his 2017 death.

Madison said her relationship with Hefner was "very Stockholm syndrome."

Hugh Hefner and Holly Madison at Spike TV's 2nd Annual Guys Choice Awards in 2008
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During an April 2021 interview on the Call Her Daddy podcast, Madison shared that she felt she was in love with Hefner, but looking back at the relationship now she feels differently. At first, she thought that living in the Playboy Mansion was a going to be a "fun … crazy experience" and she that she was just one of a rotating group of women. But, when she became the "main girlfriend"—pretty much because no one else wanted to be—and Hefner was being so nice to her and paying her so much attention, she thought of it differently.

"I started to feel like I was in love with him in a very like, looking back on it, I feel like it was a very Stockholm syndrome type of thing, where I just felt like I identified with him and he was complimenting me so much in the beginning," she said. "And I just started to, in my mind, blame all the other problems on the other women. Like, 'Oh, this is a miserable situation, but if these other women weren't here, it wouldn't be like that.'"

He told her things that made her feel guilty about leaving.

Holly Madison at the 36th AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008
Tinseltown /

"He started lashing out at me more for really stupid things and I just realized, like, I can't be here, like, this guy is an a**hole," Madison said on the podcast. "But even still, I felt guilty leaving. It took time, it took me being interested in another man before I finally was like, 'I have to pull the plug because I'm not gonna cheat.' It just goes along with all the love-bombing stuff and the 'we're gonna be together forever, and we're gonna be together the rest of my life' and blah, blah, blah. He would compare me to Belle in Beauty and Beast, like, I just came along to this castle."

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She has said the culture in the mansion was "cult-like."

Holly Madison, Hugh Hefner, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson at the premiere of "House Bunny" ijn 2008
Tinseltown /

In the interview, Madison explained that once she got to the mansion and had sex with Hefner for the first time, she felt like she had to make something of the situation, so that it was all for a reason. "I'd almost like locked myself into this box, in a way, which wasn't hard to do there, because it's a very cult-like atmosphere, anyway, and you're manipulated to feel that way," she said.

She also said she felt scared that she wouldn't be able to fit back into the outside world. She tried to have children with Hefner, but it didn't happen, which she is grateful for now. "My own kind of shame kept me there, too. I couldn't really imagine a life outside of there. Like I thought, 'OK, this is my last stop. If I want to have kids, I'm going to try.' And then when I knew that wasn't going to be a possibility with him, like we tried in vitro and everything. It didn't work. I was like, 'OK, well, if I'm not going to have kids here, that's something I need to think about. This is really like a death sentence, in a way.'"

She was also struggling with her body image when she was there.

In a TikTok video posted on July 24, Madison shared that she was experiencing body dysmorphia during the time she was involved with Playboy. "For a recent post I was looking for pictures of myself in a bunny costume," Madison says in the video. "And I came across one and it reminded me of a moment in my life where I was watching a playback of myself in a fashion show and I thought, 'Oh my god, I need to lose weight.'"

She continues, "I'm sharing this because I think it might help people realize that sometimes our body dysmorphia is off the charts. I really feel like worrying about what I look like has gotten in the way of me living my best life, and being as happy as I could be, and really enjoying life as much as I could."

She tells her followers that it's "not worth feeling bad about yourself." Referring to the picture of her in the bunny costume that's shown in the background, she says, "I looked at myself when I looked like this and was terrified, and thought I had gained weight, and thought I hadn't stuck to my diet, and I thought my thighs were huge and I thought, 'I need to lose five pounds at least.' And that's ridiculous. I look like a stick."

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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