International Women’s Day 2015: Holly Madison

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And good day to you, too!

I haven’t really been rolling with these posts in the New Year, but the sun is bright and the snow is melting and I REALLY wanted to do a post on International Women’s Day – and I thought, post ABOUT someone. Someone important, someone who changed things, someone representative of progress.

Holly Madison was literally the first person to pop into my head. Yes, Holly Madison, ex-girlfriend of Hugh Hefner (while he had many other girlfriends), former resident of the Playboy Mansion and star of the “reality” series The Girls Next Door. She currently resides in Las Vegas, married and with a little girl named Rainbow (named after a little girl who was her neighbor when she was a child in Alaska, and Holly thought it was the coolest name ever), more and more behind the scenes in burlesque as she seems to be embracing her 30s and motherhood and I hear, writing a book. Yes, I know all these things because I care about Holly Madison, and I keep up with what’s going on in her life. She’s one of maybe three celebrities whose lives I actually follow, and whose happiness is something I think about.

Now, of course, when Holly popped into my head I immediately tried to backpedal out of it. There are SO many other women I could post about, on today of all days:  teachers I’ve had, my mother and grandmothers, writers, activists, even actresses… But that would be disingenuous, wouldn’t it? To tailor my Women’s Day feelings to better fit with what I THINK I should feel?

Because Holly Madison is important TO ME. She represents a change in me, a very important shift in views towards my fellow women and my acceptance of other women for who they are and want to be, the shedding of disdain and feelings of aloofness or better-ness, judgmental ways I didnt realize I had until I began to shed them.

The Girls Next Door first aired in 2005, and I think it was probably intended to be Barbie TV, to pull more male viewers to the E! Network. Holly, Bridget, Kendra and sometimes Hef shuffling around in the background, pools full of playmates, lingerie parties, etc. It was eye candy, the Walking Dolls Show – and I’ll admit, that’s how I went into it, how I approached the viewing. Let’s make fun of the silicone girls. Watch the bimbos try to do stuff in pretty dresses. Playmates are going to cook and talk!

But surprise! For me, and everyone else. The viewership and fanbase was largely female, the show’s stars were compassionate, layered, lovable and flawed women. There was no conflict, no cattiness, no competition. They struggled, they failed, they tried again, they voiced their problems, supported each other. Holly in particular struck a chord with me. I worried for her as she turned thirty (just a few months after I did), I ached with her as she tried to be taken seriously and be heard and still be a blonde with implants in low cut dresses. She was smart and funny and moody and could never seem to work out exactly what she wanted, and I identified with her. She wanted acceptance and validation, but also to do her own thing and do things on her own and be taken seriously. Surprise, again: like most females, she wanted it all. To not have to choose to be beautiful OR capable.

Holly Madison humanized an entire population of women for me. The girls and women of the Playboy mansion, on the pages of magazines, the ‘sexy’ women who had plastic surgery and obsessed over their bodies became, for me, real women. I had derided and disrespected them for all the reasons one should never judge others: I didn’t understand them and they were nothing like me. But it didn’t and doesn’t make them less human or less worthy of common decency and respect. And Holly was my window into my own skewed view of women – and helped lead me out of it and to a more respectful, accepting place.

Happy International Women’s Day, Holly Madison.

And to all of you!

– Amanda

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