"Playboy really messed up my whole life," says the reality star veteran about finding new perspective
It's been 20 years since Kendra Wilkinson lived in the Playboy mansion and co-starred in E!’s reality show Girls Next Door with Holly Madison and Bridget Marquardt, but it's only in the last few months that she's found new perspective on her relationship with Hugh Hefner.
In a new interview with PEOPLE, Wilkinson says she "respects" the former Playmates — including Madison, Marquardt and Crystal Hefner — who have come forward about their own experiences with the late publisher.
“Time is funny because it really does a lot of weird things,” says Wilkinson, 38. “I respect what Holly, Bridget, Crystal are saying. I respect what they've been through — I respect their stories.”
Wilkinson, who's a mom to Hank IV, 14, and Alijah Mary, 9, admits that it’s not easy to look back at her own difficult times after moving into the mansion at age 18. “I’ve had to face my demons,” she says. “Playboy really messed my whole life up.”
Hefner’s past sexual encounters with his former Playmates — most of whom were women not old enough to legally drink — have come to be heavily criticized in recent years after his death in September 2017 at age 91.
Several women spoke out about their experiences in detail on A&E’s Secrets of Playboy, which explored the controversial history of the Playboy founder over the years. In a statement shared with PEOPLE ahead of the docuseries' release in 2022, the magazine denounced Hugh's alleged "abhorrent actions" and detailed a commitment to "positive change" under new leadership which “no longer associates” with the Hefner family.
“Why did I have sex with an old man at that age?” Wilkinson now asks of Hefner, who was 60 years her senior. “Why did I do that? Why did I go to the mansion in the first place? Why did I get boobs? Why did I bleach blonde my hair? Why did I?”
In the past few years Wilkinson says she’s gone down a “crazy regretful path” and was fearful of the world judging her, especially after she began pursuing a new career as a real estate agent in 2020.
“I was there for the partying, okay, let's just be real. I was not there for Hugh Hefner to be my boyfriend,” Wilkinson continues. “I don't really see things the same way as the other girls because Hef was never really my boyfriend. I was at the Playboy Mansion for the sake of partying, that's what I was there for.”
Madison, who was 21 when she started dating Hefner, then 75, in 2001, went public with the trauma she faced after dating him and detailed in her book Down the Rabbit Hole. (Madison previously told PEOPLE that she was in “survival” mode and felt “traumatized” by her experiences while trying to create a new life for herself away from Hefner. Last year, Madison also publicly shared her autism diagnosis.
“I have empathy for her being diagnosed,” says Wilkinson. “I was just diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and I know what it's like to be diagnosed with something. I look back at my times at the mansion and I'm like, ‘Holy s---, I was depressed at points too.’ I completely have empathy with everything Holly says and her story, and I wouldn’t mind having a conversation with her and Bridget one day.”
Wilkinson says she's also still working on feeling comfortable talking about her own experience. “People keep reaching out saying, ‘Why don't you go on Holly and Bridget's podcast and talk about the mansion?’ My time is my time. I am not ready yet. I'm not ready to talk about all that yet,” she says.
While continuing therapy following her mental health crisis last fall, Wilkinson is trying to focus on her future and let go of her regret.
“I'm so grateful for everything, now that I see everything the way it is. I was in a deep, dark depression about it, but now I feel like I've forgiven myself for it all and I feel like I can have real conversations about it," she says. "I’m out of it and I feel better than ever."
For more on Kendra Wilkinson's mental health crisis and her time in the Playboy mansion, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
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Read the original article on People.