Playboy Playmate Hailee Lautenbach reflects on facing her mental health struggles: There was ‘a slow spiral’

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EXCLUSIVE: Hailee Lautenbach didn’t know what to expect when Playboy came calling.

The celebrated model who isn’t afraid to share nearly all on Instagram is the Spring 2021 Playmate. The 26-year-old worked closely with the brand to develop an ‘80s vaporwave theme for her pictorial shot by Graham Dunn, who previously worked with fellow Playmates Jessica Wall and Savannah Smith. 

For the spread, Lautenbach wore Yandy, a subsidiary brand of PLBY Group, which included lingerie that perfectly captured her love of all things ‘80s. And according to Lautenbach, the results made her jaw drop.

Model and social media star Hailee Lautenbach is Playboy’s Spring 2021 Playmate.
(Graham Dunn)

Lautenbach spoke to Fox News about appearing in Playboy, developing a social media presence, as well as how she coped with her mental health struggles.

Fox News: Congrats on being a Playmate! What does the title mean to you?
Hailee Lautenbach: First of all, maybe conceitedly, but personally it kind of validates what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years in my career. Going from a no-name model to Hailee the Playmate. So it’s validating and rewarding. And it’s an honor to work with such an iconic company. 

Fox News: How would you describe the shoot?
Lautenbach: It was the biggest production I’ve ever been on. When they told me the costs for everything, my mouth just dropped. Like, this is all for me? I had butterflies in my stomach the whole day. I was just filled with excitement and smiling the whole time.

Hailee Lautenbach said she was inspired by the ’80s for her Playboy shoot.
(Graham Dunn)

But because there was partial nudity involved, I was wondering what that was going to look like. But I had three people taking care of me all day, running around with towels and just keeping me comfortable and safe. They were always asking what I needed to feel my best. It was just the perfect experience. I’m forever going to love and remember it.

Fox News: The photoshoot was ‘80s inspired. Why?
Lautenbach: The concept was so important to me. As a model, you never give input. You just show up and take whatever’s thrown your way. But when I booked Playboy, I found out I had full creative control. And I immediately went ‘80s. I was always obsessed with the era. Every weekend, my parents and I would watch ‘80s films, so it was just a part of me. 

Fox News: What was your reaction when you saw the photos?
Lautenbach: I was so nervous. I usually don’t look at the photos when they’re unedited. I’m always scared. But I was screaming and jumping up and down when I saw these. It looked so good. It was exactly what I wanted. I looked like I was straight out of an ‘80s movie. Honestly, it was a dream come true.

Hailee Lautenbach admitted she didn’t know what to expect when it came time to shoot for Playboy.
(Graham Dunn)

Fox News: You currently live in Portland to be close to your family during the pandemic. What did they think of your Playboy appearance?
Lautenbach: Of course, they know what Playboy is now. It’s so different. It’s a celebration of women, by women. So my mom is proud of me. Before, it was more like, “Oh, Playboy.” But once they saw the pictures and heard how great [the team] was to me, they’re [now] proud.

Fox News: Did you physically prepare for your shoot? 
Lautenbach: For some reason, before I booked Playboy, I had decided that I wanted to kick my health up another notch. So it was perfect timing. I didn’t do anything crazy. I was eating pretty healthy already and working out, but I wanted to learn how to skate. So I started doing that. And it kind of gave me a great butt *laughs*. And the most random thing is I got this ab roller and I would use it daily. And I got like a six-pack. So I didn’t do too much. But I would say the ab roller and skating helped me for Playboy.

I’ve never been physically strong before, but I was doing some crazy poses for Playboy. And honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to get these shots if I didn’t have core strength. So it actually helped my pictures. So go out and skate. It’s great for you, it’s fun and you get toned.

Hailee Lautenbach developed a growing social media presence while living in Los Angeles.
(Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for MaximExperiences)

Fox News: According to your Playboy feature, you moved to Los Angeles originally to launch a modeling career. And it sounds like you started to feel more comfortable in LA after you began gaining followers on social media. How so?
Lautenbach: It was interesting. When I first moved to LA, I already had a small number of followers. But back in the day, agencies would be like, “Delete your Instagram. You’re a model.” So it kind of sucked. But you know, this is me.

Now, if you go to castings, they always ask for your Instagram. But I organically grew a following by oversharing my life almost like a reality show – the good and the bad. My friends and family became characters. That’s how I started to get a following – just being a relatable dorky girl who is somehow a model living in LA and showing the realities of living there.

Fox News: How important was it for you to bend the rule of being a model who also had a social media presence?
Lautenbach: I just started putting myself out there. People were posting photos of trees or their food. I was posting selfies or modeling pictures. I actually lost pretty much all of my Portland friends because they were saying it was so cocky. Like, “Why is she posting a selfie?” Oh, how the tables have turned. But even my agents were like, “Don’t use Instagram.” I could have succumbed to that and listen to them, but I was so happy being myself and sharing that with others. I kind of pushed through and rebelled a little bit. 

Hailee Lautenbach said she’s not afraid to "overshare" social media.
(Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images for Oh Polly)

Fox News: How do you feel about models posting on social media today?
Lautenbach: I think it’s good. I think it pushes the boundaries of who can be a model. For example, I’m a bit curvier. I’m only 5’9″. I should be six feet to be a real model. But I feel having Instagram pushes that boundary of who can be a model. And it’s great for everybody. You can be a normal person on social media who becomes famous and get huge campaigns without being a model… I mean, it’s cool to be mysterious, but I’m not like that.

Fox News: You spoke to Playboy about your mental health. When did you first realize that you were struggling?
Lautenbach: I’ve always been a happy person. I always wake up happy, ready to get the day started and run around. There was no traumatic event, but there was just a slow spiral. It started to happen when there was a dark cloud over me to the point where I was hiding in my bed in LA for a week. Maybe it’s TMI, but you know, just not being hygienic, just lying there. I had my blinds closed, but I could see the palm trees out there swaying. And I’m just like, “Why can’t I just go outside? Why can’t I just go get the mail?” My friends were calling me but even that became too much to even look at my phone.

Hailee Lautenbach admitted that at one point, she struggled with her mental health.
(Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images for TellTale)

I realized it was unhealthy when my friends, my great friends, started banging on my door and saying, “Hey, let us in. Are you OK?” I was like, “I think I have depression.” And that was it. I called my mom and said, “I think I need a therapist to check on my mental health.” It was never anything too dark. I just couldn’t get myself to do anything. I was diagnosed with high anxiety and depression. I took medication for a while but I think I figured myself out and I’ve taken a break from that. I’ve figured out other ways to cope. But yeah, that’s when I realized that something was wrong. When I couldn’t get out of bed.

Fox News: When you heard the words “high anxiety and depression,” what was your initial reaction?
Lautenbach: … I was like, “I’m broken.” And then a couple of hours passed and I said, “No, I’m not. This is fine. I can deal with this.” And then I immediately went on social media to talk about it because I’m an open book. I share everything. And I felt I should update people because they’re so involved in my life.

But what ended up happening is I got so many DMs from girls and guys saying it’s so great to have somebody with a bigger platform talking about these things. I helped them feel less weird. I helped them go to a doctor and talk about issues that they would have never felt comfortable talking about before. So in a way, I’m glad it happened. I was able to help others.

Hailee Lautenbach said she’s happily single.
(Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images)

Fox News: How are you today? 
Lautenbach: I’m so happy. I am recently single and I have been known to jump from boyfriend to boyfriend. But I’ve been single for about half a year now and I’ve just never been happier. I’m getting to know myself and like myself. I’m becoming my own friend in my brain. And things are going so well. I think that when you really put positive energy out there and spread kindness, good things come back to you. And that’s where I’m at right now.

Fox News: Is there anything you do for your mental health that you feel has had a positive impact?
Lautenbach: One thing I started doing is printing out these calendars from the internet and starting a streak of something. And every day I’ll put a smiley face when I do it. Once you get a couple of smiley faces in a row, you don’t want to put an X on the day and ruin your streak. So for example, going on a 30-minute walk.

I also wake up in the morning and spend five minutes writing in my journal. I write down what I want to accomplish for the day and mantras for myself. And it’s great. Because sometimes when depression kicks in, I start being like a vampire who can’t go outside. But I tell myself, “Let’s go for a walk. Just 30 minutes.” And then I think, “This is magical. The world’s a good place.” It’s different for everyone of course, but basic things like going outside and writing things down have worked for me. 

Hailee Lautenbach is currently in Portland to be with her family amid the coronavirus pandemic.
(Graham Dunn)

Fox News: Do you feel that social media has impacted your mental health in a negative way?
Lautenbach: Social media never really impacted me because I am comfortable with myself. But I’ve had friends who have been affected. I’m like, “Why don’t you unfollow that person. Just do it.” And they do. And they’re like, “I don’t feel bad about myself anymore. It’s out of my head.” I know for a lot of us, we’ll follow people on social media and think “They look different from me. They’re really hot with such cool lives.” 

I don’t want to sound like you shouldn’t be posting your life. I certainly post cool places I’ve been to. I think it depends where your mind is. But if you’re experiencing a fun, happy moment in your life, celebrate that. But take everything with a grain of salt. That’s why I post both the good and the bad. I don’t use filters on my face. If I’m having a gross day, I don’t try to cover it up and pretend I have flawless skin. It’s more like, “What’s up guys? Look at this pimple today. I’m going for a bike ride.” I think people should be a little more open with their lives instead of trying to be so perfect.

Hailee Lautenbach continues to have a strong social media following.
(Photo by Rochelle Brodin/Getty Images)

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