Rachel Bilson says 'growing up in a household that was so sex-positive and free and candid' helped her be more open

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Rachel Bilson is getting candid on her podcast, Broad Ideas. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Rachel Bilson is getting candid on her podcast, Broad Ideas. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Rachel Bilson has always considered herself to be a "super-private person," which is fair, considering her 20s collided with superstardom and peak paparazzi culture. But as the former O.C. star settles into a new chapter in life — that of a 40-year-old single mom to a 7-year-old daughter, Briar Rose, whom she shares with ex-partner Hayden Christensen — she's leaning into a new appreciation for transparency and real talk. Late last month she and best friend Olivia Allen launched the podcast Broad Ideas, in which the longtime pals and their celebrity guests dig deep into topics like sex, motherhood, mental health and more. Bilson sees the platform as a "safe space" for candid conversations, whether that's Kristen Bell sharing how she had the sex talk with her young daughters or Mandy Moore opening up about her exes.

"I'm 40 years old. Like, the things that my friends and I talk about shouldn't be taboo, you know?" Bilson says of launching Broad Ideas. "It should feel like a safe space to be open, because so many people go through similar things. And what's better than to have a support system, or feel like you're being heard and having a space to do so? And for me, it just felt like the timing was right. I think people are craving authenticity. We're coming through this pandemic and everything else. ... I've relied on my friends more than anything, and we just wanted to be able to talk freely."

Bilson, whose mother is a counselor specializing in sex, credits her upbringing with helping her find her voice and not feel shame when discussing topics others might find provocative.

"Growing up in a household that was so sex-positive and free and candid ... definitely made me more obviously open talking about things," she says. "It's like, 'Oh yeah, I pushed the baby out of my vagina.' These are the things women go through, and there's nothing connected to it that feels like, oh, I shouldn't be talking about this."

Though the actress hasn't quite gotten over her mom approaching her the night after she lost her virginity — "I'm like, how do you know these things, woman?!' she says with a laugh — she has an appreciation for the confidence and comfort that came from growing up in a home with an "open dialogue."

Bilson is also a "huge advocate for therapy," something she's been doing for the past three years.

"It has helped me so much because it gives you tools on how to handle things," the Hart of Dixie star says. "And it's just such a safe space to really explore all the aspects of yourself that you question at times, or whatever it may be."

Though Bilson — who also hosts the Welcome to the OC, Bitches podcast with former co-star Melinda Clarke — doesn't have a history of anxiety and depression, like many people she struggled during the pandemic. Having a therapist and a support network of friends to work through her anxious feelings with helped her cope, and highlighted the importance of being open about mental health.

Slipping into a bath loaded with a CBD bath bomb or bath salts is her relaxation go-to. Though Bilson admits that a lack of sleep (either for herself or her daughter) is the thing that stresses her out the most, she generally tries to keep things in perspective.

"I can get overwhelmed, but I try to remind myself that there are so many worse things in the world right now, and these are little tiny things that in the big picture do not matter," she says.

She's adopted a similar attitude when it comes to making peace with the audition process and missing out on acting roles. It's a topic she recently discussed with Broad Things guest Mandy Moore, who wound up getting chosen over Bilson for the lead role of Rapunzel in 2010's Tangled.

"Of course, there's certain things that are hard not to take personally," Bilson says of learning to weather the rejection process in her 20+ years as an actress. "My mom raised me saying 'it's none of my business, what other people think of me,' so I try to relate to and abide by [that]."

Trusting in fate can also make a "no" easier to accept, something she's seen firsthand.

"Before I got The O.C., I was up for this role on [WB drama] Everwood and I didn't wind up getting it," she shares. "They cast a girl ... who looked almost exactly alike [me]. And I was like, 'Oh, this is personal.' Because it's not like they went in a completely different direction, and at 21 that was really hard for me. But then I got called in for The O.C. from this [same] casting director, and I got that. So that was one of my best lessons: This didn't happen because there was another thing that was supposed to."

These days, "nothing comes before" motherhood, Bilson says, though her podcasting platforms have allowed her to find space for herself as both a mom and an individual in a way that feels true to where she is today.

"You really come into yourself, I think, as you age as a woman," she says. "It's huge to be 40 and a single mom and doing things for myself and showing my daughter that I do work, and I do do these things, and setting an example of enjoying what I do and still being mom, which is always number one."

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