When I ask her how she's been faring during the worldwide pandemic, Riverdale star Madelaine Petsch bursts out laughing.
"I'm not great," Petsch admits as her chuckles fade. "I'm doing my best with the tools that I've been given. I'm doing therapy and I'm trying my best to meditate every day and focus on my mental health. But like everyone, I feel like in quarantine... it's dwindling. So I'm doing my best."
She's in Los Angeles right now, away from her family. Thankfully, she tells me, she's not alone. "My best friend lives with me and if I didn't have her, I don't know what I would do," she says. "She is like my saviour." The pair of besties has what Petsch calls "an open dialogue." "If either of us are feeling depressed or anxious or anything like that, we just talk about it," she says. "And that really helps that I have that."
It soon becomes clear that Petsch is a big believer in having an open dialogue about everything. Like, say, her first visit to the gynaecologist.
"I was like, weird and ashamed to talk about my vagina," she says. "I felt so weird talking about that body part, but I'm sure if they were talking to me about my foot, I would have felt normal talking about it. It was this weird kind of like stigma and awkwardness, that maybe just comes along with being a teenager or maybe comes along with societal constructs... Back then it was so scary."
Okay, okay — Petsch didn’t just start spontaneously talking about the gynaecologist. She recently partnered with with AbbVie the maker of Lo Loestrin Fe, to promote ‘Are You in the Lo?’, a campaign that aims to empower women to be knowledgeable about their options for preventing pregnancy.
"It's incredibly important to me to make this not a taboo conversation topic,” Petsch says. Despite her discomfort at the gynaecologist, she describes her first experiences with birth control and sex ed as positive, something she attributes to her open-minded family. "I had a family where no conversation topic was off the table. I was lucky enough to have a mom who did the research for me and provided me with materials."
Unlike her character on Riverdale, Petsch had an extremely close relationship with her mum — a person so warm that she even acted as a "surrogate mother" to a lot of her friends growing up, according to the actor. "They would come over if they had any questions," she says. "I remember my friends used to take pregnancy tests at my house when we were younger... like all of that stuff. My mom took care of all of it."
She says her mother's attitude made all the difference when it came to her earliest relationships. "I was able to take my time and feel comfortable in my decisions at the time that I made them," she said. "And then I looked at my friends who didn't have that and were so curious about it and had no information that they ended up regretting some of the decisions that they made."
Her experiences growing up highlight how essential just talking — to your kids, to your friends — about sexual health can be. Education is empowering; knowing about all the options for something like birth control allows you to feel more confident about making a decision that impacts your body and your life. "It's their body and it's their choice, and they should be able to have the tools and the knowledge to make educated decisions about what they're doing with their body," Petsch says.
When I admire Petsch’s openness — she chats as easily about anxiety during COVID and her first gynaecologist's visit as I do about the weather — we end up circling back around to the importance of talking about tough topics as a way to de-stigmatise them.
"I'm not saying that I am the person to be the barrier breaker," she says. "However, I think that these kinds of conversations start the barrier being broken."