Matilda actress Mara Wilson is speaking out against the sexualization of young girls in Hollywood, and sharing her own experiences of being objectified as a child star.
In a power essay for Elle, Wilson began by recounting a fan letter she received at the age of 15 from a man named “Don, or maybe Doug,” who wrote to tell her, “I love your legs” and “Can I have your lip print on the enclosed index card?”
“As soon as I’d hit puberty, it had become okay for strangers to discuss my body,” Wilson wrote.
The actress, who was one of the most beloved child stars of the ’90s, quit Hollywood as a tween. She later explained that the pressures of a “toxic,” image-obsessed industry were too much for her.
Now 30, Wilson said she was reminded of her own experience as a child growing up in the spotlight by watching actress Millie Bobby Brown on the hit Netflix show Stranger Things.
“Like everyone, I was impressed with the child actors … Millie Bobby Brown, as Eleven, especially stood out,” Wilson said. “Then Millie Bobby Brown turned 13. Last week, I saw a photo of her on Twitter, dressed up for a premiere. I thought she looked like a teenage girl. The caption, however, read that, at 13, she ‘Just grew up in front of our eyes.’ It had been tweeted by a grown man.”
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Wilson wrote that she felt “sick” and “furious” over the comments. “A 13-year-old girl is not all grown up,” Wilson said.
“The implication was that if a young girl in the public eye showed anything that could even possibly be construed as an expression of her sexuality, she would be an acceptable target for scorn or harassment,” she added.
Wilson also blamed the media for “the creepy, inappropriate public inclination to sexualize young girls.” She explained, “The media has become democratized; social media and user-generated content mean anyone can write about anyone, and there is a good chance anyone will see it. We are all part of the media, but I don’t know if we’ve realized that yet.”
The actress said that part of the problem is that “people want to accept … how many Don-or-Dougs there are out there.” She added, “Some of these predators might be unreachable, completely unable to understand their actions. Child stars are seen as theirs: their property, their fantasy. The sad and scary truth is that they have greater access to child stars these days.”
Wilson finished her essay by saying that the first step to progress is recognizing the problem. “We need to acknowledge this, and we need accountability.”