Reese Witherspoon Says 'Bad Things Happened' to Her but She Found 'Strength in Power and Numbers'
"You tell your story in your own time when you’re ready," said the Oscar winner
Reese Witherspoon is reflecting on what she’s overcome in Hollywood.
In a new interview with Vanity Fair for the magazine’s April 2020 issue, the Little Fires Everywhere star, 43, opens up about being taken advantage of as a child star, as well as how her ability to come forward with her story has changed thanks to the #MeToo Movement.
“Bad things happened to me. I was assaulted, harassed. It wasn’t isolated,” said Witherspoon, who revealed in 2017 that she was sexually assaulted by a director at age 16.
The Oscar winner — who tackles issues of sexual misconduct and harassment in her Apple TV+ series The Morning Show alongside costar Jennifer Aniston — said some questioned her about the timing of her sharing her story.
“You tell your story in your own time when you’re ready,” said Witherspoon. “… There wasn’t a public reckoning 25 years ago when this stuff happened to me. There wasn’t a forum to speak about it either. Social media has created a new way for people to express themselves that I didn’t have. That’s the great strength in power and numbers.”
She continued: “I think we have a lot of judgment and that’s unfortunate because we’re all tender-footed in these new times. We’re trying to find our identity.”
Witherspoon explained that she never wanted her career to be built upon sex appeal — something she had to work hard not to compromise through auditions and carefully chosen projects.
“I always had a thing about exploiting sexuality,” she said. “When I came up in the business, there were all these men’s magazines we were told to cater to. I was never in Maxim. I was never picked as a GQ girl, and I’m okay with that because that’s not how I wanted to be viewed. That’s not how I see myself.”
Instead, Witherspoon set out to define herself with humor, wit and intellect for an enduring career that didn’t rest on her appearance.
“I always say, ‘Funny doesn’t sag,'” Witherspoon told Vanity Fair. “I always just wanted to be funny, you know? And you can’t be rendered obsolete if you just keep being funny. Guess what gets rendered obsolete? Your boobs go south, your face goes south, your ass goes south, but you can always be funny.”
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The mom of three revealed her past experience with sexual assault during a speech at the Elle Women in Hollywood event in October 2017. As more and more women and men came forward with their own stories at the time, Witherspoon said she felt compelled to break her silence.
“I have my own experiences that have come back to me very vividly and I find it really hard to sleep, hard to think, hard to communicate a lot of the feelings that I’ve been having about anxiety, honest, the guilt for not speaking up earlier,” she said at the time.
“[I feel] true disgust at the director who assaulted me when I was 16 years old and anger at the agents and the producers who made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment,” she added.
“And I wish that I could tell you that was an isolated incident in my career, but sadly it wasn’t. I’ve had multiple experiences of harassment and sexual assault and I don’t speak about them very often.”
She added in her speech that hearing other people’s accounts “made me want to speak up and speak up loudly” since she no longer felt “alone” in her trauma.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to online.rainn.org.
Little Fires Everywhere premieres on Hulu on Wednesday.