‘Matilda’ Icon Mara Wilson Recalls Being ‘Sexualized’ as a Child Actor: ‘I Saw Things That I Couldn’t Unsee’
Mara Wilson had her doubts about being a child star.
The “Mrs. Doubtfire” breakout actress, who went on to cement her status as a ’90s icon in “Matilda” and “Miracle on 34th Street,” opened up about the “sexualized” pressures of growing up in the spotlight.
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“I don’t think you can be a child star without there being some kind of lasting damage,” Wilson told The Guardian while promoting memoir “Good Girls Don’t,” adding, “People don’t realize how much constantly talking to the press as a child weighs on you.”
Wilson began her career at age six. By seven years old, Wilson’s fame “kind of snowballed” and she began being asked by journalists if she knew what French kissing was or could pick out which fellow actor she found “sexiest.”
“I had people sending me inappropriate letters and posting things about me online,” Wilson continued, citing that her photograph was posted on pornography websites superimposed onto adult women’s bodies. “I made the mistake of Googling myself when I was 12 and saw things that I couldn’t unsee.”
She added, “The thing that people assume is that Hollywood is inherently corrupt, and there’s something about being on film sets that destroys you. For me, that was not necessarily true. I always felt safe on film sets. There were definitely some sketchy, questionable things that happened at times – adults that told dirty jokes, or sexually harassed people in front of me. People who did things like ask me if it was OK if I worked overtime, instead of asking my parents, but I never felt unsafe. I think that’s because I worked with a lot of really wonderful directors, who were used to working with children.”
It was when Wilson hit puberty that Hollywood seemed to turn on her. By age 12, Wilson was asked by a director to wear a sports bra to hide her developing breasts; Wilson believed she was no longer “cute” and that the film industry was “kind of done” with her.
“It affected me for a very long time because I had this Hollywood idea that if you’re not cute any more, if you’re not beautiful, then you are worthless. Because I directly tied that to the demise of my career,” Wilson said. “Even though I was sort of burned out on it, and Hollywood was burned out on me, it still doesn’t feel good to be rejected. For a long time, I had this kind of dysmorphia about the way that I looked and I obsessed about it too much.”
One of Wilson’s final auditions led to Kristen Stewart being cast in a role, only fueling Wilson’s self-doubt further.
“You think, ‘I’m ugly, I’m fat’ – and there were actual websites and newspapers and movie reviewers saying that about me,” Wilson recalled. “It got to the point where I became much more guarded, more anxious and depressed and cynical, and when you’re like that, it’s very hard to land a role, because in an audition, you have to be open and honest. It took a toll on me.”
Wilson previously opened up about being fetishized by fans and admitting that she “felt sick” and “furious” seeing current child stars like “Stranger Things” actress Millie Bobby Brown endure similar abuse online.
“What’s really at play here is the creepy, inappropriate public inclination to sexualize young girls in the media,” Wilson wrote in 2017, when Brown was 13 years old. “I am not a child anymore. Millie Bobby Brown is. Commenting on a child’s body, whether in a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ way, in a sexualizing or pitying way, is still commenting on a child’s body.”
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