Last month, a retired NBC executive posted two red carpet photos of Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown, accompanied by the caption: "Millie Bobby Brown just grew up in front of our eyes. (She’s 13!)
The post immediately raised eyebrows because, to state the obvious: 13-year-olds aren't "grown up." Most of them haven't even begun high school, and all of them are at least several years away from even obtaining a driver's license.
The post hit especially close to home for former child star Mara Wilson, who's best known for her work in Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire. Today, Wilson published a must-read essay in Elle titled "A 13-Year-Old Girl Is Not 'All Grown Up'" and went on to describe her first-hand experience with being sexualised at a young age.
"Even before I was out of middle school, I had been featured on foot fetish websites, photoshopped into child porn, and received all kinds of letters and messages online from grown men," Wilson recalls.
She then discusses Brown specifically, noting that (like pretty much everyone else in the world), she was blown away by her performance as Eleven. When Wilson saw Sington's tweet she writes that, "I felt sick, and then I felt furious." She also slams the responses to the tweet, which fell into two categories: Criticism of Brown for dressing in a manner that social media users deemed "too old" for her age, and the good old "blame the parents" response.
"What’s really at play here is the creepy, inappropriate public inclination to sexualize young girls in the media. We do not need to perpetuate the culture of dehumanization Hollywood has enabled," Wilson writes. "But 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."
Although Wilson's essay focuses on the public and the media's sexualization of Brown, it's also worth noting that similarly disturbing sexualization of children also occurred on the Stranger Things set. Earlier this month, The Daily Beast reported that 15-year-old Sadie Sink (who plays Max in Season Two) expressed her discomfort when she was informed of a kissing scene that wasn't in the script.
"You reacted so strongly to this — I was just joking — and you were so freaked out that I was like well, I gotta make her do it now…that’s why I’m saying it’s your fault," creator Ross Duffer says in the above clip. Both Duffers can be heard laughing as Sink describes her anxiety and discomfort surrounding the scene, and their insensitivity is distressing to say the least.
Child actresses should be free to pursue their craft without being sexualised, whether it's by their bosses, the media, or social media users. The Weinstein allegations have sparked important conversations about how the industry as a whole operates, and I hope the sexualization of child stars becomes part of that conversation sooner rather than later.