The sexualization of child stars is unfortunately nothing new, but these creepy interviews take the cake.
We often think of child stars as having it all – money at an incredibly young age, a career all set up before they can even drive, and people waiting on them hand and foot. It’s easy to assume their lives are charmed, simple, and totally void of pain.
But as we’ve begun to hear more and more former child stars speak up about the reality of gaining worldwide fame well before growing up, it’s become clear that simplicity and ease aren’t necessarily included in the child star package.
Instead, former child stars like Jennette McCurdy and Alyson Stoner have come forward, letting the world know that childhood stardom isn’t all fun and games, and the sexualization of young Hollywood stars is increasingly coming to light.
Natalie Portman has spoken out about avoiding love scenes due to being “worried about the way [she] was perceived.” She’s also spoken up about her local radio show having started a countdown to her 18th birthday. Mara Wilson’s op-ed for The New York Times detailed being “ashamed” of finding pictures of herself, at age 12, on foot fetish sites or being photoshopped into child pornography.
But the sexualization of these young stars doesn’t stop there. If these tales aren’t haunting enough, read on to find some of the creepiest child star interviews and moments out there.
Britney Spears is no stranger to being oversexualized and mistreated – after releasing “Baby One More Time” at just 16, her status as a sex symbol was solidified. This led to countless interviews in which she was questioned about her personal life, virginity, clothing, and possibly the creepiest – her breasts, in an interview she did at just 17.
Her interviewer creepily opened the subject: “There’s one topic we didn’t discuss that everyone was talking about…your breasts. You seem to get furious when a talk-show host comes up with this subject. In general, what do you think about breast implants?” Spears uncomfortably laughed before stating that while she didn’t have breast implants, she believes people are allowed to do whatever they want.
Also at 17 years old, Spears’ cover of Rolling Stone was released, featuring Spears in tiny pajamas and a black bra on full display, quite the “sexy” cover for an underaged teen. Spears later said, “The images were really cool, but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing…to be totally honest with you, at the time I was 16, so I really didn’t.”
But Spears’ mistreatment hardly ends there. In a now-infamous interview with Diane Sawyer, Spears, just 21, was made to cry as Sawyer grilled her about her recent breakup with Justin Timberlake and intimate details of her sex life, telling Spears, “But you said, ‘I’ve only slept with one person in my whole life, two years into my relationship with Justin.’ And yet he’s left the impression that you weren’t faithful, that you betrayed the relationship.”
Sawyer then went on to press Spears on her sexy magazine covers: “Have you ever gone further than you wish you had?”, going on to pull out pictures of Spears’ past semi-nude covers. Spears has since called out Sawyer for this interview.
But wait – there’s more. Radio host Howard Stern’s interview with one of Spears’ supposed partners got downright disgusting, asking if she had pubic hair, whether her breasts were real, and if she liked dirty talk. He also said the following: “I bet you gave it to her from behind… if I was banging her, I’d tie her up and call her a dirty little wh*re.”
Brooke Shields’ oversexualization started at a young age. She was just 10 years old when photographer Gary Gross took photos of her posing nude in a bathtub. The shoot, which appeared in 1975, was for Playboy-owned Sugar and Spice, a more toned-down version of the true Playboy publication. (And yes, the images of a nude 10-year-old are still on the internet.)
Then, at age 11, she played a sex worker in Pretty Baby. The character grows up in a brothel and is auctioned off to the highest bidder. She was filmed nude throughout the movie. Her mom-ager mother Teri, with whom Shields had a complex and difficult relationship due to her mother’s alcoholism, was criticized at the time for allowing her daughter to appear in the movie. Just two years later, at 14, she starred in The Blue Lagoon across an 18-year-old actor, a film famous for countless sexual and nude scenes (none of which Shields actually performed – but still creepy nonetheless). Shields testified before Congress that she never appeared nude herself, but body doubles – of legal age – were used instead.
Recently, Shields came forward about a particularly awful interview with Barbara Walters she did at 15. The interview had come about as a result of a 1980s Calvin Klein ad, in which an underage Brooke Shields appeared wearing tight jeans in a commercial, saying, "You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing." Apparently, nothing was off the table for Barbara Walters, who questioned Shields about her body measurements and sexual past. "It's practically criminal: it's not journalism," Brooke said about the sexual nature of Walters' questions.
The former child actress turned writer has been vocal about the oversexualization she faced as a young girl. While Mara Wilson says she was never sexually harassed on a film set, she’s spoken out about being sexually harassed by the media, who she says asked her who she thought the sexiest actor was and questioned her about having a boyfriend at just 6 years old. In an op-ed for The New York Times, Wilson wrote that "Hollywood has resolved to tackle harassment in the industry, but I was never sexually harassed on a film set. My sexual harassment always came at the hands of the media and the public."
"People had been asking me, 'Do you have a boyfriend?' in interviews since I was six. Reporters asked me who I thought the sexiest actor was and about Hugh Grant's arrest for soliciting a prostitute," Wilson revealed.
In an interview with AV Club, Wilson stated that, “I can’t even count how many times I did interviews with people and they asked me if I had a boyfriend. Keep in mind that I was, I guess, mild to moderately famous from ages 6 to 13. Of course, I didn’t have a boyfriend then. I didn’t even have a camp boyfriend then.”
Natalie Portman has suffered her fair share of oversexualization too. The actress, whose career bloomed at age 11 after being cast in Leon: The Professional, came to the realization as a young teen that her young body was being oversexualized: “Movie reviewers talked about my budding breasts in reviews. I understood very quickly, even as a 13-year-old, that if I were to express myself sexually, I would feel unsafe and that men would feel entitled to discuss and objectify my body to my great discomfort.”
Portman hasn’t stayed quiet on this subject, going on to say, “Being sexualized as a child, I think took away from my own sexuality because it made me afraid. It made me feel like the way I could be safe was to be like, ‘I’m conservative, and I’m serious and you should respect me, and I’m smart.’ I just wanted them to not look at me that way.”
She even discussed how this over sexualization at such a young age drove her to turn down big roles, more specifically, the starring role in Lolita: “I wasn’t willing to do that. It wasn’t the right thing for me to do at the time. I wasn’t willing to put myself in a sexual role when I was 13 or 14, and I still wouldn’t do it now. There was nudity and sex involved, and I think there’s enough exploitation out there. It’s not necessary to do more of that.”
Despite Portman’s effort to stay out of a sexualized light, her local radio show started a countdown to her 18th birthday, a predatory practice that other young women in Hollywood have also been subjected to.
The Modern Family actress hasn’t been shy about the effects that being sexualized as a 15 year old has had on her, from feeling insecure about her body, to being called sexist slurs, to getting a breast reduction. "I got called a 'fat slut' when I was 13," Ariel Winter said. "That was rough. Because I gained weight and my body changed, I had to wear different outfits, and I wore a dress that had a cutout here [points to chest] – and the headlines were dark."
Winters was regularly subjected to interviews on the red carpet fixating on the amount of cleavage she was showing, calling her breasts “her best two of her assets” in one particularly creepy tagline. Her abusive mother, who Winter was emancipated from when she was 14, only made it worse. Winter has described how her mother would "[dress me in] the smallest miniskirts, sailor suits, low-cut things, the shortest dresses you've ever seen. People thought I was 24 when I was 12.”
Jennifer Love Hewitt
Jennifer Love Hewitt recently spoke out about her own experience with being asked inappropriate questions as a minor, stating that interviewers would often focus on her body: “The conversation for a very long time in my career was always about [my body] first – then, ‘Oh yeah, you were really great in the movie, too,’ later. I didn’t get it. That’s just what I looked like, and I was doing my job. I just started to [prepare myself], like, I know I’m doing an interview today, so I’m pretty sure at least 20 of the 40 minutes is going to be about boobs and body stuff, so we’ll just get that out of the way and then maybe they’ll ask me something else.”
Love Hewitt went on to say that she wishes she’d known to defend herself: “At a press junket for I Know or I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, I remember purposely wearing a T-shirt that said ‘Silicone Free’ on it because I was so annoyed, and I knew something about boobs was gonna be the first question out of [reporters’] mouths. I was really tired of that conversation. With Heartbreakers, that was a big part of it. I was disappointed that it was all about body stuff, because I had really worked hard in that movie to do a good job as an actress. So I remember one specific moment wishing that the acting had overshadowed all that — that for five minutes, they had said I was really great in the movie versus made a body comment. Now that I’m older, I think, Gosh, I wish that I had known how inappropriate that was so I could have defended myself somehow or just not answered those questions. I laughed it off a lot of the time, and I wish maybe I hadn’t.”
Millie Bobby Brown
Despite our strides in the treatment of young women in the industry, this oversexualization persists today. Millie Bobby Brown rose to fame at just 12 years old for her portrayal of Eleven in Netflix’s hit, Stranger Things. By 13, she was getting the treatment that many others before her received, with an NBCUniversal Executive tweeting a picture of her in a leather dress, saying, “Millie Bobby Brown just grew up in front of our eyes.” After being accused of sexualizing Brown with this comment, he apologized.
Brown was also, at just 13 years old, included in a magazine’s “Sexiest TV Stars” list, leading to outrage and anger online. The list featured other age-appropriate actors and actresses, such as Nicole Kidman, Milo Ventimiglia, Claire Foy, and Riz Ahmed, making Brown’s inclusion incredibly jarring.
The over-sexualization of minors, especially female minors, is no new thing – but thankfully, these stars are speaking out about their horrifying interview experiences, bringing our attention to a problem that desperately needs a solution.
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