From Matilda to Eleven, These Actors Found Fame But Risk Losing Their Childhood
A brunette reclines on a couch, her arm over her head, her face expressionless. She is 13. Another brunette, this one male, his lips parted, stares dazed at the camera as he pulls his oversized ripped jeans up tight, his crotch in the center of the frame. He’s 14. A redhead with a tentative gaze poses in a Prada bralette. She’s 15.
These are the child stars of today—Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard, and It’s Sophia Lillis, respectively—in high fashion mags Flaunt, i-D and Dazed and Confused—packaged for public consumption. These are the child stars of today, posing as adults, their synthetic maturity being sold to actual adults.
n The Lolita Effect, author M. G. Durham notes that a “pristine” body skirting pubescence is the Western ideal, which is why adults are often presented as younger than they are (see: Rita Ora licking a multi-coloured lolly), while children are presented as older (see: 17-year-old Dakota Fanning with a bottle of Oh, Lola! between her legs). The unifying thread? Youth is sex. “Realistic, strong, and non-exploitative representations of girls’ sexuality would be a progressive social step, but images of girls posed and styled as objects of the erotic adult gaze can’t be,” writes Durham. “They often employ the conventions of sex work, legitimising the use of young girls for prostitution and pornography.” (See: A “sexy” Halloween costume of Brown’s character, Eleven, sold online for adults.)
This isn’t just scary, it’s dangerous.
In a much-referenced 2007 report, The American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls reveals that the objectification of kids in the media negatively affects girls’ body confidence and sexual self-image and can result in eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. Various former child stars, including Brooke Shields and Miley Cyrus, have all but confirmed these findings through their own stories of childhood sexualization. And Modern Family’s Ariel Winter told The Hollywood Reporter in September that from the age of seven she was decked out in “the smallest miniskirts, sailor suits, low-cut things, the shortest dresses you’ve ever seen.” Then she suddenly acquired curves around the age of 12, at which point she was deemed a “slut” and a “whore” on social media. The symbol of suicide awareness tattooed behind her ear implies her so-called “rough” years were a lot more than that.