Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown Has Powerful Words Against Sexualizing Her – And Hollywood Needs to Listen
The victim of multiple online forums counting down to her 18th birthday, Millie Bobby Brown has railed against the culture of sexualizing child stars. And it’s a vital fight to have.
Six years ago, when Millie Bobby Brown got her big break after landing the role of Eleven in Stranger Things, she was just 12 years old. But in spite of her age, she soon won critical acclaim with award nominations, including at the Primetime Emmys and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Throughout her childhood of stardom, Millie has been regularly celebrated in the media and in social media forums alike. In 2018, she became the youngest person ever to be named on Time’s “100 most influential people in the world” list and was also appointed a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.
Of her role with the child advocacy organization, she has said, “I want to raise issues about education, ending bullying and ending violence, and making sure children have a safe environment. I’ve been through a lot of bullying. Through school, and also through cyberbullying online. I think that’s why I’m so excited to work with UNICEF.”
But despite Millie’s massive success at such a young age, when her 18th birthday came around in February, the theme of the day was predatory rather than celebratory, exposing the dark side of child fame.
Given Millie’s powerful reaction, though, it’s not hard to understand why she was chosen to help draw public attention to children’s issues.
Why Millie Bobby Brown’s “Countdown” to Legal Adulthood Is So Gross
In a recent appearance on the Guilty Feminist podcast, Millie opened up about how she has been “dealing with” being sexualized “forever.”
At 13, she was included in W magazine’s list of “Why TV Is Sexier Than Ever,” and older men have frequently commented on her looks online. A GQ profile from 2016 dubbed her a “very grown-up child,” commenting on the appearance of her legs.
In spite of all this, Millie insists she has “definitely been dealing with [being sexualized] more within the last two weeks of turning 18.”
“I believe that shouldn’t change anything, but it’s gross and it’s true,” she went on. “It’s a very good representation of what’s going on in the world and how young girls are sexualized.”Millie Bobby Brown
As Millie’s 18th birthday approached, countdowns began to appear on various online forums, including a Reddit thread listed as “NSFW,” stating that it would only open once she turns 18. A screenshot of the page had the forum’s name hidden to prevent others from discovering it, but it already had 6000+ members.
In case there is any confusion, one user explained the purpose of the subreddit: “[It’s] to post sexual pictures of her the day she turns 18. It’s a sub solely dedicated to sexual pictures of Millie, who is currently a minor until next week but they have a sub prepared already.”
It has since been claimed that the subreddit was banned after hordes of Millie fans reported it to administrators.
But that’s not all. The photos that Millie posted to Instagram to commemorate her birthday were also flooded with sexually explicit comments and crass emojis.
Millie Bobby Brown and the Horrifying Treatment of Young Girls in Hollywood
The unsettling “countdown” phenomenon is not reserved exclusively for Millie Bobbie Brown. Actor Emma Watson and singer Charlotte Church had similar experiences when The Sun and the Sunday Sport counted down to their 16th birthdays. Mary Kate and Ashley Olson, Hilary Duff and countless others have shared similar stories.
Natalie Portman, too, speaking at the LA Women’s March in 2018, described her experience of “sexual terrorism” after the release of her first film at age 13.
“A countdown was started on my local radio show to my 18th birthday. Euphemistically the date that I would be legal to sleep with. Movie reviewers talked about my budding breasts in reviews.”Natalie Portman
She quickly learned that she would feel unsafe if she expressed herself sexually and built a reputation as “being prudish, conservative, nerdy, serious” to feel safe, rejecting any roles with kissing scenes.
Portman has noted, “being sexualized as a child, I think, took away from my own sexuality, because it made me afraid.”
Reacting to Millie’s treatment, one Reddit user said: “This has happened for every female celeb as long as I can remember. They always just wait, counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until they can ~legally~ sexualize a child and it’s f@#%ing foul.”
Cole Sprouse, on his own experience as a child star opposite his twin brother Cody, recently shared that, “The young women on the channel we were on [Disney Channel] were so heavily sexualized from such an earlier age than my brother and I that there’s absolutely no way that we could compare our experiences.”
Why Millie Bobby Brown’s Sexualization Is a Crucial Conversation
Millie becoming a legal adult sparked an important conversation about how female child stars are treated by the public. Many have expressed how disturbed they felt after countdowns to her 18th began to pop up online, but some had expressed concern long before this too.
Matilda actor Mara Wilson, for instance, expressed her concern for Millie in an Elle essay she wrote back in 2017, which detailed her own experiences of sexualization as a child star.
“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,” she wrote.
Moving on to Millie, Wilson described the response to a photo of Millie at 13 which appeared on Twitter. She was dressed up for a premiere. “I thought she looked like a teenage girl,” said Wilson.
The caption, however, read that, at 13, she “just grew up in front of our eyes.” The comment, notes Wilson, had been tweeted by a grown man. The responses to the tweet, she points out, were along the lines of, “Why is she dressed like that?”
“Dressed like what, exactly?” Wilson dared to ask. “A teenage girl who, like all teenage girls, wants to look pretty? Her outfit had been flattering, and I’d seen more revealed at a 1997 Girl Scout Father-Daughter Dance. And even if she had been dressed in a ‘revealing’ way, what would it matter? The implication was that if a young girl in the public eye showed anything that could even possibly be construed as an expression of her sexuality, she would be an acceptable target for scorn or harassment.”
In her recent comments, Millie too, made specific reference to another time she was “crucified” by the media (this time at 16 years old) because she wore a slightly low-cut outfit to an awards show.
“I thought, ‘My, is this really what we’re talking about?’ We should be talking about the incredible people that were there at the award show.”
The same year, Millie took to Instagram to shame the media and the public.
“[Sixteen] has felt like a long time coming,” she wrote at the time. “[I] feel like change needs to happen for not only this generation but the next. Our world needs kindness and support in order for us children to grow and succeed. The last few years haven’t been easy… There are moments I get frustrated from the inaccuracy, inappropriate comments, sexualization and unnecessary insults that ultimately have resulted in pain and insecurity for me… I’ll continue doing what I love and spreading the message in order to make change.”
If Hollywood wants a meaningful stake in the future, they’d be smart to listen up when Millie’s got the stage. Or else they just might get left in the dust with the rest of the fossilized predators.