Matilda star Mara Wilson opens up on being ‘sexualized’ as a child star

The actress admits ‘I felt ashamed’ when she received letters from men in their 50s

Matilda star Mara Wilson, Mara Wilson arrives at the Premiere of Lionsgate's 'Knives Out' at Regency Village Theatre on November 14, 2019 in Westwood, California.
(Image credit: Jerod Harris / Stringer Getty)

Matilda star Mara Wilson has opened up on the ‘sexualization’ she faced as a child star who shot to fame on the big screen at the tender age of six.

The young actress warmed viewers’ hearts with her witty personality and sweet charm when she starred in much-loved family films such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street and Matilda. 

Now aged 33, Mara has reflected on her experience of fame at a young age and how it wasn’t easy.

Speaking about the pitfalls of child stardom, Mara penned an open letter to the New York Times in which she wrote, ‘I saw many teenage actresses and singers embracing sexuality as a rite of passage, appearing on the covers of lad mags or in provocative music videos. That was never going to be me, I decided,’ she wrote. ‘I had already been sexualized anyway, and I hated it.’

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Despite playing characters in family movies, Mara admits she was still ‘sexualized’ from a young age.

She revealed, ‘I mostly acted in family movies – the remake of Miracle on 34th Street, Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire. I never appeared in anything more revealing than a knee-length sundress. This was all intentional: My parents thought I would be safer that way. But it didn't work.

‘It was cute when 10-year-olds sent me letters saying they were in love with me,’ Wilson continued. ‘It was not when 50-year-old men did.’

And it got much worse. She recalled how like many other young women who were child stars – including Judy Garland, Drew Barrymore, and Britney Spears – she fell victim to scrutiny and admitted she ‘felt ashamed’.

Mara explained, ‘Before I even turned 12, there were images of me on foot fetish websites and photoshopped into child pornography. Every time, I felt ashamed.

‘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.’

Having compared her experience in the spotlight as a young star to that of Britney Spears, whose childhood has hit headlines once more following the release of the documentary Framing Britney Spears, she noted one difference and that was that Mara had her family’s support which made things ‘easier’.

She wrote, ‘Many moments of Ms. Spears’s life were familiar to me. We both had dolls made of us, had close friends and boyfriends sharing our secrets, and had grown men commenting on our bodies. But my life was easier not only because I was never tabloid-level famous, but because unlike Ms. Spears, I always had my family's support. I knew that I had money put away for me, and it was mine. If I needed to escape the public eye, I vanished – safe at home or school.’

Now, Wilson is carving out her own path. The actress concluded her essay, ‘The Narrative isn’t a story someone else is writing anymore. I can write it myself.’

Mara previously stated her film acting days are over and that she is instead focusing on writing. Her book Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame was published in September 2016.

And in November last year, Mara joined the personalized video platform Cameo to film special video messages for fans in return for a small fee.

She captioned her video, ‘So excited to announce that I have joined @cameo! Happy to give birthday and holiday greetings, answer questions about Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle, Night Vale, and any of my other movies and acting projects, talk about writing, mental health, V/O, cats, dogs, cookie recipes, anything really! Click the link in my bio to get a personalized video!’

Selina Maycock

Selina is a Senior Entertainment Writer with more than 15 years of experience in newspapers and magazines. She has covered all things Entertainment for GoodtoKnow, Woman&Home and My Imperfect Life. Before joining Future Publishing, Selina graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2006 with a degree in Journalism. She is fully NCTJ and NCE qualified and has 100wpm shorthand.