Let’s talk about the weird world of celebrity for a moment, shall we? Take a human, born just like you and me, let the whole world know they exist give them a talent, or maybe not, and watch what happens.
The world will claim them as their own. They are no longer a human being with a right over their own body, mind or work. They are no longer afforded the same luxury of privacy that we allow everyone else, they are public property. Everything they do, every move they make is hounded by paparazzi. Even their children aren’t off-limits.
And then there are the children, the young celebrities who mostly through talent and sometimes through the fame of their parents are thrust into the public eye. You would think they would be protected, the innocence of youth and all that, but no…
They are not safe in the industry and they are not kept safe from the general public either. In 2017 former child star and Matilda actress Mara Wilson wrote an essay called ‘A 13-Year-Old Girl Is Not All Grown-Up’. The essay detailed how while her parents and agent did their best to protect her from the public and the press, she said, "Even before I was out of middle school, I had been featured on foot fetish websites, photoshopped into child porn, and had received all kinds of letters and messages online from grown men."
Mara Wilson is not the only one to have shared these experiences, they are common among child stars. Abuse and harassment within the industry are sadly widespread.
Today we have a teenage star who is taking the world by storm. ‘Stranger Things’ actress Millie Bobby Brown rose quickly to become an international celebrity when the hit sci-fi show aired in 2016. The actress was just 12 at the time. Her phenomenal acting skills gained her an instant following but then it got weird…
At 13, suddenly news articles were coming out saying that Brown had grown up in front of our eyes. Brown had not grown up in front of our eyes, she simply had a celebrity stylist and a very adult fashion sense. But this very adult fashion sense, that included sharp tailored suits and sparkling dresses was enough to fool the world…
No actually, the world decided to use it as an excuse to fool themselves. And suddenly things got weird, and inappropriate. While her male co-stars were allowed to continue being young teen boys, Brown has not been allowed to remain a young girl in the eyes of the public.
Suddenly there were YouTube videos showing the actress’s “transformation” from two until “teenage”. Definitely, a cute video for parents to make and maybe a cute one for a teenage fan to make, maybe. Actually, it’s exactly the kind of teenage behaviour that the rest of the world would make fun of and call ‘weird'.
But it’s not just teenage fans making these videos, it’s adults. There is something distinctly creepy about adults fawning over minors. This type of fascination goes beyond simple admiration of their work and skill.
Following the success of the first season of the show, the stars did the conventional rounds, appearing at Comic Con and other similar conventions. Not only did they appear on panels, a standard part of the events, but they were also available for meet and greets with fans. Fans pay for this privilege, anywhere from £10 to £60 depending on the fame of the stars.
Putting that into context, that is adults paying most likely £50 to £60 for the chance to meet a teenage girl. At her first Comic con, the ‘Stranger Things’ actress was only 13 years old. That’s also a multi-million-dollar company profiting from the public’s fascination over a girl who has only just stopped being a pre-teen. Something just isn’t right.
And yes, we cannot deny her talent, or her intelligence, her ability as a United Nations ambassador, but that doesn’t make it ok to obsess over her and treat her as public property. It’s bad enough when this is done to adults.
As the actress grows up and takes more and more of a role in the public spotlight, the attention continues. Popular Australian news site Pedestrian TV released an article today called, ‘Millie Bobby Brown Addresses Global Summit at United Nations and I’m Sorry, But How Is She 15?”
While the article discusses Brown’s role as a UN ambassador and spokesperson, its title is problematic. Yes, the actress is intelligent, she is described as being “wise beyond her years,” but forgetting how old she actually is or implying that she is more mature than most girls her age, is a dangerous and slippery path to take.
We are not in doubt here that teenagers are capable of great things. (Don’t get me started on Joan of Arc.) However, allowing their capabilities in other areas to overshadow our view of them, creates room for our actions to become inappropriate for their age.
Millie Bobby Brown is a 15-year-old girl, first and foremost. That she has a full-time profession as an actress, works as a UN ambassador does not change her age or her maturity. It doesn’t change the age of any child star, regardless of gender.