Britney Spears, Brooke Shields and the 'criminal' interviews child stars don't want us to forget.

This article deals with the topic of sexual harassment and could be triggering for some readers.

Growing up in the spotlight can not only cost young actors their freedom and privacy: but especially for young female stars, it can leave them vulnerable to the male gaze. And with this, often comes the potential to be sexualised at a very young age.

Only in recent years have we as a society started to look back on certain pop culture moments in history that have definitely not aged well. 

Watch: Demi Lovato and Drew Barrymore get honest about the difficulties of growing up as child stars. Post continues below.

Video via The Drew Barrymore Show.

Just this week, both Britney Spears and Brooke Shields have called out two veteran journalists for contributing to the sexualisation and inappropriate obsession that plagued them as child stars.

With this in mind, we thought it important to unpack the phenomenon and remind ourselves that although the media has so much to answer for in instances like these: they were ultimately feeding the public's insatiable appetite for child stars growing up at an unnatural rate. 

Mara Wilson.

Mara Wilson rose to prominence as a child star in films such as Mrs Doubtfire, Matilda and Miracle on 34th Street.

But with this level of fame also came a level of inappropriate public attention that left Mara traumatised. 

The actress this year spoke on her experience in the spotlight as a child, saying she was "photoshopped into child pornography" before the age of 12.

Image: Getty. 


In an essay published in the New York Times, Mara wrote: "Our culture builds these girls up just to destroy them. It was cute when 10-year-olds sent me letters saying they were in love with me. It was not when 50-year-old men did."

She also highlighted the fact that even though her parents intentionally only dressed her in knee-length dresses, in a bid to "protect" their child, it wasn't successful in stopping what they feared.

"My parents thought I would be safer that way. But it didn't work. 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," Mara revealed.

"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."

Image: Getty. Britney Spears.


As the biggest pop star on the planet in the early 2000s, Britney Spears' entire life: her body, her relationships, even her virginity, was reported on and consumed without reservation.

Even in 1999, when she was 17 at the time, Britney appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. It was mere months before the release of her debut single '...Baby One More Time'.

The cover image shows a teenage Britney reclined on a bed wearing short, silk pyjama shorts, a black bra and an open shirt. She clutched a phone in one hand and a plush Teletubby toy in the other. Within the magazine itself, she was in high heels, short shorts, an open cardigan and bra, surrounded by dolls and soft toys.

Image: Getty. 


But it was a 2003 interview with American journalist Diane Sawyer that has prompted conversations recently.

Britney, who was 21-years-old at the time, was probed with completely inappropriate questions over her sexual encounters with Justin Timberlake, her body, her clothes and more. 

Sawyer even described Britney's stomach as the "most valuable square inch of real estate in the entertainment universe".

Holding up various magazine photoshoots in which Britney had skin exposed, Diane probed, "What happened to your clothes?... What is this about?... Is it about shocking people?"

Britney replied: "It's about doing a beautiful picture. I think it's an okay thing to express yourself." 

Sawyer then argued that Britney had "upset a lot of mothers". She quoted Kendel Ehrlich, the wife of a Maryland Governor at the time, who said, "If I had an opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would."

Also in 2003, were incredibly sexist and degrading comments from American shock jock Howard Stern.

Watch: Britney Spears, Brooke Shields and the 'criminal' interviews they won't allow us to forget. Post continues after audio.


In an interview with one of Britney's rumoured romantic partners, the frontman of band Limp Bizkit, Stern said:

"Did she have pubic hair?"

"Were her breasts 'real'?"

"I bet you gave it to her from behind."

"I gotta know. Does she like dirty talk? Can you get dirty with her?"

"If I was banging her, I'd tie her up and call her a dirty little whore. I'd be like 'Come here, you b****,'" he said. "I'd tie her up and burn her feet with cigarettes."

This week on Mamamia's entertainment podcast The Spill, the Diane Sawyer interview was unpacked.

"The real villain here is her family and management team for bringing Diane Sawyer in and forcing her to do the interview. But also I'm sure Sawyer was internally cheering every time Britney started to cry or answered a personal question," said The Spill co-host, Laura Brodnik.

Co-host Kee Reece said on the podcast: "Having to answer really invasive questions but then not having that family support, add on the paparazzi culture: it's just intense."

Image: Getty. Natalie Portman.

Natalie Portman was on the set of her very first movie when she turned 12 years old.

After the success of her first film, Natalie landed roles in the likes of Beautiful Girls, which followed a middle-aged man who has a crush on her young character. The actress says she then began to garner a new type of attention.


Speaking on Armchair Expert With Dax Shepard, the now 40-year-old shared that the public reaction was difficult to handle.

"I was definitely aware of the fact that I was being portrayed - like mainly in the kind of journalism around when the movies would come out - as this Lolita figure and stuff," she shared.

"Being sexualised 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 not to look at me that way."

Natalie ended up turning down the role for Lolita, the 1997 film adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's infamous book. 

Image: Getty. 

Speaking at the Women's March in 2018, Portman recalled when she was sent fan mail for the first time.

She was incredibly excited to open it. But when she read it, she realised that it was a rape fantasy a man had written her.

"At 13 years old, the message from our culture was clear to me. I felt the need to cover my body and to inhibit my expression and my work in order to send my own message to the world: That I'm someone worthy of safety and respect," Portman told the crowd at the rally.

"The response to my expression from small comments about my body to more threatening, deliberate statements served to control my behaviour through an environment of sexual terrorism."


Sadly, these sorts of experiences were only the tip of the iceberg for Natalie.

"A countdown was started on my local radio show to my 18th birthday: euphemistically the date that I would be legal to sleep with," she shared.

"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."

Image: Getty. Brooke Shields.

Another child star calling out the media for ill-treatment is Brooke Shields.

Brooke was also recently on Dax Shepard's podcast, talking about the sexualisation of young celebrities like Britney Spears and herself, when she shared her interview experience with Barbara Walters.

"It's practically criminal: it's not journalism," Brooke said in regards to the sexual nature of Walters' questions, including when the journalist asked about Brooke's body measurements and sexual history.

The interview with Walters came as a result of a 1980's Calvin Klein ad campaign, where the underage model/child star, who was wearing tight jeans in the commercial, said: "You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing."


As noted on The Spill, "It's a good thing that people are looking back on these interviews that made headlines at the time and have stuck with these women like Britney and Brooke. It's interesting to look back on them with a different lens and see the impact," co-host Brodnik said.

"But these journalists are not completely to blame: they were feeding the audience exactly what they wanted to hear."

Image: Getty. "Given they [both Britney and Brooke] have called out these people this week, it's obviously experiences that have left them deeply traumatised and that is an important point to look at," noted Brodnik.

Brooke has also spoken previously about the impact of being sexualised as a child star, as well as the troubling role her mother played. 


When Shields was 11, she appeared in the film Pretty Baby, playing a child who grows up in a brothel and is then auctioned off to the highest bidder. She was filmed naked throughout.

The actress was then cast in the movie Blue Lagoon, which saw the then 16-year-old spend the majority of the film completely nude. 

Brooke now 56, is a mum to two girls, recently saying to The Guardian about her youngest child: "I want to put a chastity belt on her. I’m going psychotic about what I’m dealing with, with men looking at her and looking at her body... I mean, this is my 15-year-old!"

Speaking on her differing parenting decisions compared to her own mother, Brooke wrote in her 2014 memoir: "I would not allow my daughter to be photographed topless. But it was a different time." 

Image: Getty. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.

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