Child star Mara Wilson, best known for her roles in Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda, has opened up about the “miserable” experience of going through puberty in the public eye, in her new autobiography titled Where Am I Now?
In an extract from the book recently published by The Guardian, the 29-year-old Wilson writes about the unrelenting media attention and degrading online commentary that came with being a child star. She also shares details about her struggles with anxiety, low self-esteem and poor body image – something she attributes in part to Hollywood’s unhealthy obsession with women’s physical appearance.
“One day, age 12, I made the mistake of looking myself up on the internet,” writes Wilson. “A website called Mr Cranky wrote that I was popping up in every movie these days because I would soon be entering ‘the awkward years, when she’ll be old enough to have breasts, but not old enough to show them legally.’”
“The change I was experiencing would have been uncomfortable enough in private, but I was going through it under public scrutiny,” she says.
As Wilson began going through puberty, she says that she found she was receiving fewer and fewer offers. “At 13, being pretty mattered,” she remembers. “I was just another weird, nerdy, loud girl with bad teeth and bad hair, whose bra strap was always showing.”
“At 16, I expected I would go back to acting at some point. Thinking about life without it made me anxious. But I knew by then that if I wanted to be in film, I had to be beautiful.”
“I knew I wasn’t a gorgon, but I guessed that if 10 strangers were to look at a photo of me, probably about four or five of them would find me attractive,” she says. “That would not be good enough for Hollywood, where an actress had to be attractive to eight out of 10 people to be considered for even the homely best friend character.”
Nowadays Wilson works as a playwright and comedy writer, and recently voiced a character on the third season of BoJack Horseman. Last year she teamed up with mental health organisation UROK, appearing in a video in which she discussed her struggles with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.
Even as an adult, Wilson says she is still regularly criticised for her appearance. “Every week or so, a well‑meaning friend or fan sends me an article,” she writes. “Below some variation of ‘What Do They Look Like Now?’ there is inevitably an unflattering photo of me and hundreds of comments.
“Once I contacted the author of a list of ‘Ugliest Former Child Actors’ to ask her why, as a woman, she was punishing other women for the way they looked.”
“I understand that celebrities have a contract with the public: they get to be the target of jealousy and criticism, and sometimes admiration, in exchange for money and recognition. But I let that contract run out a while ago. It is not my job to be pretty, or cute, or anything that someone else wants me to be.”
Where Am I Now: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame is out now.
Feature image via Mara Wilson Writes Stuff