Matilda star Mara Wilson pens searing essay about being sexualised as a child star: ‘Britney’s story is familiar to me’

Mara Wilson Britney Spears

Matilda star Mara Wilson has criticised the media’s appalling treatment of Britney Spears in the years leading up to the singer’s mental health crisis, sharing her own experiences of being sexualised and targeted by the media.

Mara Wilson, who made a name for herself in the 1990s as a child actor in films like Mrs Doubtfire and Miracle on 34th Street, lambasted the ways in which women in the public eye are mistreated in an article for The New York Times.

In it, Wilson reflected on a run-in she had with the press in July 2000, when she was just 13-years-old.

A Canadian newspaper branded her a “spoiled brat” after she told an interviewer “the truth” about how she was feeling on the press circuit for her film Thomas and the Magic Railroad.

The paper described the “dark paths” child stars often end up going down, something Wilson now refers to as “The Narrative” – a story created by the media that people who grow up in the public eye will inevitably meet a “tragic end”.

In that interview with the Canadian newspaper, Wilson said she “hated” Britney Spears. She clarified in the Times that she never hated Spears, and that she now believes she had simply absorbed this “narrative”.

“The way people talked about Britney Spears was terrifying to me then, and it still is now,” Wilson wrote.

“Her story is a striking example of a phenomenon I’ve witnessed for years: Our culture builds these girls up just to destroy them. Fortunately people are becoming aware of what we did to Ms Spears and starting to apologise to her. But we’re still living with the scars.”

The treatment of Britney Spears is ‘familiar’ to Mara Wilson

Mara Wilson went on to chart how Britney Spears was branded a “bad girl” by the media by the year 2000 because she had started to embrace her sexuality.

The actor, who is now a full-time writer, went on to chart how she was also sexualised in various ways. She was questioned in press interviews if she had a boyfriend, and later received torrid letters from 50-year-old men.

Shockingly, Wilson later found that images of her face were photoshopped into child sexual abuse imagery online.

Wilson went on to write that many aspects of Spears’ treatment were “familiar” to her. However, Wilson said her life was arguably easier because she was never “tabloid-level famous” and she had the support of her family.

She closed out her article by reaffirming her rejection of the narrative around girls and women who grow up in the public eye.

“The Narrative isn’t a story someone else is writing anymore. I can write it myself.”

Mara Wilson has returned to the public eye in a limited capacity in recent years after she left acting behind in her early teens.

She now dedicates her time to writing and activism. In a 2020 interview with Yahoo Movies, Wilson said she “loved working on Matilda,” but said she started facing mental health issues in the immediate aftermath.

“As soon as that film wrapped, I was having terrible panic attacks and obsessively washing my hands,” she explained.