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Child stars should not be treated like adults in the media

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Child stars should not be treated like adults in the media

Nora Smith

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Stranger Things is arguably one of the best Netflix Original shows provided by the streaming service. Audiences across the world binge watch the show for its nostalgic soundtrack and cinematography that nods to horror films of the ‘80s.

The real horror, however, is the way that the child stars of the show, mostly 13 and 14-year-olds, are sexualized by popular media and fans of the show.

On a June cover of W Magazine, a monthly fashion publication, Millie Bobby Brown,13, was featured on a list titled “Why TV Is Sexier Than Ever.”

Brown was also featured on Insider’s “Worst Dressed List” for the 2017 MTV Movie Awards.  The reasoning behind the decision? Brown’s plain, white, knee-length dress was “shapeless” and made her look “lost.” After backlash, Insider removed Brown from the list, noting that they felt their commentary to be insensitive.

At the MTV Movie Awards, Brown also took home the prize for Best Actress in a TV Show.  Time and time again, however, accomplishments like these are overlooked in favor of criticism or praise of the young actress’ outfits.

In Hollywood, criticism and praise of appearance are both too much. Millie Bobby Brown is a 13-year-old girl, and fans and media sources alike should not be paying attention to her clothing and her body, but to her quick wit and the talent that she has shown time and time again.

Commentary on the appearance of young actresses is a common occurrence in Hollywood and we all do our part to turn a blind eye when the victims are 16 or 17-years-old, so it is only the natural progression of things that this trend is impacting younger stars.

Body image issues that spring from “worst dressed” lists are more severe than one unflattering picture being posted online.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, most eating disorders begin in adolescence.  The main reason for the development of eating disorders is overexposure to the concept of the “thin ideal.” It is bad enough that young actresses are exposed to this ideal by the people around them, but it is even worse when it is imposed upon them at such a young age.  Although Eleven is a mature, strong character, audiences have to remember that Brown is not her character. She may be strong, but is still as susceptible to negative commentary as any other adolescent.

This is not just an issue for Brown. Finn Wolfhard plays Mike Wheeler and recently featured in the Instagram story of 27-year-old model Ali Michael. The story showed a picture of Wolfhard’s face with the caption “Not to be weird but hit me up in 4 years @finnwolfhardofficial.” Michael also came under fire for the story and apologized, but apologies do not erase the culture these comments perpetuate.

Counting down the days until an underage individual is legal does not make the comments sexualizing them okay. Recognizing that someone is underage and sexualizing them simultaneously does not neutralize the sexualization.

Wolfhard faced the same problem this summer after the release of IT, in which he also had starring role. When Wolfhard appeared on Game Grumps, a popular gaming YouTube channel, he told the hosts that fans of IT should stop calling him “daddy.” I don’t think I need to make another hard-hitting statement about why this is so wrong.

Even seemingly harmless headlines about how “grown-up” the Stranger Things kids look should fall under scrutiny, as most are subtle attempts to justify their comments about body shape and size. I personally don’t see that their appearances have changed very much in the past year since season one was released. But, now that the stars have reached a pivotal age, I suppose the media is just preparing them for what adults in Hollywood have to face each day.

This issue is not just about child actors and musicians. Sexualization is not just something that occurs with children in Hollywood, but happens to children every day. The difference is that when these comments are made about child stars like those in Stranger Things, it is easier to ignore, easier to pretend that it is a joke.

Sexualizing children is never a joke. It doesn’t matter if these kids have taken on a job at a young age and been exposed to adult themes and actions, because they are still children. Let them be children. Let fear be an emotion they have to portray on television, not face in real life.

Nora Smith is a sophomore journalism major from Spartanburg, South Carolina. You can follow them on Twitter at @noraagracee.

Photo by: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

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Child stars should not be treated like adults in the media