Millie Bobby Brown’s Outfit Isn’t ‘Disturbing’, Immediately Sexualising A Teenager Is
The Screen Actors Guild Awards have been and gone, and I doubt I’m in the minority when I say I’m primarily here for checking out all the beautifully expensive designer outfits gracing the red carpet.
But, as with every other red carpet event I can possibly think of, the subject of what people – women especially – wear, is shrouded in controversy. Except this time, it’s particularly troubling to me.
If you’ve been hot on reading the press surrounding the SAG Awards, which took place in Los Angeles on Sunday, January 19, you might have stumbled across an article saying people have ‘slammed’ Stranger Things actor Millie Bobby Brown for her allegedly ‘disturbing and inappropriate’ red carpet outfit.
Twitter was seemingly inundated with people calling for the star’s stylist to be ‘fired’ off the back of her elegant white Louis Vuitton suit, which Brown herself described as the perfect marriage between feminine and masculine.
Why? I mean, there’s absolutely no doubt she looked beautiful, classy, and like the A-list star she almost certainly is. But, what seemed to get people really riled up was the fact they don’t believe she looks her age.
The actor has gone through several of her teenage years before our very eyes, making her debut on the Netflix original series at the tender age of 12. Now, at the age of 15, Millie has found her own identity as a well-established actor and celebrity – part of which includes an evident love for fashion.
Speaking of her outfit while on the red carpet, Millie told PeopleTV:
It’s everything I kind of wanted.
I definitely wanted to go for more of a masculine, but very feminine look and they got it just right, as usual.
While Brown seems more than content with her choice of look, many social media users were less than complimentary, deeming it not age-appropriate for the 15-year-old.
One Twitter user said, ‘Millie Bobby Brown is 15 years old. Everyone who is responsible for this look needs to get fired’.
‘She looks like she could be Natalie Portman or Celine Dion,’ another person wrote. ‘I don’t see a 15-year-old here. She looks like she’s an adult cast member crashing the teen photo.’
A third called on Millie’s stylist to be sacked, adding that she looked ‘at least 30’ in the pictures, describing it as ‘so disturbing’.
I completely agree with the sentiment that children – or adolescents, in Millie’s case – need to be able to enjoy being young, whether they’re in the public eye or not, and part of that means not being forced to mature before they’re ready.
But, what I can’t fathom is the fact people don’t realise that by making comparison of Millie’s looks and her age, they are the ones sexualising her.
Valuing actors based on their sex appeal is nothing new, and the #MeToo movement taught us an awful lot about the objectification actors – predominantly women – were facing behind the scenes. But, what’s arguably more disturbing is the sexualisation of our child actors.
Brown has been commended all over the world for her incredible portrayal of Eleven in Stranger Things, but when W Magazine listed her as one of the top reasons TV ‘has gotten sexier’, it’s concerning to think about where the focus is, bearing in mind she was just 13 at the time.
This kind of attitude towards minors is nothing new within the entertainment industry, though.
Billie Eilish is known for her music and her unique sense of style, which she has previously described ‘wearing clothes 800 sizes too big’. However, the musician has cited not wanting people to know what her body looks like as one of the main reasons for her baggy style.
Yet, when the then 17-year-old was pictured in a white tank top, the topic of her boobs began trending on Twitter, despite her still being classed as a minor in her native California. The day she turned 18, Billie was the most searched person on PornHub, which essentially proves people were just waiting until the day she turned legal before they could lawfully search for pornographic material of her to masturbate over.
While I’m not comparing people branding Millie’s outfit as ‘inappropriate’ to those searching for barely legal celebrities on pornography sites, surely even discussing whether her outfit is age appropriate is sexualising her.
There’s a difference between not wanting to sexualise a young person and simply not doing it. If you make the suggestion that a child’s outfit is provocative – and bear in mind we’re talking about a full length two-piece suit here – aren’t you the problem?
Rather than focusing on how Millie chooses to present herself, should we not be shifting the conversation towards the people who are looking at a child in such a way?
In 2017, Millie walked onto the red carpet for the premiere of Stranger Things 2 wearing a modest black, collared dress, shoulder length straight hair and minimal makeup. Yet, a retired NBC executive thought it appropriate to tweet out a photo of her, writing: ‘Millie Bobby Brown just grew up in front of our eyes (she’s 13)’.
The controversial tweet caused a fair amount of backlash because A: yes, she’s just 13, as acknowledged in the tweet, and B: I think I speak for the majority when I say 13 is far from grown up. These sentiments were shared by former child star and Matilda actor Mara Wilson, who shared the tweet, writing, ‘knock it the fuck off’.
Two days later, Mike Sington released a statement about his tweet, in which he defended his comments that he believed had been ‘taken to heart’, and any ‘sexualisation’ inferred by readers was unintentional.
Looking back, I can see how some could interpret commenting on the grown up look of a child as contributing to the objectification or even sexualisation of a minor, and I appreciate those of you that brought this to my attention. That was never my intent, and I sincerely regret if anyone thought it was.
Explaining her Twitter outrage, Wilson revealed she felt ‘sick’ and ‘then furious’ upon seeing the post, recalling her own experiences of being sexualised as a child star. According to Insider, she wrote about receiving inappropriate letters from male fans and being photoshopped into child pornography.
‘What’s really at play here is the creepy, inappropriate public inclination to sexualize young girls in the media,’ Wilson wrote. ‘We do not need to perpetuate the culture of dehumanisation Hollywood has enabled.’
Essentially, we must strive to remember that child stars are children before they are actors, or singers, or whatever talent has catapulted them into the spotlight, and that means allowing them to wear what they want without turning it into an uncomfortable and concerning discourse about sexuality.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence regarding the welfare of a child contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000. If you are a child seeking advice and support call Childline for free on 0800 1111.