Mischa Barton is opening up about the trauma she suffered for being “sexualized” in the past as a young actress in Hollywood.
The “Hills” alum, 35, penned a lengthy essay published Friday in the U.K.’s Harper’s Bazaar in which she discussed the importance of the Me Too movement and the scrutiny she faced playing “mature” characters onscreen.
She begins the essay highlighting that while she’s “thankful” for the acting opportunities that have come her way, it was quarantining over the last year amid the coronavirus pandemic that allowed her to reflect and finally speak up about issues she once avoided.
“The truth is that sexuality has always been a component of my career. Even from a young age, I was sexualised. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being an actress and my work on stage. I felt very grown-up, proud of my work and really committed myself to it, but I was still just a child,” Barton wrote.
She noted that her early roles in “Lawn Dogs” and “Pups” exposed her to “very mature” characters.
“Lead roles in coming-of-age films are always directly tied to sex and sexuality, and this was a prime example,” she said of her role in “Pups,” which also starred Burt Reynolds.
Barton recalled her character getting her period for the first time despite not experiencing it herself in her own life yet. She then addressed the pressures she felt to become sexually active upon taking on the memorable role of Marissa Cooper on “The O.C.“
“When I took the role of Marissa Cooper, I was 18 years old and fresh out of high school. While everyone at my age was enjoying the carefreeness and untroubled joy of being a teenager, I was working extended hours on set, constantly pressured into meeting needs, demands and goals set by people twice my age or older,” she reflected.
Barton said she struggled with the reality of being a virgin in real life while playing Cooper, who she described as a “confident character who was fast and loose.”
“Even being a virgin at the time in that context made me feel like a fraud,” Barton admitted.
“The kids in the show were quintessential rich, privileged American teenagers drinking, taking drugs, and of course having sex. I knew it was important to get this thing – my virginity – that was looming over me, the elephant in the room if you will, out of the way,” her essay continues.
Barton says she felt “pressured” to have sex.
“Well, after being pursued by older men in their thirties, I eventually did the deed. I feel a little guilty because I let it happen. I felt so much pressure to have sex, not just from him, but society in general. This was early on in those critical days and when I finally met someone new and wanted to remove myself from the situation, it created a toxic and manipulative environment,” she continued.
Barton recalls being “chased” by the paparazzi and the press zeroing in on her whereabouts when she began dating publicly. She became a recluse and saw her mental health beginning to decline, she wrote.
“What happened gave me PTSD. In the years afterwards, cameras would bother me; any noises that sounded like a shutter would give me a panic attack and make me extremely paranoid,” she said.
Barton, who also recalls taking an ex-partner to court for selling a sex tape of her recorded without her consent, highlighted the significance of the Me Too movement.
“I can’t tell you how much I wish it had happened sooner, but at least the conversation about women’s rights is now ongoing,” she said. “Today there is more focus on encouraging girls to protect their own bodies and show them as they see fit from the outset.
Barton concluded that she’s learned how to be in control of her own sexuality.
“I can’t stay quiet anymore, because these things are still happening – the exploitation of young girls, to people of colour, to all women, sexualised while being picked apart and shamed for being alive in their own bodies. If my story can help even one young girl stand up for herself and not let the world tear them down, then all of this will be worth it,” she wrote.