This post is going to be a bummer. There’s no way around it. To mark the first anniversary of her memoir and its subsequent paperback release, actress Mena Suvari gave a raw and honest interview—one that will make you feel even worse than the time a guy you liked said you should watch American Beauty, and you liked it.
Suvari’s memoir, The Great Peace, hits the low points of many people’s lives: predatory and too-old boyfriends and colleagues, rape, addiction, abusive relationships, and exploitation by the film industry.
When Suvari was 12, a friend of one of her brothers raped her. “I struggled to be seen and heard, engaged with, but I didn’t feel such a loss of sense of self until I was 12. When I was raped,” she told The Guardian. “That sucked the life out of me. I think that was just excessive confirmation that no one was going to save me, no one was going to do anything for me.”
The rape resulted in a bladder infection, and instead of helping her, the doctor prescribed birth control. Are you screaming yet? Because this was the first incident described in Suvari’s interview that made me want to go back in time and commit crimes.
The doctor wasn’t the last adult to fail Suvari as a young girl: By then, she had started modeling and auditioning in Los Angeles. “Everyone was raving about how I looked 18,” she told The Guardian. Again, she was 12. “What was communicated to me was that I was an adult, therefore I can act like an adult.”
No one told her any differently. In fact, men started to abuse her lack of knowledge of power dynamics, taking advantage of Suvari in more ways than one:
There was a pattern of attracting older men who, from her perspective today, she feels used her: the twentysomething photographer who photographed Suvari nude, alone at his home, at 15. One of her business advisers, in his mid-30s, who started having sex with her when she was 16. “I didn’t have anyone telling me, ‘That’s not right, that person shouldn’t be doing that with you’.” Suvari was clever and her grades were good; she was turning up to auditions and doing well, and there was no outside sign anything was wrong. “So, to my own detriment, no one noticed.”
Later, Suvari fell into an abusive relationship with a lighting engineer. In the book, Suvari recalls having to use sex toys when she didn’t want to and having rough, anal sex that required medical care. She also told The Guardian how that man would have her recruit other women for threesomes:
She says he would ask her to pick up other women to have threesomes with, including those she met on set. She bumped into one much later in a Whole Foods store, after she had become famous, and felt mortified. Another time, she ran into one of the women, and went over to her. “I said, ‘I want you to know that I never wanted to do any of those things’. She was surprised. She said, ‘Oh, he told me you wanted to do that’. It was a huge eye-opener for me, how I was being manipulated and I had no idea. The circumstances had been created for me, and I was just swallowed up by it.”
Though she talks about how the book brought her new connections with readers, an area of criticism she worried about was people who thought she was being judgmental of people’s sexual lives. “I’ve never wanted to speak negatively about things that can be very healthy for other people. I was not given the choice or the permission to do it, and that’s what was so destructive for me. It’s a very messed up thing when you experience sexual abuse, because part of it is ….like, satisfying. But then the other part is an absolute nightmare, so you’re confused, you don’t know what’s right,” Suvari told The Guardian. “All of that still weighs on me, because I never got the opportunity to discover myself in that way.”
Suvari’s life as a celebrity started young, giving her a completely different childhood than most. The supposedly typical American experience where you “dated throughout high school and then decided to consensually lose your virginity to one another. That sounds so beautiful to me,” Suvari said. “All of that was lost for me.”
Suvari said that after being sexualized so intensely from such a young age, she’s swinging in the opposite direction. She removed her breast implants a couple years ago and now feels like she can do her work more “honestly.” “I feel a lot freer,” she said. “Just more sure of myself.”