Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown turned 18 this weekend, and both disturbingly and predictably, internet trolls revealed they’d been literally counting down the days to the moment they could legally sexualize the former child star.
As Brown’s birthday approached, Buzzfeed reports that several countdowns began to surface on online forums, including an “NSFW” Reddit thread that promised to open on her birthday. One user explained the thread would be “dedicated to sexual pictures of Millie,” with thousands of subscribers waiting for this content to drop. Brown’s 18th birthday comes after years of older, male social media users sexualizing the young actor, including subjecting an Instagram post Brown shared on her birthday this weekend to a barrage of sexual comments.
The sexualization of child stars and former child stars the moment they turn 18 isn’t new; countdowns for young, female celebrities to turn 18 predate the internet. Natalie Portman, who’s now 40, recounted that shortly after her role at age 12 in the movie Léon: The Professional, her local radio station began a countdown to her 18th birthday. Throughout the ‘90s and 2000s, radio hosts started similar countdowns for the Olsen twins and Emma Watson. Mara Wilson, who starred in Matilda in 1996, recently opened up about being “photoshopped into child porn” and “receiving all kinds of letters and messages online from grown men” before she finished middle school.
More recently, in the internet age, similar online 18th birthday countdowns have been created for Billie Eilish, who turned 18 in 2019, while rapper and social media personality Bhad Bhabie made $1 million within six hours of joining OnlyFans on her 18th birthday. In 2013, a TMZ post featuring Kendall Jenner in a bikini 53 days before her 18th birthday was not-so-subtly headlined “53 DAYS,” while one company reportedly offered Jenner $1.8 million for her to star in an X-rated video with “a partner of her choosing” to mark her birthday.
For many child stars, the pressures of fame and deeply creepy reactions they face being in the public eye carry lasting consequences for their mental health and safety. Countdowns to Brown’s 18th birthday this weekend show how little has changed through the years when it comes to the sexualization of female child stars, and the cultural obsession with treating them as sexual temptations.