Mischa Barton didn’t survive the ’00s unscathed.
The O.C. alum, 35, wrote an essay for Harper’s Bazaar U.K. about feeling pressured to lose her virginity and suffering multiple breakdowns as a young star, which left her with PTSD. Barton — who recently said bullying led to her O.C. exit and opened up about relating to the Framing Britney Spears documentary, having been attacked in the media at the same time — said while she’s grateful for the opportunities Hollywood has given her, “they have come at a cost.”
Quarantining amid the pandemic “brought a fresh life perspective and prompted me to reflect upon the trauma I have been so scared to speak out about for many years,” Barton wrote, saying she’s long worried about “backlash and victim blaming,” but that she can longer stay silent.
Barton said that while she loved being a young actress, starting at age 8 in an Off-Broadway play, “From a young age, I was sexualized.” She pointed to her first film, 1997’s Lawn Dogs, which “explored themes of child molestation, and — while the crew did everything to ensure that I wasn’t exposed to the realities of what all that meant – when I did press for the film, it became clear that it was very mature content.”
Two years later, she was in Pups with Burt Reynolds, and had “my first kiss on screen and in real life, in front of an entire crew. My character had her first period in one scene, something I hadn’t even experienced in life yet. The movie blew up in Asia, and I became a strange sex symbol over there. I was 13.”
She went on to call the aughts “a crazy time” as a young woman in Hollywood, which the Spears doc showed. Barton was cast as The O.C.’s Marissa Cooper at 18 — “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. I never had the option to speak up for myself. As a teenager in an adult world, I felt a perpetual fear that it might backfire, turning my career on its head.”
Barton made the point that even when she “found the courage to open up a conversation about my experiences on set as a young girl” just last month, she was shut down again and “publicly referred to as a ‘nightmare’ to work with,” by an unidentified set source. “References were made about my mother being ‘annoying’ simply because she worked hard to guide and protect her child in a wild industry. I was told by many individuals that I wouldn’t be able to keep working if my mother remained on my team, which led to more complicated dynamics with my family over the years.”
But being Marissa was complicated for other reasons, too. Barton said being a virgin in real life while “playing a confident character who was fast and loose,” led to her accelerating her sex life.
“The kids in the show were quintessential rich, privileged American teenagers drinking, taking drugs, and of course having sex,” she said. “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. I started to really worry that I couldn’t play this character if I didn’t hurry up and mature a little. Did I ever feel pressured to have sex with someone? Well, after being pursued by older men in their 30s, 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.”
It didn’t end well. When she met someone new and wanted to “remove myself from the situation, it created a toxic and manipulative environment. I felt controlled within an inch of my life.”
During her time on The O.C., Barton said “nobody was happy that there was so much media attention on me over other cast members.” Her co-stars, while not naming any specifically, “thought I was courting publicity… I wasn’t attention seeking, but by that point it had begun to snowball.”
She tried “for a long time to be unfamous,” she said, but that worked against her, with the paparazzi becoming more aggressive. It got to the point that she didn’t like leaving home. When she did, “They chased my car. They tried to climb over the walls to my house. They’d track my phone and my car. They’d make deals with restaurants so that when I went to one, someone would notify them. They’d buy cell phones for the homeless, instructing them to call as soon as they saw me walking down the street. I was stalked. They’d shoot directly into my home to the extent where I couldn’t even open my blinds.”
That was just one part. Along with the photos came the hateful stories on celebrity websites and in tabloids. She said, “It became too much to read about myself every day and to have these publications laugh at my pain.”
That was when her “mental health declined,” she wrote. “The constant feeling of being hunted affected me entirely. I had a few breakdowns,” including in 2009 after a DUI arrest. “But no one questioned why I was having those breakdowns. I became a target of nasty attacks when I was clearly expressing signs for needing help.”
Barton said it led to PTSD. Like Prince Harry saying camera flashes trigger him, she said that “any noises that sounded like a shutter would give me a panic attack and make me extremely paranoid. I‘d have full blown panic attacks.”
As a result, “I went to very dark places,” she said, adding, “I‘m proud to say that I certainly am a survivor.”
Barton also wrote about dealing with revenge porn in 2017
“I took my ex-partner to court for selling a sex tape of me that he had recorded without my consent while we were together. The videos were then offered to the highest bidder online,” she said. “My mind had boggled when I heard he had said, ‘I knew that she was one of the only girls, unlike Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian, who didn’t have a sex tape.’ He then thought that he could surreptitiously record all our intimate moments, even covertly filming me in the shower. With the help of an incredible lawyer, to whom I owe a lot, we won the case and stopped the videos being sold.”
Today, Barton has “finally learnt what it means to be in control of my own sexuality. I have grown to love watching women break through these taboos. The more we talk about what we’ve done to generations past, whether it be Britney Spears, who was so poorly treated by the press, or Natalie Portman talking about how she felt overly sexualized as a child, the sooner we can protect our young women and learn from our mistakes as a society.”
Barton’s interview last month with E! about “bullying” from men on The O.C. set drew backlash, but she said it’s not going to silence her.
“I realize that these are very complicated conversations to have, with repercussions for many people but I can’t sit back and let people tear me down anymore,” she concluded. “I’m not just a headline, I am a woman, a human being and I have a story to tell. I can’t stay quiet anymore, because these things are still happening — the exploitation of young girls, to people of color, to all women, sexualized 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.”
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