'The truth is that sexuality has always been a component of my career. Even from a young age, I was sexualized," the actress shared in a revealing essay.

By Jolie Lash
June 11, 2021 at 06:32 PM EDT
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The O.C. star Mischa Barton is sharing her experience with over-sexualization, including feeling pressure to lose her virginity while playing a sexually active teen, to help other young women in entertainment avoid the pitfalls she says she suffered starting at age 13.

In a personal essay for Harpers Bazaar UK, Barton wrote that the pandemic allowed her time to "reflect upon the trauma" she'd been frightened to vocalize before due to fears of "backlash" or "victim blaming."

"The truth is that sexuality has always been a component of my career. Even from a young age, I was sexualized," Barton wrote.

Barton began recalling her time working on 1999's Pups, which also starred Burt Reynolds and Cameron van Hoy. "Lead roles in coming-of-age films are always directly tied to sex and sexuality, and this was a prime example. It was for Pups that I had my first kiss on screen and in real life, in front of an entire crew. ... The movie blew up in Asia, and I became a strange sex symbol over there. I was 13," she wrote.

Mischa Barton
Mischa Barton
| Credit: Amy Sussman/Getty Images

The actress went on to address her time playing Marissa Cooper on The O.C. as an 18-year-old. She explained that she felt she was under a lot of pressure at work to meet "needs, demands, and goals" set by people much older than her, and over playing a character who lived a life much more wild than her own.

"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," Barton wrote, noting she was "pursued by older men in their thirties." 

"I felt so much pressure to have sex, not just from him, but society in general," she added, not naming the pursuer.

Barton said "media attention" on her at that time - "over other cast members" - "rocked the boat in a big way." Paparazzi intrusion on her life and tabloid culture also caused her to suffer mental health issues, and she ended up with PTSD, she said.

"I had a few breakdowns," Barton shared. "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. Just because the pain isn't visible, it doesn't mean it isn't there."

The MeToo movement of recent years, however, gives the actress hope, and she said she's glad to see a spotlight focused on "encouraging girls to protect their own bodies and show them as they see fit from the outset."

As she wrapped up her essay, Barton said she finally knows "what it means to be in control of [her] own sexuality." She also referenced what happened to another '00s pop culture tabloid target - Britney Spears, whose struggles were documented in Framing Britney Spears - as something people can learn from.

"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 sexualised as a child, the sooner we can protect our young women and learn from our mistakes as a society," she wrote.

Barton concluded by saying she hopes her story can provide others the inspiration they need to stand up for themselves. 

Barton isn't the only member of The O.C. looking back at the oughts through a 2021 lens. Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke, who host the podcast Welcome to the OC, Bitches!, recently addressed their co-star's recent, pre-essay account about difficulties she said she experienced while filming the show.

Clarke, who played Marissa's mother, Julie Cooper, expressed an understanding of how pressure impacted her younger costars. 

"The one thing going into this podcast - and Rachel and I discussed this - I can tell you about my experience with total honesty, and transparency, and cannot speak for somebody else's experience. And, we have touched on this, Rachel, but someone who's 16, 17, 18 - that amount of hours of work, pressure, at such a young age - at best you're exhausted, and at worst, it's overwhelming and chaotic," Clarke said. "So it kind of breaks my heart a little to know that - we knew there's a lot of pressure on her, but if it was really that bad of an experience, that's not right for any young person."

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