It is universally acknowledged that putting someone on a stage makes them more attractive. It’s why actors who wouldn’t get a second look if they were stood behind you in Tesco become objects of slavish desire and it’s why I made some very bad romantic decisions when I was a gig-going teenager. Most of the time, that’s fine! People find all sorts of things attractive and it doesn’t really matter if fame means that someone you wouldn’t usually fancy is suddenly the object of all your fantasies.
Except if the person in question is a child.
This year, we’ve had Stranger Things 2 and we’ve had It, both of which star Finn Wolfhard (as Richie Tozier in It and as Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things). Wolfhard is an incredible actor and his performances should be applauded but, rather than focus on that, many people are talking about how “hot” he is. The thing is, Wolfhard is 14 years old – and a lot of the people lusting over him are adults.
27-year-old model Ali Michael shared a photo of Wolfhard with the caption 'not to be weird but hit me up in four years'
You can find examples of “I know Finn Wolfhard is 14, but…” sentiment all over social media, with the most famous example being 27-year-old model Ali Michael, who shared a photo of Wolfhard with the caption “not to be weird but hit me up in four years”. She was rightly widely criticised for this, but then, in a video shared by TMZ, a man decided to ambush Wolfhard at the airport and ask him about her comments, not considering that asking a child to comment on adults finding them sexually attractive might also be inappropriate.
In fact, adults seem to have totally forgotten what is appropriate to say to a boy of 14. At a panel during San Diego Comic Con, Wolfhard was introduced as as having “the greatest porn name ever”. When appearing on Game Grumps, Finn had to ask people to stop calling him “Daddy”. Even when they’re not sexualising him, they’re forgetting that he’s only a child and that he doesn’t owe them anything. A now deleted video by @chandlerborrero shows grown adults waiting outside his hotel and getting angry at him when he won’t stop and talk to them, which led to Shannon Purser (aka Barb from Stranger Things) publicly coming to his defence.
Although Wolfhard is the main object of rabid fans’ attentions, he’s not the only one – all of the children of It and Stranger Things have been treated like this. Millie Bobby Brown is talked about as though she’s an adult every time a new photo of her appears, with people conveniently forgetting that she has a stylist and a make-up artist putting those looks together for her. But even if she was styling herself like that, that’s her prerogative. It’s normal for teenagers to want to look nice for other teenagers and it’s the job of us as adults to recognise that that styling isn’t for us, and to leave them be. However great and stylish she looks, she’s still only 13 years old. That doesn’t change, no matter how great her contouring is.
But we should remember, this isn’t a new thing. Remember the days of Harry Potter, when The Sun printed a countdown clock to Emma Watson’s 16th birthday? Or how the Daily Mail frequently describes children wearing anything other than school uniform or cartoon-print onesies as looking “all grown up”? Or how Lindsay Lohan, Charlotte Church, Willow Smith and Sophie Turner were all treated as they went through puberty in the public eye? And tempting as it is to blame it all on Hollywood culture, that’s not necessarily the case – Mara Wilson explained that “the people that were mostly a threat to me as a child were not Hollywood insiders, but grown-up male “fans”… It’s not just the Hollywood insiders that take advantage. It’s the media narrative, as well.”
This treatment of Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown and the rest of the children of It and Stranger Things is absolutely feeding into that culture of seeing actors as things to be consumed
It seems like every day, at the moment, we’re learning that another man in Hollywood has been abusing his power to sexually harass or assault women and children who are just trying to do their jobs – and this treatment of Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown and the rest of the children of It and Stranger Things is absolutely feeding into that culture of seeing actors as things to be consumed, no matter how inappropriate it is. Finn Wolfhard even fired his agent after he found out he’d been linked to allegations of sexual abuse, so it’s horribly ironic that he’s becoming a victim of this toxic environment when he did his part to fight against it.
It’s fine to admire Wolfhard and his co-stars for their talent, their hard work and their acting prowess, but it’s incredibly important to remember that they’re children first and actors second. Being on a stage may change many things about how someone is perceived, but it should never change that.