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'Matilda' star Mara Wilson empathizes with Britney Spears on being sexualized as a young star

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Mara Wilson, best known for her childhood performances in "Matilda" and "Mrs. Doubtfire," can empathize with Britney Spears's treatment as a young star. 

Amid a renewed interest in the way Spears was treated by an unrelenting tabloid media following the "Framing Britney" retrospective documentary, Wilson, 33, opened up in an op-ed for The New York Times published Tuesday about her own experiences as a child actor: feeling forced into "The Narrative," as she writes, of facing a future of corruption and being sexualized from an early age. 

"The way people talked about Britney Spears was terrifying to me then, and it still is now," Wilson wrote. "Her story is a striking example of a phenomenon I’ve witnessed for years: Our culture builds these girls up just to destroy them. Fortunately people are becoming aware of what we did to Ms. Spears and starting to apologize to her. But we’re still living with the scars."

Wilson, who was 6 years old when her first film, "Mrs. Doubtfire," premiered, recalled reporters asking her at the time if she had a boyfriend. Before she turned 12, her face had been photoshopped onto child pornography images, she added. Last summer, Wilson opened up in the HBO documentary "Showbiz Kids" about noticing "much older men being interested in me" and finding horrifying images after Googling her own name. 

"Hollywood has resolved to tackle harassment in the industry, but I was never sexually harassed on a film set," she noted in the piece. "My sexual harassment always came at the hands of the media and the public."

Wilson's fame didn't reach tabloid levels in quite the same way Spears' did, but she nevertheless fell among the ranks of other young performers such as Judy Garland, Drew Barrymore and Amandla Stenberg, who Wilson said faced "The Narrative" of being perceived as difficult, beyond their years and available as a public target because they "deserve it." 

"A big part of The Narrative is the assumption that famous kids … asked for this by becoming famous and entitled, so it’s fine to attack them," she wrote. "In fact, The Narrative often has far less to do with the child than with the people around them."

Wilson ultimately credits her family for helping her get through the perils of childhood fame. When reporters wrote stories that made her seem difficult, her father gave her tips on how to present herself better in the future, but also assured her that the pieces didn't seem fair. 

"Many moments of Ms. Spears’s life were familiar to me," Wilson wrote. "We both had dolls made of us, had close friends and boyfriends sharing our secrets and had grown men commenting on our bodies. But my life was easier not only because I was never tabloid-level famous, but because unlike Ms. Spears, I always had my family’s support. I knew that I had money put away for me, and it was mine. If I needed to escape the public eye, I vanished — safe at home or school."

More: HBO documentary 'Showbiz Kids' depicts dark side of childhood fame, from abuse to self-doubt

She added: "The saddest thing about Ms. Spears’s 'breakdown' is that it never needed to happen. When she split with her husband, shaved her head and furiously attacked a paparazzi car with an umbrella, the Narrative was forced upon her, but the reality was she was a new mother dealing with major life changes. People need space, time and care to deal with those things. She had none of that."

Since the documentary aired, multiple stars have weighed in on Spears' treatment, including her ex, Justin Timberlake, who apologized for having "failed" Spears and Janet Jackson, and John Mayer, who told Andy Cohen the film made him realize his male privilege as a celebrityRose McGowan and Miley Cyrus are among the many who have supported the #FreeBritney movement, a public campaign to end Spears' conservatorship run by her father Jamie Spears.