In a new op-ed for Harper's Bazaar, Mischa Barton says that the opportunities she's received within the entertainment industry have come at an extremely high cost-a cost that she hadn't truly been able to break down and face until the pandemic halted everything last year. She explains that one of her most troubling memories from her days filming The O.C. was the pressure she felt to lose her virginity, which she ultimately did in order, she says, to feel like less of a fraud.
"The truth is that sexuality has always been a component of my career. Even from a young age, I was sexualised," Barton writes, explaining that she became a sex symbol at just 13 years old after starring in 1999's Pups. When she landed the role of Marissa Cooper on The O.C. in 2003, that sexualization began to drastically affect her life off screen.
"When I took the role of Marissa Cooper, I was 18 years old and fresh out of high school," Barton writes. "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."
She continued, "Even being a virgin at the time in that context made me feel like a fraud...Here, I was playing a confident character who was fast and loose and yet I was still a virgin."
"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 writes.
"Did I ever feel pressured to have sex with someone? Well, after being pursued by older men in their thirties, I eventually did the deed," she continues. "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."
What came after getting her virginity "out of the way" was PTSD-inducing, Barton explains. Her connection to well-known men in "L.A. circles" caused media firestorms. She was constantly followed by tabloid paparazzi to the point where the sound of camera shutters would induce a panic attack.
"From the teenage girl who did a lot of her sexual firsts in front of the world, her first kiss, her first period, her first sexual experience, I have finally learnt what it means to be in control of my own sexuality," Barton says. "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."
"I can't stay quiet anymore, because these things are still happening-the exploitation of young girls, to people of colour, to all women, sexualised while being picked apart and shamed for being alive in their own bodies," she writes, noting that she hopes her story can help at least one woman stand up for herself when asked to do something she's not comfortable with. "I'm not just a headline, I am a woman," Barton concludes, "a human being and I have a story to tell."