Much like her 7th Heaven co-star Jessica Biel did before her, former child actress Mackenzie Rosman has unveiled the results of the aging process known as puberty in a magazine marketed towards middle class white men.
Rosman rose to fame for playing Ruthie Camden, the youngest of Reverend Camden’s seven children on the WB’s (RIP) long-running family drama 7th Heaven. Since releasing a series of racy photos for Maxim yesterday, various news outlets have expressed surprise that Rosman did not remain a prepubescent reverend’s daughter after the show ended in 2007.
Lying on her back with her skirt riding up around her waist – a pose that I think we can rightly assume is meant to suggest what she might look like pre-coitus – Rosman wants us to know that she has grown up. (As ABC News saliently pointed out, "Rosman, 23, definitely is not 6 anymore.") While headlines feign shock, gracing the pages of men’s magazines seems to have become a rite of passage for young female stars looking to shed oppressive little girl personas and assert themselves as capable adults. Which makes sense, because women's power comes from making guys want to sleep with us, right?
Former child stars Danielle Fishel, Emma Watson, Hilary Duff, Amanda Bynes, Danica McKellar, and Lindsay Lohan have all stripped down for these mags to create buzz for a new project or just announce their marketable womanhood to the world. The journalistic response to these publicity stunts is usually akin to "check out these good girls gone wild" or "we know you always wondered if there was a hot woman hiding inside that little girl's body, and now you finally get to see it!"
We shouldn't shame these women for doing what they want. They're capable of making their own choices – choices that, on one level, make sense. As someone who looks so young that I recently got carded while trying to rent ski equipment, I empathize with the desire to be seen as an adult. I know what it’s like to want to be taken seriously, to not be saddled with the undue assumptions of innocence and powerlessness that society places on young women.
But these choices aren’t made in a vacuum. When we live in a society that continues to define a woman’s worth in relation to how hot she is, why does the assertion of female sexual agency so often happen on the pages of men’s magazines - magazines that have famously called women “ornamental” and said that they "provide pictures of girls in the same way [they] provide pictures of cool cars"? Why is literally becoming an accessory considered a viable avenue for women to free themselves from expectations placed on their sexuality? Why, in 2013, are we imposing on these women an assumption of virtue and naivete that must be one day combated in the first place?
It’s not just attempts to classify these spreads as empowerment that’s so frustrating. It's the photos' implicit suggestion that little girls growing up is somehow remarkable, or dirty, or wild. Why do we continuously liken the release of these photos to "good" girls gone "bad"? Why do we still put such a premium on feminine purity that any evidence to the contrary becomes news?
These revelations of maturity are – for the most part – a woman's game. Male child stars don't usually pose for provocative spreads in women's magazines as soon as they come of age. They don't head to Cosmo for photo shoots where they eye the camera submissively, hands suggestively placed over their privates, in an effort to prove to the world that they're all grown up. Is this because we assume that little boys turn into me men, but for some reason it still surprises us when little girls turn into women? That's what the influx of headlines surrounding former starlets finally baring it all might lead us to believe. Even as I'm writing this, the story "Abigail Breslin Looks All Grown Up And Is Now A Blond Bombshell" popped up. Why, for women, does feeling like a grown up so often mean feeling like a sex object?
For Rosman, the photos were likely released partially in an effort to garner attention for her role in the upcoming Sharknado spinoff (which, apparently, is a thing that exists).
But I can't help but imagine an intern sitting in the Maxim offices whose main job is to maintain a Google doc of starlets' upcoming eighteenth birthdays. His canned email is at the ready to persuade them to ditch their good girl images through a liberating, clothing-optional photo shoot as soon as it's legal. Because the message being promoting by all this fetishizing of child stars is that we've been ready for this all along. That inside every little girl, there's a woman just waiting to be objectified.