Reese Witherspoon has spoken out about challenges she faced early in her career, especially as a young mother, or the only woman on an all-male production. But Witherspoon, who’s been a working actor since she was a young teen, is now opening up about the dark side of being a child in the industry, and why she’s struggled to put a name to it until now. Witherspoon was assaulted and harassed as a child actor — and she’s not here for anyone’s criticism of how she chooses to tell her story.
The Big Little Lies star spoke with author Ann Patchett for Vanity Fair about her long career, and how she became the powerhouse actor-producer-storyteller she is today. When Patchett asked her whether she thought being a child actor was dangerous, Witherspoon first didn’t understand what she meant — another clue to how counterintuitive it feels to the actress to speak up.
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When I first saw this cover, I thought, “Oh my goodness… what a goofball!” But here I am captured, probably snort-laughing, in all my goofy glory! I enjoyed every minute of chatting with the divine #AnnPatchett (one of my favorite authors and independent booksellers) about storytelling, growing up in Nashville, and the importance of dog portraits! There might even be an embarrassing high school story involving beer and a coke machine. Thanks to the whole team who made me laugh all day. Photos by @jackie_nickerson. Hair and makeup by @HairbyAdir and @romyglow.✨
“Ah yes. Bad things happened to me,” Witherspoon said. “I was assaulted, harassed. It wasn’t isolated. I recently had a journalist ask me about it. She said, ‘Well, why didn’t you speak up sooner?’ And I thought, that’s so interesting to talk to someone who experienced those things and then judge them for the way they decide to speak about them. You tell your story in your own time when you’re ready.”
Witherspoon is so right — no one should ever dictate how a survivor chooses to come forward. And while the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have been instrumental in bringing to light just how commonplace assault and harassment are on a daily basis, no celebrity owes us their story before they’re ready.
For Witherspoon, it’s been a whirlwind to see how much this industry has changed since her start in it: “There wasn’t a public reckoning 25 years ago when this stuff happened to me,” she said. “There wasn’t a forum to speak about it either. Social media has created a new way for people to express themselves that I didn’t have. That’s the great strength in power and numbers.”
Even today, Witherspoon is learning and expanding her horizons on conversations about assault and consent every day. She’s never been one for overly sexy photoshoots, admitting that she “grew up thinking you dress the way you want to be treated.” But her 20-year-old daughter Ava has helped her understand that suppressing sexuality isn’t the answer.
“I can tell you what my daughter would say,” Witherspoon tells Patchett on the subject. “Why should a woman have to sublimate her own sexuality, because that’s not her responsibility, the way she’s viewed, right? Her sexuality shouldn’t be diminished because she’s having a conversation about consent. You should be able to be sexual, to display your sexuality, because consent is consent, no matter what.”
Wise words from Ava — but with a strong, kickass mom like Reese Witherspoon, is anyone really surprised?
Impressed with Ava’s maturity? We are too. Check out these other celebrity kids who are all grown up.