In short, Millie has enjoyed huge success throughout her childhood, and there was certainly a lot to celebrate when she turned 18 on Saturday.
However, her birthday ended up being a little ominous this year, with Millie legally becoming an adult exposing a darker side to child star fame.
As the big day approached, countdowns began to pop up on various online forums, with a Reddit thread listed as “NSFW” teasing that it would only open once she turns 18.
A screenshot of the page had the forum’s full name obscured to prevent other people from finding it, but it already had more than 6,000 members and its description read: “This subreddit will open when Millie turns 18, which is February 19, 2022.”
Explaining the purpose of the sub, a user explained on a different forum: “[It’s] to post sexual pictures of her the day she turns 18. It's a sub solely dedicated to sexual pictures of Millie, who is currently a minor, until next week but they have a sub prepared already with thousands of subscribers.”
It has since been claimed that the subreddit was banned after masses of Millie fans reported it to administrators.
Over on Instagram, Millie marked her special day with a selection of photos of herself posing in a blonde wig, and people quickly noticed that the comments on her social media posts had changed dramatically now that she is considered an adult.
The post was flooded with sexually explicit messages and lewd emojis that left fans horrified, and they shared their response to the discourse online.
“Poor girl’s been sexualized ever since Stranger Things took off,” one remarked on Reddit.
And another tweeted: “I cannot believe I have to say this once again but stop being fucking creepy and weird about Millie Bobby Brown.”
The situation also sparked a discussion about other female child stars who were sexualized ahead of their 18th birthday, with Millie far from the first to have her big day being counted down.
In fact, it is something that Matilda star Mara Wilson anticipated way back in 2017, when she penned an essay for Elle that provided a deep and disturbing insight into her personal experiences after becoming a movie star at the age of 5. Here, she shared her explicit fear for Millie.
“Even before I was out of middle school, I had been featured on foot fetish websites, photoshopped into child porn, and received all kinds of letters and messages online from grown men,” Mara recalled.
She added that her body was being “discussed” as soon as she’d hit puberty. “I was a child actor, my body was public domain,” she wrote.
And when Millie hit the big time in Stranger Things, Mara found herself taking a particular interest in how she was treated.
“I wasn’t worried about her. Not at first. It’s my nature to worry about child actors,” Mara wrote. “Then Millie Bobby Brown turned 13. Last week, I saw a photo of her on Twitter, dressed up for a premiere. I thought she looked like a teenage girl.”
“The caption, however, read that, at 13, she ‘just grew up in front of our eyes.’ It had been tweeted by a grown man,” the Mrs. Doubtfire star said.
Mara added that she “felt sick” and then “furious,” going on: “What’s really at play here [is] the creepy, inappropriate public inclination to sexualize young girls in the media.”
“Commenting on a child’s body, whether in a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ way, in a sexualizing or pitying way, is still commenting on a child’s body,” Mara said.
In addition to Millie and Mara, Britney Spears, Emma Watson, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and Hilary Duff are just some of the famous faces whose 18th birthdays sparked similar comments and countdowns.
Reacting to Millie’s treatment, a Reddit user said: “This has happened for every female celeb as long as I can remember. They always just wait, counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until they can ~legally~ sexualize a child and it’s fucking foul.”
“Were you around for the Olsen Twins turning 18?” Another wrote. “Radio talk show hosts had countdowns for it, there was TV spots for it, and I remember distinctly overhearing my grown male family members and towns folk talking about it like they were talking about waiting in line at a deli for the fresh cuts.”
“The same thing happened with the Olsen Twins. It's demoralizing to see. It was when it happened to them and it is now,” a third echoed.
Mary-Kate and Ashley were just 6 months old when they landed their shared breakout role as Michelle Tanner in Full House, with the world quite literally watching the twins grow up through their various movies, TV shows, and fashion lines before their 18th birthday.
Another commenter wrote, “Reminds me of the national newspaper which decided to run a countdown leading up to Emma Watson's 16th birthday.” 16 is the legal age of consent in the United Kingdom.
Speaking at a HeForShe news conference in 2016, Emma said: “I remember on my 18th birthday I came out of my birthday party and photographers laid down on the pavement and took photographs up my skirt, which were then published on the front of the English tabloid [newspapers] the next morning.”
“If they had published the photographs 24 hours earlier they would have been illegal, but because I had just turned 18 they were legal,” she added.
Emma isn’t the only former child star to speak out on this issue, with Natalie Portman recalling a countdown to her 18th birthday on her local radio show after she shot to fame at 12 years old thanks to the movie Léon: The Professional.
“A countdown was started on my local radio show to my 18th birthday — euphemistically the date that I would be legal to sleep with,” Natalie said at a Women’s March in 2018.
“Movie reviewers talked about my budding breasts in reviews. I understood very quickly, even as a 13-year-old, that if I were to express myself sexually I would feel unsafe and that men would feel entitled to discuss and objectify my body to my great discomfort,” she added.
While newspapers and radio stations definitely kickstarted the obsession with famous girls’ 18th birthdays, the internet helped it reach a whole new level as major websites got involved.
In 2013, gossip site TMZ posted a photo of Kendall Jenner posing in a bikini and hotpants alongside the caption: “Kendall Jenner — 53 Days until she turns 18. Not that we’re counting.”
The following day, another publication captioned the same image with “To all those wondering, Kendall Jenner turns 18 in 52 days.”
Kendall and her younger sister, Kylie, had grown up on their family’s reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and were just 11 and 9 years old respectively when the first season premiered.
It has been reported that at least six companies bid for Kendall’s “pornographic debut” after she turned 18, with one said to have offered $1.8 million for her to star in an X-rated video with “a partner of her choosing.”