While speaking to the thousands of women who participated in the Los Angeles Women’s March on Saturday, Natalie Portman gave an unsettling account of her first experience with sexual objectification. It was an experience that would lead to years of self-consciousness as well as sexual inhibition for her.
The 36-year-old actress spoke about the time following the release of her 1994 film The Professional, in which she played a 12-year-old girl who tries to avenge the death of her family after befriending a hitman.
“I was so excited at 13 when the film was released and my work and my art would have a human response. I excitedly opened my first fan mail to read a rape fantasy that a man had written me,” she said. “A countdown was started on my local radio show to my 18th birthday, euphemistically the date that I would be legal to sleep with. Movie reviewers talked about my budding breasts in their 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.”
Portman explained these instances caused a shift in her behavior and influenced which projects she would take. She said she rejected any movie role that included a kissing scene and would consistently play up her “bookish” and “nerdy” dimensions.
“I cultivated an elegant way of dressing. I built a reputation for basically being prudish, conservative, nerdy, serious. In an attempt to feel that my body was safe and that my voice would be listened to. At 13 years old, the message from our culture was clear to me,” she said. “I felt the need to cover my body and to inhibit my expression and my work in order to send my own message to the world that I'm someone worthy of safety and respect. The response to my expression, from small comments about my body to more threatening deliberate statements, served to control my behavior through an environment of sexual terrorism.”
You can watch Portman’s full speech below.