Matilda star Mara Wilson reveals the darker side of being a child actor

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Matilda star Mara Wilson has revealed the darker side of child fame - and how being "cute" soon made her miserable.

The former child actress, now 29, starred in movies including Mrs Doubtfire and Miracle on 34th Street, but as she hit puberty things became more complicated.

Mara Wilson in Matilda
Mara Wilson in Matilda (PA)

In an extract of her new book Where Am I Now published, in The Guardian, Mara revealed how horrified she was when she looked herself up on the internet at the age of 12.

"A website called Mr Cranky wrote that I was popping up in every movie these days because I would soon be entering 'the awkward years, when she'll be old enough to have breasts, but not old enough to show them legally'," she wrote.

"I folded my arms over my chest just reading that, and even as an adult it makes me shudder. Who did they think they were, talking about a preteen girl's breasts?"

She added: "It was just the beginning. A few months later I found out I was listed on a foot fetish site that catalogued scenes in movies where children's feet could be seen.

"Then there was the fan letter from an adult man who said he loved my legs and wanted my lip print on an index card."

As she grew up, Mara also struggled with her appearance. She lost out on a role which went to Kristen Stewart and saw her contemporary Scarlett Johansson get the lead roles.

Mara Wilson in 2000
Mara Wilson in 2000 (William Conran/PA)

"At 13, no one had called me cute or mentioned the way I looked in years, at least not in a positive way," she explained.

"My sixth-grade crush had called me ugly, film reviewers said I was 'odd looking', and a boy at my preteen day camp had said to me, 'You were Matilda? Heh. You've gained a little weight since then!' I went home and cried into a milkshake."

Mara later gave up acting, but her appearance is still subjected to analysis and criticism.

"They want someone else to tear down, and people like me are considered public domain," she said.

"I understand that celebrities have a contract with the public: they get to be the target of jealousy and criticism, and sometimes admiration, in exchange for money and recognition.

"But I let that contract run out a while ago. It is not my job to be pretty, or cute, or anything that someone else wants me to be."