Mackenzie Rosman as the youngest daughter on the long-running TV series '7th Heaven'.
The notion that former child stars must announce their arrival at adulthood by way of a racy lads’ mag shoot seems positively quaint these days - so quaint that I was quite surprised when Mackenzie Rosman turned up in the pages of Maxim.
If you don’t remember her name (FAME!), that’s likely because the last time she was a member of the zeitgeist was almost a decade ago, when she played Ruthie, the youngest member of the Protestant Camden family, on 7th Heaven.
That squeaky-clean WB network series was rocked (relatively speaking) in 2000 when then-17-year-old cast member Jessica Biel, keen to leave the show, stripped for Gear.
Mackenzie Rosman in the latest issue of Maxim.
And, in a positively heartwarming twist, it was that “scandal” that inspired Rosman to drop trou for her own Maxim shoot: “I was probably nine at the time, but I remember that. It was a big deal. The magazine was banned on set, I think by orders of Aaron Spelling. I sneaked a peek at it, though. It was racy gossip amongst the women of 7th Heaven!"
Now that Rosman is 23 and being shot in her smalls is “who I am”, and coincidentally has a telemovie (Ghost Shark) on the SyFy network to plug, she decided to follow in her former co-star’s footsteps.
She is, it needn’t be said, not alone in engaging in this strange rite of passage. From Australia’s own Nikki Webster to The Wonder Years’ Danica McKellar and Girl Meets World’s Danielle Fishel, plenty of former female child stars - and they are always female - end up in their smalls accompanied by giant headlines that scream things like “ALL GROWN UP!”
From a sales/scandal perspective it’s even better when said stars are barely legal, but the mags aren’t fussy: just the merest hint of a guilty tingle care of former-child-star status will do. On that front, a round of applause for ABC’s mind boggling analysis, “Rosman, 23, is definitely not 6 anymore.”
(As the LA Times pointed out, Rosman is positively over the hill compared to men’s magazine regular Kate Upton, who is just 21.)
Reflecting on the trend, writer Julianne Ross imagined “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.”
(Depressingly, if the plethora of website countdowns to Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s 18th birthdays I used to see in the signatures of male forum posters was any indication, Ross may well be on the money.)
Former male child stars, on the other hand, get to either disappear into happy obscurity (Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Jonathan Lipnicki), or grow into respected actors (Nicholas Hoult, a contemporary of Rosman, if we’re going by his 2002 starring role in About A Boy, is a good example of this).
Traditionally, whether former child stars strip down to prove their “adulthood” (Miley Cyrus’ sultry Vanity Fair shoot), or merely to attempt to regain relevance (pretty much every other example), it doesn’t seem to do much for the general consciousness beyond remind people that “Oh, right, she exists”. The latter is at least a generally accepted publicity grab, regardless of age, but the former is indeed depressing. For them, in this context, adulthood can only truly be represented by the opportunity for men to legally ogle them.
The issue is not that these young women are deciding to do racy photo shoots; if that’s what they want, then more power to them. Rather, the problem is that this is an accepted rite of passage for former female child stars, which means that there’s a culture of managers, agents and PR people who keep the cogs of the objectification industry well oiled.
As for Rosman’s inspiration, Jessica Biel has spoken quite widely about her regrets when it comes to her Gear shoot, and the predominantly male entertainment industry culture that encouraged it: “You know what got it started? I had a lot of men around me at the time. I was working with a lot of men, because of my managers. And, you know, it just wasn't a good thing for me. I really needed to be surrounded by a woman. Women who would say, ‘You know what? That's really not such a smartest idea’.”