In 2011, Courtney Stodden married actor Doug Hutchison in a pair of Pleaser heels. She was 16; he was 51. It was shocking, sure, but just look at Stodden: Her makeup was heavy, her dresses were tight and her breasts were ostensibly fake. I mean, she even wore stripper shoes to run errands. She seemed so provocative, so overtly sexual that, the logic seemed to follow, she couldn’t possibly be the victim of Hutchinson’s predation.
We owe Courtney Stodden an apology.
The fact of the matter is, in 2011, we saw a child publicly marry an adult more than thrice her age and did nothing about it. Instead, we mostly criticized the way she dressed and the way she presented herself when this alone should have been seen as a cry for help. Maybe now that she’s a 25-year-old divorcee — and the #MeToo movement is upon us — we can see things as they truly were.
In practical terms, there’s little most anyone could have done to actually prevent the Stodden-Hutchison union. In almost every state, someone under the age of 18 can marry with either parental or judicial consent: Stodden’s mother approved, and that was that. Of course, Stodden didn’t go into the courtship kicking and screaming, either. Here was a relatively wealthy man with Hollywood clout (he had been on Lost and in The Green Mile), who could afford her the means and connections to pursue her dreams of celebrity. At 16 years old, her brain still had years to go before being fully developed. At 16 years old, when an older man tells you he likes you because you’re just so smart and mature for your age, you actually believe him. It should have been the job of the adults in the room, whether it be her parents or the media, to protect her from what it clearly was: child grooming.
This is the interpretation of the relationship Stodden now holds herself. Their divorce was only finalized in March, though she initially filed for it two years prior. On the day the divorce became official, Stodden posted a photo from her wedding day on Instagram. “I look back at this picture and feel absolutely taken advantage of,” she wrote. “I’ve been scared to even speak up about feeling groomed or being verbally abused during the almost 10-year marriage because I was a child and he was 50 when we married but I’m a woman now and it’s time for me to put my big girl pants on and speak on this matter. I’ve felt completely trapped, manipulated and at times abandoned by adults.”
She acknowledged that she’ll always love Hutchison, but that she’ll always be angry with him, too: “You’ve left me — a child woman, feeling belittled and confused. These things I shall overcome. I wish you well. But please don’t ever do this to another minor again.”
Reading how Stodden now reflects upon the abuse she suffered illuminates just how complicit the collective gawkers were for gobbling up all those headlines about her: In the years following the wedding, she’d go on to be front page news for a solo sex tape, having a miscarriage and attempting suicide, all while maintaining the bimbo look.
Stodden was vilified for making herself into a caricature of Anna Nicole Smith, but like Smith, Stodden was always smarter than she let on. And like Smith, Stodden was simply playing the card that she’d been dealt –– the constant, unsolicited attention of men. As soon as Smith and Stodden manipulated those cards for themselves, they were viewed as some monstrous combination of pariah, whore and spectacle.
Maybe in the coming years, we will see Stodden as she truly wishes to be seen. (If her social media posts and recent paparazzi photos are any indication, the real Courtney Stodden does indeed love cheetah print, pouty lips and sexy poses. She’s also vegan and supports Black Lives Matter.) She was only 16 when she married her abuser and was thrust into the public eye: A decade later, the real Courtney Stodden owes us nothing, but we owe her an apology.