Growing up in the glare of public opinion, when blogs were coming of age, has had a lasting effect on Rumer Willis.
As the eldest daughter of the then-power couple of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Willis was a frequent target of tabloid vitriol. In fact, a quick Google search reveals how common and awful the likes of Perez Hilton’s online bullying of her was in the mid-2000s ― with headlines and photos that would make even the most heinous Regina Georges of the world blush with shame.
“They said I had a huge jaw. They said I had a ′potato head,’” Willis recalled. “When you’re 14 or 15, I didn’t really understand having value in myself yet. My mind went to, ‘OK, so if I get skinny or if I dress the right way or present myself very hyper-sexually and dress this way, then I’ll be valued.’”
Willis, now 30, said she makes a conscious effort to ground her own social media messages in positivity and the language of affirmation.
“I think the most important thing for me is doing my best to lead by example,” she said, describing how she communicates with her nearly 700,000 Instagram followers. She tends to be open about her struggles rather than filter them out. “I still deal with insecurity and trying to figure out my own path in all of it.
For his part, Hilton has apologized for some of his previous behavior, but when Willis called him out at a party, he seemed unrepentant.
“I remember seeing Perez once at a thing, and he was like, ‘I hope you know it’s all just a joke,’ or something,” Willis said.
One way Willis copes with negativity is to look back at her childhood through photos of her dad and mom. These photos, she said, serve as a reminder when she feels hypercritical and potentially on the edge of negative thought patterns and behaviors.
“If I am watching myself talk negatively, I’m like, ‘Would you ever talk to a kid like that?’” Willis said.
Despite the blogosphere and trolls trying to derail her, Rumer is steadily making her way in the movie business. She was just featured in Quentin Tarantino’s ”Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood” opposite Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate’s best friend, and she appeared in the thriller ′What Lies Ahead’ earlier this year.
But, unlike other stars who might find the media glare overwhelming, Willis seems to be taking it in stride ― perhaps to be expected from an actor whose first movie role was alongside her mother when she was 7 years old, in the 1995 classic ”Now and Then.”
“I remember being on that set, and it was like heaven for me,” she said. “All I wanted to do was talk to the older girls [Gaby Hoffmann, Christina Ricci, Ashleigh Aston Moore and Thora Birch] and feel like I was in it. It was so fun.”
She’s candid about how much of a positive influence her actor parents have had on her life and explains the deep affinity she has with her mom, Demi.
“I’m wearing her dress right now,” she confesses of her floral maxi when we first meet.
Watching how differently her mother was treated by the industry as opposed to her movie-star dad had a profound effect on Willis. During the 1990s, when Demi Moore was a cover star after successful box office hits ‘GI Jane’ and ‘Striptease,’ she faced her own share of tabloid scrutiny.
“When my mom was the highest-paid actress, she suddenly was ‘difficult,’ ‘high maintenance’ or a ‘diva,’” Willis said. “If the same thing happened to my dad or any [man], then they’re lauded and told how amazing they are.”
Today, in the wake of the Me Too movement, actors calling for equal pay and treatment are being listened to instead of lampooned. “Grey’s Anatomy” star Ellen Pompeo, who made headlines with her fabulously forthright Hollywood Reporter interview, in which she talked about her fight to get paid what she felt she deserved in the face of gendered double standards.
But even after channeling the experience her mother had to reinforce her own sense of worth, she said, it can still be incredibly hard to call out the latent and explicit misogyny in Hollywood’s DNA.
“I was doing a play last year, and I witnessed some inappropriate behavior, even just conversations that were not appropriate to be having,” she said, adding that she felt frozen and unable to act against it. “It just didn’t even process for me as something to go — you know what? Actually, yeah. I should have gone to someone and said, ‘Hey, this is not okay.’”
Willis hopes to challenge the unbalanced hierarchy with men that can bleed into the workplace.
“I need to do something about this,” she said, “not because I’m trying to cause a scandal, not because I’m trying to get attention, but so this doesn’t happen to other people.”