The third time Mara Wilson changed my life

Mara Wilson was the first person I ever followed on Twitter. This was at least three years ago, long before most non-famous people dared actually use Twitter; back then, it was strictly for following Stephen Fry. So I thought long and hard about whose tweets I would first allow into my empty timeline, and came up with a slightly unexpected answer: the little girl from Matilda. And what a good decision that was.

Being part of a family where her perfectly enunciated “it’s Christmas Eve and I’m going to bed uncharacteristically early” is quoted year-round, I got very excited upon finding that Mara Wilson now was all grown up and reachable via social media. Of course, pretty soon the simple novelty of her having once been a child and now being an adult wore off, and I started to realise how silly everyone looked for bombarding her with messages about how her boobs were ruining their childhoods—but I wasn’t quite ready to unfollow her just yet. In fact, I’d got rather hooked on what she actually had to say. Mara Wilson now was about to change my life for the third time.

Let’s recap. The first time Mara Wilson changed my life, I was five. I had been a very strange, friendless child, and I had obsessively read Roald Dahl’s Matilda for companionship. (I recently wrote a post on why Matilda is actually pretty sexist, but it’s still brilliant for precocious and lonely five-year-olds with a scarily advanced reading age due to all their friends being books.) I had always identified with Matilda Wormwood, so when Wilson brought her gloriously to life, and made everyone in my class love her, I suddenly felt pretty important. I mean, I still didn’t have any friends (maybe because I started going around telling people I was a “more clever Matilda”?), but in my mind, everyone who said they liked the film was giving me a big seal of approval.

Mara Wilson now

The second time Mara Wilson changed my life was perhaps less significant, but no less memorable. I must have been about 16, and had somehow managed to miss ever seeing that Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street (either version), when my mum brought it home for us to watch as a family. From the moment Wilson’s adorable face appeared at the window, a new Christmas tradition was born. So thanks, Mara Wilson, for redefining Christmas in the Oulton house. (Even though you’re Jewish.)

And when I read all her blog posts, favourited all her tweets, accepted that she wasn’t Matilda Wormwood, but decided to keep following her anyway—that was the third time Mara Wilson changed my life. (And the fourth, and the fifth, and the seventeenth…)

Because Matilda may have been cute— but Mara Wilson now is really smart. And funny. And a little bit scary. Through her writing, she has challenged my assumptions, and introduced me to new ways of thinking. She responds to the people who tweet at her, often sharply (because she’s never condescending)—and so asking myself “What would Mara Wilson say to this?” before I write anything online forces me to think more carefully.

Maybe the 34th time she changed my life was when she introduced me to Project UROK, which helps teenagers struggling with mental health issues.

And maybe the 52nd time she changed my life was when she taught me what OCD really is.

Maybe the 212th time she changed my life was when she wrote this blog post talking to her younger self, and maybe the 351st time she changed my life was when she pointed out the selfishness in why I was celebrating #NoBraDay.

When I followed Mara Wilson three years ago, it was out of nostalgia for fictional characters that changed my life in small ways. But by a happy accident, I ended up following the person who would change my life far more, and far more often, than Matilda Wormwood ever could.


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