Natalie Portman Says Being 'Sexualized as a Child' Made Her 'Afraid': 'You Don't Feel Safe'

Natalie Portman is speaking out about her early films and how she was "aware" of being portrayed as a "'Lolita' figure."

The Oscar-winning actress appeared on the Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard podcast on Monday in which she discussed starting her acting career at 12 and starring in critically acclaimed films such as 1994's The Professional and 1996's Beautiful Girls.

"I was definitely aware of the fact that I was being portrayed … as this 'Lolita' figure," she told Dax Shepard. "Being sexualized as a child, I think took away from my own sexuality because it made me afraid and it made me like the way I could be safe was to be like, 'I’m conservative,' and 'I’m serious and you should respect me,' and 'I'm smart,' and 'don’t look at me that way.' "

Portman continued, "Whereas at that age, you do have your own sexuality and you do have your own desire, and you do want to explore things and you do want to be open. But you don’t feel safe, necessarily, when there’s older men that are interested, and you’re like, 'No, no, no, no.' "

The actress said she built "fortresses" to protect herself against unwanted attention as a young actress.

"So many people had this impression of me that I was super serious and conservative … and I realized I consciously cultivated that because it was always to make me feel safe," she said. "Like, 'Oh, if someone respects you, they’re not gonna objectify you.' "

She admitted the defense mechanism "worked out," adding, "I was safe."

"When I was in my teens I was like, 'I don't wanna have any love scenes or make-out scenes,' " Portman recalled. "I would start choosing parts that were less sexy because it made me worried about the way I was perceived and how safe I felt."

In December 2018, the Black Swan star told PEOPLE, "I understood very quickly, even as a 13-year-old, that if I were to express myself sexually I would feel unsafe and that men would feel entitled to discuss and objectify my body to my great discomfort."

She added, "I felt the need to cover my body and to inhibit my expression and my work in order to send my own message to the world that I’m someone worth of safety and respect."

Years later, Portman came to terms with the situation. "I know I was sexualized in the ways that I was photographed or portrayed, and that was not my doing," she said. "That becomes a part of your public identity."

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