Why Former Child Star Soleil Moon Frye Felt "So Much Shame" About Body After Puberty
The Punky Brewster actor was diagnosed with gigantomastia and had a breast reduction at 15.
As the star of Punky Brewster, Soleil Moon Frye went from a little kid to a preteen while appearing on TVs across the country. But, when the series ended in 1988, the child star was treated more like an adult than the 12-year-old she was because of how her body had changed. The actor, now 47, has opened up about going through puberty in the public eye. Frye says that because she developed a womanly figure at a young age, she was mocked and offered roles that were much too old for her.
Read on to see Frye has shared about her experience over the years, from feeling "shame" about her body to choosing to have a breast reduction.
People treated Frye differently as she grew up.
In a 2021 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Frye shared that people started responding to her differently as she entered her teens.
"Men would look at me in a different way, and they'd stare at my boobs," she said. "People would call me 'Punky Boobster.' It was so hard because I've always embraced Punky so much, she's such a part of my heart. So often it feels like people don't want to see that kid grow up. I think about this today and how relevant this conversation still is as young people are struggling while going through puberty."
In an interview with People from the same year, Frye said, "I was in this position where I was going through puberty, and I developed very quickly." She added that "people would stare directly at [her] boobs," which made her uncomfortable.
She felt "shame" about her body.
Frye told People that the treatment she received from others made her feel shame. "No one is in charge of how their body develops," she said "But there was so much shame about it."
She felt more confident as a child, because her body wasn't being scrutinized. The actor also said she wasn't ready to be treated as an adult when she was still a kid.
"As a kid growing up, I had such an incredible life and family surrounding me, then I started developing, and developing rapidly," she said in the Entertainment Weekly interview. "I was going through puberty and it was this fascinating thing because so many people looked at me like I was this little girl, and as I started developing I was treated much more like an adult. It really felt like I was thrust into early adulthood."
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She was offered roles that focused on sex appeal when she was 13.
Frye had already been working, primarily in TV movies, before taking on Punky Brewster at age eight. She continued to act after the sitcom ended, but she remembers being offered roles that were not appropriate for her age.
The former child star directed a documentary, 2021's Kid 90, which is about young stars growing up in the spotlight in the '80s and '90s and features footage she shot of herself and her friends at the time. In the film, Frye talks about being approached for sexy roles when she was just a young teenager. "The roles that I was getting offered at 13, 14 years old are all [expletive] and [expletive] roles and I'm 13," she says in the doc. "I went from living this amazing childhood to almost being forced into adulthood."
The film also features a clip from Frye's appearance on a 1990 episode of The Wonder Years titled "Growing Up." In it, Frye's character runs toward Kevin (Fred Savage), while he stares at her breasts.
Frye was diagnosed with gigantomastia.
Frye later learned that her "rapid development" was actually gigantomastia. According to the Cleveland Clinic, gigantomastia is "a rare condition that involves developing extremely large breasts due to excessive breast tissue growth … If you have gigantomastia, you'll experience rapid and disproportionate breast growth." The site also notes that gigantomastia "can happen during puberty, pregnancy or from taking medication. In some cases, it occurs spontaneously and for no reason."
She had breast reduction surgery.
Frye underwent breast reduction surgery when she was nearly 16 years old, for both physical and mental reasons.
"My shoulders had indentations, I had back problems, there were so many different issues," Frye told People in the 2021 interview. She also spoke to the magazine about having gigantomastia and choosing to have a breast reduction in a 1993 interview that took place a year after she had the surgery.
"It was hard for me even to give somebody a hug," the teen said at the time. "I couldn't sit up straight without people looking at me like I was a prostitute … My breasts became an insecurity." Frye also explained that male producers saw her as a "wild girl" and that she wasn't offered roles for girls her age "because [her] body looked like an older woman's."
Of deciding to have surgery, she said, "It was a time when I was confronting my fears about becoming a woman. I needed to be sure that I was doing this for myself—not for producers or boyfriends or my family. It takes a lot of courage." She continued, "I didn't know I would be so happy. I am just loving myself right now. I'm finally free to be the teenager that I am."
In 2021, Frye said that she spoke publicly about her surgery as a teen to promote having a healthy self-image, but that "the message was lost" was in the way the media covered her comments.