Ahead of Mother’s Day, InStyle explores how women are navigating motherhood in 2018, from the role of the pregnancy selfie to new legislation empowering the working mom.

By Olivia Bahou
Updated: May 08, 2018 @ 6:29 pm
Photo Illustration. Photo: Getty Images

Abigail Breslin filmed her first commercial at 3 years old. She became an Oscar nominee at age 10 for her role in Little Miss Sunshine. And at 22, she’s still an in-demand actress. With her recurring role on TV’s Scream Queens to a Dirty Dancing remake and the upcoming teen comedy Saturday at the Starlight, Breslin seems to have escaped the dreaded “child star” curse, of her early fame either fading quickly or tormenting her childhood. And she has her mom to thank, she says.

“She taught me from a very, very, very young age to stand up for myself and to not feel like my opinion didn’t hold value. She was like, 'Always say what you’re thinking,'” Breslin tells InStyle about her mom, Kim.

Just as important: Despite her untraditional childhood, Breslin says that her parents made sure she felt like a "normal" child. “I did my first commercial when I was 3. So I don’t know that I had an epiphany of wanting to be an actor. I was only 3. But since I can remember, it’s what I wanted to do,” she adds. “My mom told me that if I wanted to do it, I could. If I didn’t want to, I could stop at any time. My parents were great about making sure that I had a normal upbringing—as normal as anybody’s childhood can be.”

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI

While Breslin's mom never pushed her to take on roles or scenes she wasn’t passionate about, she helped her daughter push her own boundaries—and get past her own insecurities. “I was doing a movie when I was 11, and I had to do a lot of stunts, like rock climbing and everything. And I was like, 'Oh my god, there’s no way that I can do it.' And my mom was always like, 'What do you mean? That’s not even a thing.' It really helped me during that time,” Breslin says.

That was the motivation Breslin needed, she says, because the actress was under-confident during those teen and pre-teen years.

“When I was 13 and 14 and 15, when I was going through puberty, everything felt really awkward, and like a huge deal. I remember I really cared what people thought of me. I didn’t want to do anything that was not in the norm with my peer group,” she admits. “I was very nervous about peoples’ opinions. That was probably the most challenging part of that time, because it’s when you’re still trying to figure yourself out.”

The fact that she was already an Oscar-nominated actress by age 10, of course, meant that she received some reassurance from the public. But it also meant that her insecurities played out on a very public stage. “There were a lot of times on set where I felt like I couldn’t give my opinion or voice what I thought and express myself because I felt like I was just the young girl on set and that it wouldn’t really matter what I thought. Not necessarily because of the people that I was working with, but because of what I gleaned from society,” she says.

RELATED: Abigail Breslin Opened Up About Having PTSD from Past Domestic and Sexual Assault

Breslin says that, at the time, she felt insecure because of her age but also because of her gender. “Once, when I was working, somebody on set tried to teach me how to swing a baseball bat. He definitely didn’t show any of the guys how to do that. That’s one of those situations where it’s like, 'Oh, I’m not supposed to like that. That’s a guy thing to do,” she says of observing the norms society imposes on young girls.

Her own experience is part of the reason why Breslin was inspired to partner with Always #LikeAGirl and Walmart on their mission to empower girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). According to its study, seven in 10 girls report being so afraid of failing during puberty that they avoid trying new things, which is particularly obvious in STEM fields. According to the initiative's press release, 87 percent of girls are interested in STEM, but only half choose to pursue educations in these fields. Breslin thinks that it has a lot to do with the drop in confidence that many girls face during puberty, which is why she's teamed up with Always and Girl Scouts to mentor middle-school girls.

“I remember that time in my life being really difficult, and this kind of campaign would have been really beneficial to me. I want to see these sorts of opportunities for girls grow. I’m really glad that this campaign shows young girls that you don’t have to be confined to society's norms," she says, adding, "If you want to work at NASA, you can.”

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