Ashley Benson knows a thing or three about body-shaming.
As Hanna Marin, the sweetest and most impulsive of the Pretty Little Liars, Benson also got the most verbal abuse on the show, being called Hefty Hanna by resident mean-girl Alison (Sasha Pieterse).
In real life too, Benson has dealt with issues surrounding her appearance. She has been open about being asked to lose weight for roles, something she refuses to do.
“I feel like I never really cared about that stuff. The reason I do now is because of social media. It’s really important that young girls who watch our show know that it’s OK to not be perfect. I frequently talk about it — I’m not a size 0. I’m fine with the way I look,” she tells Yahoo Style.
With Liars closing out season 7B, Benson is reflecting on how being on the show changed her career trajectory. She went from appearing on the soap Days of Our Lives to a lead role in the 2012 cult thriller Spring Breakers.
“I started the show at 19. I was pretty young. I learned a lot about relationships. We built such a great friendship. I learned how to be very patient. It was a lot of long hours and a lot of no sleep at times,” she says.
Throughout, Benson, 27, has stayed true to herself.
“Whatever you look like, you’re never going to be good enough for them, and they’re always going to say something. It’s usually negative,” she says about Hollywood’s casting directors and power brokers.
And it’s an especially fraught issue given that what you see is on social media — one of the biggest ways that Liars fans connect with the show’s stars — is usually not reflective of reality. Period. “Most of the time, those photos are Photoshopped. You can make yourself five pounds less. It’s important for girls to accept who they are and be confident in themselves because if they’re not, that sucks. It’s important to talk about,” she says.
With Liars about to end its run, Benson is shaking things up in her own life. She has switched coasts, for one thing.
“I just moved to New York. I moved here in November. I’ve been taking some time. I’m working on a project that I can’t say what it is, as usual. It’s going to be different. I just want to focus on film, and I’ve been reading a lot of scripts. I would rather have quality over quantity,” she says.
She’s enamored of the theater and loves just walking around the city incognito. And she’s dealing with that old chestnut: finding some form of inner peace, that elusive ability to just be that so many people seek.
“I’m learning right now to sit back and be still, and it’s really hard for me,” says Benson.
Read more from Yahoo Beauty + Style:
• Jessica Chastain’s Fairy-Tale Fashion Moment Isn’t What You Think
• ‘Pretty Little Liars’ Stars Get Real About Body Image: ‘I Decided to Be Honest’
•‘Pretty Little Liars’ Exit Interview: Lucy Hale on Chopping Off Aria
• Actress Joey King’s KFC Prom Corsage Has to Be Smelled to Be Believed