Perhaps the most lasting legacy of Pretty Little Liars, which entered its final season this week on Freeform, has been the bluntness of its five stars. All of them have, at various times, spoken out about the pressure to attain Hollywood’s version of physical perfection and the toll it has taken on them.
Troian Bellisario, who plays Spencer Hastings, has been open about her self-harming and disordered eating as a teenager. She didn’t intend to divulge such personal details about her upbringing, but ultimately it made sense: Given her show’s massive social media following, she knew it meant sharing parts of herself with fans.
“There was an article when they asked me what life was like for me as a teenager,” she tells Yahoo Style. “I could choose to lie and say it was sunshine and lollipops. Or I could talk about what my experience was really like, which was not great for me. I decided to be honest.”
“When the article came out, I wanted to throw up,” says Bellisario. “I started receiving letters from men and women, who told me they were seeking help, seeking treatment, and I felt that this was right. What matters is that people feel like they’re not alone.”
Outgoing “it” girl Hanna Marin seems to have everything wrapped up on the show. In real life, says actress Ashley Benson, she’s been told to lose weight for a role. It’s something she doesn’t engage in.
“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 — I’m not a size zero. I’m fine with the way I look,” she says.
No matter how hard you strive to attain physical perfection, says Benson, you’re always too curvy or too skeletal for someone. So basing how you look on some idealized version that doesn’t exist is a fool’s game.
“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 of the acting industry and those who run it. “Most of the time, those photos are Photoshopped. You can make yourself look 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.”
Shay Mitchell, who is half-Filipino, grew up denying the very things that make her a knockout today: the long, dark hair and her lustrous skin, which wasn’t always this flawless when she was a teenager.
“I went through so many phases. Growing up, all my girlfriends had blond hair and blue eyes and fair complexions. I wanted to be exactly that. I did everything to be the opposite of what I was born with. Now I try to embrace the things I was born with,” says Mitchell, who plays sweet jock Emily Fields on the show.
Sums up Sasha Pieterse, who has clapped back at body shamers on Instagram: “Everyone struggles with it, no matter what size you are.”
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