Former Disney star Alyson Stoner just opened up about what it was really like to grow up in the spotlight, and she admitted that she “narrowly survived” the experience. Yep, the Camp Rock alum has slammed the way child stars are treated, while sharing some of the horrible things that she went through.
First Off, Let’s Have A Quick Recap Of Alyson Stoner’s Career
For those who don’t know, Stoner made her acting debut in the 2003 movie Cheaper By the Dozen, when she was 10 years old. She went on to star in Step Up, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Camp Rock and Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, Phineas and Ferb, The Legend of Korra, Milo Murphy’s Law, The Loud House, Pete the Cat and so much more. She also dove into the music industry and released two albums of her own over the years, which were full of bops. Plus, she even became a professional dancer, appearing in numerous music videos by artists like Missy Elliott and Debby Ryan.
Alyson Stoner Slammed The ‘Rapid Adultification And Multi-Layered Abuse’ Of Child Stars In The Industry
In a powerful essay published to People Magazine, the now-27-year-old got real about the negative sides of being propelled into the spotlight at such a young age, and she admitted that she’s lucky to have made it out alive.
“While traversing extreme peaks and valleys of global fame, hidden medical hospitalizations, artistic milestones, rapid adultification and multi-layered abuse I wish on no one, I narrowly survived the toddler-to-trainwreck pipeline. In fact, nothing was designed for me to end up… ‘Normal.’ ‘Stable.’ ‘Alive,'” she explained. “[The Toddler to Trainwreck Industrial Complex] prophesies pitiful and shameful fates for little tots with big talent, while conveniently remaining in denial of its own violent blueprint. Instead, the damage manifests as illness or questionable behavior and gets projected onto the child as if they are an isolated problem. This does not dismiss their personal responsibility or negate the positives and privileges that accompany the spotlight. Simply, the records are consistent.”
The actress explained that at only 6 years old, she had her first audition, and she had to pretend to be someone who was “kidnapped and raped.”
“Ending in the fetal position under a chair with my body frozen in fear, I stand up, wipe my tears and thank the stranger for the opportunity. I walk to the car ruminating over my performance, comparing my screams to the other kids’ I heard from the waiting room,” she said. “As with many parents in this unusual situation, my mother is not versed in how to help me regulate my nervous system. I remain catatonic on the first half of the drive, until I remember we’re en route to a second audition for a princess toy ad. On the spot, I manually alter my mood, personality and outfit so I can win over a new stranger with a camcorder. I need to outperform 900 other candidates. Suddenly, I’m ‘Smiling Girl #437.'”
She continued, “These visceral portrayals of scenarios etch themselves into my bodymemory and compound with trauma occurring in real life behind closed doors. Additionally, there is an alarming dissonance about being coached to offer my 6-year-old self vulnerably to unfamiliar adults who have power over my well-being and future livelihood. My methodically rehearsed helplessness during the first audition will either be associated with rejection (not getting the role), or I will be rewarded by booking the gig. To clarify, I’ll be paid to recreate kidnapping and rape repeatedly on set with a crew of more strangers. If I’m especially believable, I may even get an Oscar and the praise of America.”
Stoner added that at that age, her “perceptions of basic safety, healthy relational attachment and awareness of my environment are highly impressionable,” and that she is “just beginning to comprehend the difference between the real and the imaginary.”
“And my nervous system is imprinting patterns that will unconsciously dictate my behavior personally, socially and professionally for decades to come,” she added.
She Said Her Body Was ‘Undernourished And Stressed’
By the time she was 12, Stoner said she was a “machine” who was “contractually obligated to complete multiple overlapping projects” and that her body was “medically undernourished and chronically stressed.” She also spoke out about the child labor laws, which she said “many companies do not follow.”
“Set conditions are inappropriate and hazardous,” she claimed. “Did you know that according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 17 states still don’t have any regulations in place for child entertainment in 2021? Yet, all 50 have working child performers. Adding to this, zero productions acknowledge that after their shoot, I will go to another, record an interview during my lunch break, train for multiple hours, skip dinner, and meet for a late-night rehearsal. After all, their responsibility is to deliver a product on time and in-budget, not to babysit. Meanwhile, agents are encouraging me to look at early emancipation so I can work longer hours. This will increase my hire-ability.”
As she got older, the dancer said she experienced “severe eating disorders, adrenal fatigue and mandatory bedrest.” She said, “I’ve learned that it is safer to dissociate in order to survive what my mind and body are subjected to daily. I’ll be numb for another five years, but all you will see is the ever-highly-functioning, Smiling Girl #437.”
“By now, I’ve missed months of schooling and my education is spotty at best. I am socialized to be ‘on’ at all times, ranging from three dozen daily fan encounters, to grown reporters grilling me on my opinion of current events for which I’m not an expert, to avoiding any and all authentic friendships to protect confidential information. I try not to have an inflated sense of self, but even my church puts me on a pedestal,” she explained, adding that “the onset of puberty has turned [her] waist and bust into the main objects of attention and inspection.”
Stoner claimed that the pressures of fame also “suffocated and destroyed her family.”
“Then it hits me. My childhood is officially gone. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen my father since I was little. My father had all three of his daughters ripped away from him and swallowed up by a system that would replace me in seconds,” she admitted.
Alyson Stoner Got Professional Help At The Age Of 17
At the age of 17, Stoner decided to check herself into rehab, but not because of drugs or alcohol.
“I’m here because I’m at least 20 pounds underweight and I’m daring to believe that my health matters, even if it feels like I’m the only advocate for it,” she said. “Unfortunately, I am reminded that taking this break risks losing momentum. Unless I have elite representation, millions of dollars and major networks pouring into a strategic debut into adulthood, my younger work will not amount to much in the eyes of ‘serious’ film and television casting directors. After 200+ movies, shows, videos and tours, I’ll need to start over, re-train, re-introduce myself. Culturally, I will be reduced to my past characters and expected to fade into a nostalgic memory or a ‘has-been,’ even though I haven’t had a chance to learn who I am in the first place.”
And Stoner said that what she went through was not as bad as some other child stars.
“Though I’m not without scars and ongoing struggles, I am still one of the most fortunate cases. I had access to a therapist who saw past the enchantment of fame and taught me to safely reinhabit my body. By some inner mysterious force I committed to deep self-work and constant healing as my rebellion,” she added. “I dared to lose everything I’d worked for and walk away long enough to gain paradigm-shattering insight. These privileges are not equally available, distributed or even encouraged. The opposite is regularly enabled.”
The Suite Life of Zack and Cody star added that she did not want to touch on “the sexual harassment, stolen IP and money, paparazzi, psychological impact of the new influencer landscape, toxic power plays and what actually happened on all of those sets.”
Alyson Stoner Says A Change Needs To Happen
The brunette beauty thinks that things need to change so that this doesn’t happen to more child stars in the future. And to start, she said that there should be “qualified, third-party mental health professional on every set.”
“They can help monitor working conditions and be available to assist entertainers in regulating, shifting between identities and discharging residual inner turbulence after emotional performances. They can provide a safe space for people to anonymously report misconduct, harassment and mental health struggles,” she told the publication. “Trust me, the cost of one mental health practitioner is far cheaper than the existing ‘damage control’ funds. This isn’t about pointing fingers, but about working together to protect children who will be the next generation of society, many of whom have palpable influence over your own kids. Very few resources exist to help people unpack and navigate the implications of a child star-studded culture, whether you’re the kid, the parent, the agent or the audience. Solutions like mental health practitioners and Industry Literacy courses are easy next steps.”
She also claimed that “everyone deserves to feel safe, comfortable and confident in their mind and body, especially youth who are vulnerable with fewer tools to navigate daily life.”
“No matter what has happened to you, there is a way to reconnect with yourself and reclaim your story, your voice, and your authority as your own,” she concluded, adding that she now works with licensed somatic psychotherapists at her company Movement Genius, in an attempt to help young people improve their mental and emotional well-being.