Troian Bellisario of Pretty Little Liars revealed she struggled with an eating disorder and self-harm when she was younger, while fellow cast members Lucy Hale and Shay Mitchell also recently discussed their struggles with an eating disorder. Ironically, Ashley Benson, who portrays Hanna the only character on the show struggling with disordered eating, is the only one who hasn’t come forward.
Troian told Seventeen, “I just thought if I ever expressed [to my parents] any sadness or anger or anything that’s going on with me, they would disown me. I kept a lot of it bottled up inside, and it turned into self-destructive behavior. I felt this sadness, and I thought if people really knew what was going on inside me, they wouldn’t want to hang out with me. So I tried to keep it light and funny. I became imprisoned [by my eating disorder and self-harm]. And it was something I fought with.”
Lucy Hale told Cosmopolitan, “I’ve never really talked about this, but I would go days without eating. Or maybe I’d have some fruit and then go to the gym for three hours. I knew I had a problem…It was a gradual process but I changed myself.”
Shay Mitchell told Self, “I’d starve myself for a day, and the next day I was hungry, tired and miserable.When I felt so bad about not being able to fit into size 0 jeans, I realized I had to make a change… Being beautiful doesn’t mean being skinny. It’s about being healthy.”
What’s going on here? Pretty Little Liars: Food Horror was a video created months ago that documented every single scene the actresses interacted with food. As the video creator Graham Kolbeins said, “In Food Horror, I set out to examine the many moments in Pretty Little Liars’ first three seasons that stigmatize food, whether it’s presented with a feeling of unease, danger, or overt rejection. Aside from the 16 minutes of “food horror” I’ve compiled above, there are a countless dining scenes where food is conspicuously absent—often supplanted by the girls’ favorite diuretic, coffee. Sometimes they simply sit in front of a plate of prop salad and ignore it.”
The characters always talk about eating a ton (especially Hanna), yet you’d see them holding food but never eating it. When food appeared it was always in juxtaposition to something gross like a dismembered body part or creepy doll. The show quite subtly always places negative associations with food and the actors on it never actually eat anything.
Even in this recent photograph where Rolling Stone went backstage on the show they are holding food instead of eating it.
It’s hard to forget the scene in which Hanna, who was previously known as Hefty Hanna, has to face her disordered eating when A forces her to binge eat an entire box of cupcakes with pig faces on them. Pretty Little Liars is one of my favorite silly, melodramatic teen shows to watch, yet it’s plainly obvious the show has some image issues.
The actresses always have perfect hair, like my friend joked, “Emily’s hair cost 45 thousand dollars.” Realistically, these girls must wake up six hours before school to look the way they do. They’re always impeccably dressed and manicured from head to toe to go to high school. Everyone from the main cast to minor characters on the show is almost disgustingly conventionally beautiful. I’ve never seen so many hot cops, teachers, doctors, martial arts instructors, computer genius hackers and creepy dudes in my life. All the parents on the show are even good looking people.
It’s fairly obvious that a prerequisite to be in the series is to be traditionally beautiful and have a seemingly impeccable body. When three of the four main actresses revealed themselves to struggle with eating disorders on a show where food is wholly associated with guilt and gore, and everyone is rigorously beautiful, it came as no shock, no matter how deeply depressing it is.
Upon Troian’s admission, it made me wonder about Lindsey Shaw who portrays Paige, Emily’s girlfriend, and her ever so noticeable weight loss. I am certainly not making any accusations but it is noticeable and I can only hope it’s healthy, positive weight loss.
In a show with the word “pretty” in the title, the pressures to live up to those expectations are very real for the actresses. We can only applaud them for discussing their issues and hope that their honesty counteracts the subtle messaging the show conveys about what teens in high school should look like.