Disney Channel actress Alyson Stoner is opening up about her “harrowing” experiences as child star — and proposing strategies for how the entertainment industry can improve its treatment of young performers.
In a People essay published Wednesday, Stoner, now 27, described the struggles she and other child stars faced while working in Hollywood, as well as the “notorious and thriving industrial complex around child entertainers.”
“I narrowly survived the toddler-to-trainwreck pipeline,” Stoner wrote. “In fact, nothing was designed for me to end up… ‘Normal.’ ‘Stable.’ ‘Alive.'”
Stoner starred in the 2003 film “Cheaper by the Dozen” and its 2005 sequel, “Cheaper by the Dozen 2,” alongside Hilary Duff and other young stars. She also appeared in Disney Channel’s “Camp Rock” films, which launched Demi Lovato‘s career and propelled the Jonas Brothers, as well as the network’s sitcom “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” with Dylan and Cole Sprouse. She later voiced a role on the Disney Channel cartoon “Phineas and Ferb” from 2007 to 2015.
Stoner’s more recent credits consist mostly of voice-acting work, including roles in the cartoons “Pete the Cat,” “The Loud House” and “Young Justice.”
In her essay, Stoner described the pressure put on her during auditions, including the psychological challenges of performing emotionally difficult scenes at a young age.
Additionally, Stoner wrote that many entertainment companies side-step child labor laws and have “inappropriate and hazardous” set conditions. She also recalled how agents encouraged her to pursue early emancipation, so she could work longer hours and become more hire-able.
“I’ve learned that it is safer to dissociate in order to survive what my mind and body are subjected to daily,” Stoner wrote. “I’ll be numb for another five years, but all you will see is the ever-highly-functioning, Smiling Girl #437.”
Stoner suggested every set employ “a qualified, third-party mental health professional” who can “monitor working conditions” and “assist entertainers in regulating, shifting between identities and discharging residual inner turbulence after emotional performances.” Plus, these mental health professionals can offer a “safe space” to anonymously report misconduct, she added.
Stoner also recommended guardians and representatives of child performers be required to take courses in industry and media literacy. According to Stoner, these classes can “check the guardian’s motives and level of preparedness,” “reveal negligent and greedy behavior within agencies” and “establish the best practices for getting the million-dollar shot in the safest, most ethical manner.”
Stoner wrote that by the time she was 17, “the tentacles of the industry” had “suffocated and destroyed” her family. After becoming more than 20 pounds underweight, the actress, who has opened up before about her struggle with eating disorders, went against her team’s wishes and checked herself into rehab,” she wrote.
“Though I’m not without scars and ongoing struggles, I am still one of the most fortunate cases,” Stoner added. “By some inner mysterious force I committed to deep self-work and constant healing as my rebellion.”
Stoner also suggested she’s faced more struggles than she shared in her essay.
“I didn’t mention 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,” she continued.
She capped her essay by encouraging readers to acknowledge child stars’ struggles and to offer young performers support.
“For the folks who click on Where Are They Now articles, I am here,” she wrote. “We are here. This is your first time reading my story, but it is our millionth time asking you to listen.”