Anne Menke/Seventeen Magazine
Much like her Pretty Little Liars character Spencer Hastings, actress Troian Bellisario strived for perfection from a young age. That quest led the TV star down a dangerous, self-destructive path.
In the February 2014 issue of Seventeen, L.A.-born Bellisario opens up about her stressful upbringing. "I was the youngest daughter, the perfect little girl. My school was a very intense college prep school. So it was about wanting to please my father and mother and wanting to be perfect to everybody. 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."
Bellisario says she "started self-harming" during her junior year of high school. "I would withhold food or withhold going out with my friends, based on how well I did that day in school. Being a teenager is chaotic because you're kind of coming into your own, but you're not an adult; you're fighting with your parents over responsibilities and freedom. I didn't know what was right and what was wrong, so I think I created this bizarre system of checks and balances to create order in my world. But it really backfired."
During her teen years, Bellisario says she felt "imprisoned" by her private pain. "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," she recalls. "So I tried to keep it light and funny."
Bellisario may be a convincing actress these days, but she wasn't fooling her friends back then. "They got a hold of my journal and basically said, 'We don't trust you, and we're gonna tell your parents.' That was when my world kind of exploded. It was kind of like an intervention," she says. "It made me ask myself, 'What do I really want to be doing? What would make me happy?'"
The brunette beauty admits that some days are easier than others—especially now that she's on TV. Luckily, she has costars Ashley Benson, Lucy Hale and Shay Mitchell to offer love and support.
"Honestly, it's an ongoing struggle. Especially for a woman on a show that has the word 'pretty' in it! Sometimes I feel like I'm trying too hard, like I don't belong. I just look around at Lucy, Shay and Ashley and I'm just like, 'Why am I on this show?' Sometimes I've felt like a fraud. Like, I'm not like these other girls—I don't dress like that and I don't know how to do my hair. The minute I'm off that stage, I try to get as 'me' as possible. I do that by piling on my black eyeliner, and I put on my ripped tights. Dressing like myself again helps."
Anne Menke/Seventeen Magazine
After the article was published, Bellisario's costars each shared supportive messages via Twitter and Instagram. "Wow babe @SleepintheGardn you inspire me. Your @seventeenmag article is amazing. Not to mention you look amazing on the cover. Congrats," Benson wrote on Sunday, Jan. 4.
Later that night, Mitchell sat down to read the issue. "So proud of my friend/ costar/ older sister @sleepinthegardn 's @seventeenmag cover and inspiring story. You are brave, intelligent and beyond talented," she wrote on Instagram. "I am so excited to be seeing your face on newsstands everywhere!"
Hale—who previously confessed to suffering from an eating disorder—called Bellisario "inspiring" for sharing her story. "Proud of her for speaking up!"