She's known to millions around the world as preppy high school overachiever Spencer Hastings in Pretty Little Liars.
But in real life, Troian Bellisario was so overcome with trying to be a grade-A student and please her parents that she spiraled down a very dangerous, self-destructive path.
In a new interview with Seventeen magazine, the lithe February cover girl reveals that she was plagued by an eating disorder and self-harm issues as she struggled to cope with her feelings of insecurity. 'I started self-harming when I was a junior,' she admits. '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. 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.'
The 28-year-old says studying at a 'very intense' college prep school sent her over the edge as she worked herself into a ball of stress trying to remain a 'perfect little girl' in her parents' eyes.'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,' she reveals.'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.'
That self-destructive behaviour continued until her friends stepped in, staging an intervention that changed the course of her life. 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,' she admits. 'It was kind of like an intervention. It made me ask myself, "What do I really want to be doing? What would make me happy?"'Speaking of her life now, in the spotlight, the star insists every day is 'an ongoing struggle', though she has her ways of dealing with the stresses that come with fame. '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 [co-stars] Lucy [Hale], Shay [Mitchell], and Ashley [Benson], and I’m just like, "Why am I on this show?" Sometimes I’ve felt like a fraud. I’m not like these other girls – I don’t dress like that and I don’t know how to do my hair,' she continues. '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.'
Pretty Little Liars castmate Lucy Hale was quick to praise her friend for her courage in going public with her struggle.'Everyone check out @SleepintheGardn seventeen mag interview. A very inspiring article. Proud of her for speaking up!' the aspiring country music singer tweeted her more than 3.3 million followers on Saturday.
Of course, the 24-year-old, who plays Aria Montgomery in the hit ABC Family series, knows all too well what her co-star is going through, having revealed in the September 2012 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine that she too had suffered from bad self-image and an eating disorder in the past.
'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,' she admitted. 'I knew I had a problem... It was a gradual process but I changed myself.'
Ashley Benson also gave a shout out to her 'inspiring' pal, writing: 'Wow babe @SleepintheGardn you inspire me. Your @seventeenmag article is amazing. Not to mention you look amazing on the cover. Congrats.'