In recent years people have noticed a pattern where several young Disney who leave the production company have been followed by mental health struggles, media scrutiny, and a desire to shift their personas to anything but the Disney teen. Why, how and to what extent does the pressure from Disney and the media affect the teenagers who star on its popular TV shows?
During the 2000s and 2010s, there was an influx of Disney movies and series categorized for teenagers. In most of those shows, the main cast is made up of teen actors and actresses who became media sensations to children all across the globe. It has been noticed that many of those young stars later become rebellious and appear to completely shift from the Disney role-model persona, as soon as they end their contracts. This sequence of events has been given a name, and is referred to as the “Disney curse”.
One of the biggest teen idols in the late 1990s and early 2000s is no one other than Lindsay Lohan. After her movie debut in “The Parent Trap” in 1998, Lohan went on to star in several other large productions, especially for Disney. This all began to shift as Lindsay became older, and een magazines and blogs became the biggest news source for celebrities. The paparazzi knew no limits, completely invading privacy in order to acquire an unflattering photograph and publish those for an enormous profit. Lohan, alongside other young teen girls from her era, namely Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, began to have several hateful articles and blog posts written about them, focusing on their size, face, body, and behavior. Due to the pressure, the once teen role model began to crumble and she developed an issue with drug and alcohol abuse, attending several parties and acting recklessly. In the future, the actress encountered issues with the law, being arrested several times, and being in prison for a while. After what seemed like a decade of long-time mental health struggles, the star managed to get better and improve her life, unfortunately, that doesn’t happen to every ex-Disney star.
In the next generation after Lohan, there was one of the biggest representations of a “Disney Teen Gone Bad”, and that is Miley Cyrus. Perhaps one of the most well-known stars, because of her role as Hannah Montana. Once Miley became older, her behavior shifted. From the sweet and loving Hannah Montana to the rebellious Miley Cyrus, the performer changed not only her actions, but her appearance, opting for less conservative clothing and hair style. People speculated that the star opted for hyper-sexualization as a way to make herself be taken seriously in Hollywood. In later interviews, Miley confessed that at times her filming days would last up to 12 hours per day, and she still needed to balance school as well as work. The fact that she also would spend most of her days having her makeup, hair, and outfits perfectly done for her created self-esteem issues, which the media worsened. The singer continued down a less conservative path for her career, but now appears to be at a much healthier place psychologically.
Despite the fact that a large number of the Disney stars that have become rebellious in recent years have been women, one of the biggest teen stars to come from the production company is Shia LeBoeuf. After having starred in huge successes such as the Transformers saga, he began to have problematic behavior as he grew older. Shia began to display aggressive behaviors and struggled severely with his mental health and alcoholism. Several of his public appearances would shock audiences, such as his red-carpet attendance where he wore a bag over his own head. LeBoeuf wasn’t the only male teen-idol who suffered from dependency issues, Zac Efron, unbeknownst to many, attended a rehab facility to deal with an alleged drug addiction. Later in life, Efron stated that the societal pressures were what drove him to the edge, leading him to develop mental health disorders such as anxiety.
Thankfully, several Disney stars have received treatment after their public struggles, and have managed to become better. They can now speak honestly about the struggles of being a teenage Disney sensation. An example would be Bella Thorne, who co-starred with Zendaya on the show ‘Shake It Up’; She went on Fox News to provide an interview about her life before and after Disney. Thorne stated that it is the company that pushes the teenagers to their limits, as they place immense levels of pressure on the teens to appear perfect, innocent, and act like great role models. She even stated that it is damaging for children to see ‘perfection’ at such a young age all the time, most likely because that might create bad stereotypes and beliefs for them. Bella was able to successfully get rid of the “girl next door” personality that was pushed onto her and is now following the less than ideal Disney career path, but living authentically.
Another star who is very open about their struggles after leaving their respective TV Shows and Movies is Demi Lovato. They began acting from a very young age on successful productions alongside co-stars such as Joe Jonas and Selena Gomez, but the media pursuit and a bad relationship with their alcoholic father led Demi to develop several mental health disorders and issues with substance abuse. At one point the star was taken to rehab at just 18 years old and managed to stay clean for 6 years before an almost fatal relapse in 2018. Thankfully, they were able to survive past their struggles, and now have stayed clean and continue working on their music career.
A psychologist, Linda Papadopoulos shared her professional beliefs on why so many ex-Disney and Disney affiliates become so reckless and rebellious once they get older. As many of the celebrities have come out stating that the pressure that the production company itself places on them and the media has led them to their breaking point. The psychologist states that because they were catapulted into Hollywood as children and pre-teens, they learn to develop a need for the validation that comes from the media. As they grow older, the scrutiny and pressure imposed on them to always appear and behave perfectly to keep up their jobs begins to weigh on them. The lack of validation leads to extreme self-esteem issues, which is why so many stars are desperate to shift their personas, in order to regain that which was lost. As they are only teenagers and young adults their entire life ahead of them will be followed with fame, and it generates insecurity and problems when socially interacting with others.
Many people also comment on the fact that there is a minority of Disney teenagers who ended up fine and didn’t break down like many of their fellow co-stars. Zendaya is the most well-known case, after being in many Disney productions (KC Undercover, Zapped, Frenemies), the actress went on to create a music career and continue working on several films that landed her major recognition in Hollywood. Some of those were the most recent Spiderman trilogy with Tom Holland, the Greatest Showman, Dune, and her performance in Euphoria which she won an Emmy for. Selena Gomez is also very well known for her roles in Disney shows like Wizards of Waverly Place, she also co-starred with Demi Lovato during that time and many other Disney actors. Selena’s life hasn’t always been easy, as the star eventually attended rehab to treat her Lupus disease, and had to receive a transplant to save her life, which not many people were aware of. The musician was even open about her struggles with alcoholism after tumultuous relationships and psychological difficulties. Gomez has now recovered and is leading a healthy life and successful career.
Many teenage actors who were part of Disney developed similar mental health problems, substance abuse issues, and alcoholism, showing that their behavior emulates the ones from their predecessors. Unfortunately, the stars were exposed far too young to the toxic media, developing a bad relationship with how they view themselves, and it led many actors and actresses becoming rebellious in order to gain back some level of media attention. There is also the necessity to not feel so limited by the perfection that Disney demands of its teens, and so whenever they begin acting differently it is shocking to the public when in reality it was a culmination of pressure, balancing work and school, media scrutiny, comments on their bodies, causing them to become so different.