The Dark Disney Truth

GRZEXP Staff – Ashlyn Johnson

When you imagine acting for Disney, what do you picture? Is it your face plastered across the big screen? Maybe you’re walking down the red carpet at your movie premiere, or acting on the set of High School Musical with Zac Efron at your side. Whatever it is, it’s most likely something marvelous, something surreal. While being a child Disney star sounds incredible, it’s not all fame and fortune like we’ve been led to believe. In fact, the truth about Disney turns out to be more dark than we could have ever imagined. 

Hollywood stardom is portrayed quite unrealistically. A welcoming career start-up under the palm trees surrounded by other successful celebrities is the Hollywood life we all imagine, though that doesn’t mean our expectations are accurate. Harry Potter Child Star Daniel Radcliffe proves this in the article “Celeb Confessions That’ll Make You Never Want to Be Famous.” His confessions warn young people striving to be in the acting industry that there isn’t much sympathy for actors and actresses in our current society, even if they are merely a child. “…there are also some people that will boo and shout at a child,” he’d explained. “If you just hear people booing and shouting stuff at you and about you, that, as a kid, sucked.” Teen singer Billie Eilish expressed her feelings on growing up with fame in a world as messed up in this one in the same article as Radcliffe. “…I sort of lost my teenage years, because all this started when I was 13,” she added. “Fame is trash.” 

With all the difficulties of being a child star, people expect Disney to understand the hardships of the industry and take it easy on it’s young actors and actresses. Unfortunately, the public’s expectations of the company are far from accurate. The Walt Disney Company (Disney), is a well known mass media and entertainment conglomerate that has played a huge role in American culture for the past 97 years. It is known for it’s innocent and family-friendly nature, but has many secrets they’ve attempted to hide over the years. Even many of the beloved TV relationships in our favorite Disney shows are truthfully full of spite and anger between the actors in real life. Just take childhood Disney stars Zendaya and Bella Thorne, who played best friends on the Disney 2010 series Shake it Up. “Zendaya and I were put in a very unfortunate position where we were kind of forced to compete against each other…” Bella reveals in a J-14 magazine. “It was ‘Who’s better at this?’ and ‘Who’s better at that?’” Bella has revealed much regret about her experience with Disney, whether it’s through posts on Twitter or during interviews. She claimed that everything was about Disney’s innocent image, and that she was even forced to talk in a higher voice during interviews and on camera to fit with the Disney appeal. Zendaya also took stands against Disney, leaving the company to pursue more professional acting projects. When she was 16, they begged her to return to star in the Disney show, K.C. Undercover. She agreed, but only if they played by her rules and met her requests. She was made producer of the show, making some changes about the show and the way it was run. These included the way that girls were represented on Disney Channel, as well as demands for more racial diversity and representation within the cast. She even changed the name of her character from Katy to K.C. 

Zendaya is one of the few Disney child stars who made it out of the company relatively “unscathed.” She was able to prove she was a professional actress, while others reputations were ruined for the rest of their career. The innocent “Disney child star” label may stick with you years after you’ve left the agency, making it harder for people to take you seriously and more difficult to find acting gigs. “It’s like an immediate ‘X’ mark that you have to work out of,” Bella Thorne remarked in the article “Why Bella Thorne Says Being a Disney Star Is Like Having a ‘Mark’ on You.” With fame comes costs, like giving up much of your privacy. If you make a change, whether it’s to your appearance or to your everyday life, suddenly it’s out there for the whole world to see and to comment on. On and off the TV screen, you will always be expected to live up to that standard, that stereotype of being the perfect and bubbly person everyone believes you to be. The pressure to always be perfect, even in your daily life, is too much for a teenager to healthily handle. In the article “27 Shocking Truths About What It’s Really Like to be a Disney Channel Star,” Bella Thorne shares a story from back in her Disney Days, where she bought a two piece swimsuit and wore it to the beach like an average person should be allowed to do. Despite the fact that she had no intention of causing problems, a picture of her at the beach hit the web, and she was scolded for  her actions. Supposedly her swimming suit didn’t pass the squeaky-clean Disney kid image test, and she was even threatened to be fired. Working for Disney can take away much of your freedom, and be incredibly controlling in your life. 

 Other stars like Demi Lovato have spoken out about how being a child star for Disney has affected her mental health greatly. “I was overworked and I wasn’t dedicating enough time to my mental health or personal life,” she says in an article on the J-14 website. In the same article, Disney star Miley Cyrus adds, “I didn’t really get to be a kid very much.” Cole Sprouse starred as Cody in Disney Channel Series The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, as well as spin-off series The Suite Life on Deck. He, along with his twin brother, have been in the acting industry since they were only six months old, starting with Disney Channel around the age of 12 or 13. They too feel like being a child star for Disney has deprived them of their childhood years, and the important things that come along with that. “As a teenager I had horrifying social anxiety. I was homeschooled, raised on a soundstage, I had absolutely no understanding of how to interact with people my own age,” he confesses in the article “27 Shocking Truths About What It’s Really Like to be a Disney Channel Star.” Disney star Selena Gomez has similar opinions about the topic. “I think it is really dysfunctional to be in this industry at a young age where you’re figuring out who you are,” she explained in the same article. “I don’t recommend it…” 

Growing up as a teenager is hard enough. Being thrust out into the spotlight for the whole world to see all while figuring yourself out doesn’t make things any easier. While Disney is seen by the whole world as an innocent, family friendly company that welcomes young people with ambition, that isn’t the whole truth. Not even incredibly successful stars who have worked for Disney in the past encourage others to follow in their footsteps. Disney takes away freedoms and promotes unhealthy competition.  If you are set on being a Disney star, be aware that your public image may be damaged forever. You may be giving up your privacy, who you really are, and who you want to be, all for some dumb label that you’ll be stuck with for years to come. In your everyday life, you’ll be expected to live up to unrealistic expectations. You may be giving up your childhood, risking what many have described as mental health issues and anxieties that will haunt you much of your lifetime. Fame isn’t as fun as it sounds, not even amongst the great Disney stars that we’ve all grown to love. 

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