Dark Secrets Of These Disney Channel Stars

The following article references sexual assault, eating disorders, and addiction.

As glitzy and fun as it might seem, the life of a child star is not without challenges. No one knows this better than someone who used to be on a hit Disney Channel series. When asked to give advice to any kid who may be trying to pursue a career in show business, "Sonny With a Chance" alum Demi Lovato once told PopCrush, "If you want to be a teenager, be a teenager. If you want to do this for a living, maybe wait a little bit until you're older so you can have life experience under your belt. ... Take it easy."

Lovato, Selena Gomez, and Miley Cyrus are just some of the former Disney Channel stars who were more or less plucked out of obscurity and became household names in a blink of an eye. They sold millions of records, movie tickets, and over-the-top merchandise, and their star power only grew after they parted ways with the network. From the outside looking in, their careers almost sound like something out of, well, a Disney Channel Original Movie. But as these dark secrets of Disney Channel stars prove, behind the scenes, things aren't always so shiny.

Christy Carlson Romano lost millions

In the 2000s, Christy Carlson Romano was a fixture of the Disney Channel. She starred in the sitcom "Even Stevens," voiced the titular role in the animated series "Kim Possible," and popped up in movies like "Cadet Kelly" and "The Cutting Edge: Going for the Gold."

Given all of her success with the Disney Channel, one might assume Romano is more than financially comfortable. However, like so many child stars before her, her moolah matters got messy. In a YouTube video titled "How I Lost All My Money," Romano shared that she never really learned how to manage her own money when she was a kid, and when she finally gained full control of her own finances, she headed to college. "That was smart — except that I left school about a year and a half in, and then I had all this money at my disposal," she recalled. "I was never told how much money I was making, money didn't have a purpose for me. I didn't really know what it was; I just knew that I had it, and I didn't care about it — that's a problem." The Disney Channel alum shared that she wishes she learned to invest at an early age and didn't spend so much on things like cars and designer clothes. "I was using buying things and money as a weapon," she said.

Romano's money woes didn't stop there. In a separate YouTube video, she said psychics apparently swindled nearly $100,000 from her. 

Demi Lovato was raped by another Disney actor

Demi Lovato has always been an open book, and she's used her platform to shine a light on her own struggles with eating disorders, self-harm, and addiction. In 2018, Lovato relapsed and nearly died from an overdose; in late December 2021, she returned to rehab and released her album "Holy Fvck" a few months later. "After going through even more stuff last year, I came out of treatment again, and I realized I really want to do this for myself, and I want to make the best album possible ... and the easiest way to do something the most authentic is to do it clean and sober," Lovato said on "The Tonight Show" in 2022.

In her documentary "Dancing With The Devil," Lovato touched on many dark memories from her Disney days. She spoke about using drugs and alcohol as a teen and how she hid it from those around her. She also shared that she was raped by a fellow Disney actor when she was 15 years old. "We were hooking up but I said, 'hey, this is not going any farther, I'm a virgin and I don't want to lose it this way.' And that didn't matter to them, they did it anyways," she explained, per The Guardian. Lovato, who wore a purity ring at the time, immediately felt shame. She recalled telling people about the assault but nothing came from it. "They never got taken out of the movie they were in," she said.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Raven-Symoné felt pressured to hide her sexuality

Raven-Symoné was a TV veteran long before "That's So Raven," "Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century," and "The Cheetah Girls." A child star who got her start on "The Cosby Show," she soon became a staple of the Disney Channel. And while her career sounds like a dream come true, things were not always easy behind the scenes. As she said to Insider, "When you're in the industry and in front of millions of people whose livelihoods depend on your work and engagement, things can get a little strenuous." 

As if that wasn't enough pressure to grapple with, Raven told Insider that when she was still a teen, her clothes and weight were under constant scrutiny. And in OWN's documentary "Light Girls," she shared that a crew member once asked her to no longer visit tanning beds, and not because he was worried about the health risks. "We have to relight the whole entire show," she remembered him telling her. 

What's more, Raven feared she could never come out publicly. In the docuseries "It Got Better," she spoke about coming to terms with her sexuality at the age of 12 but keeping it hidden because she feared the backlash would destroy her career. "I never thought I would come out because my personal life didn't matter," she said. "It was only what was supposed to be sold as the Raven-Symoné brand." She came out on Twitter in 2013.

Joe Jonas didn't like being a 'perfect little puppet'

Long before "Sucker," the Jonas Brothers were Disney Channel stars. They had hit songs, a blockbuster 3D movie, a sitcom, and the hearts of young girls everywhere. When they were still associated with Disney, the brothers maintained a squeaky-clean image — but apparently, they didn't necessarily like everything that went along with that image. In an op-ed for Vulture in 2013, Joe Jonas revisited his past Disney fame and revealed secrets about their time on the network. While filming their show "Jonas," the second-eldest Jonas brother had to stay clean-shaven, much to his chagrin. He and his brothers also weren't super into the show, but they felt like their hands were tied. "We went along with it at the time, because we thought Disney was our only real shot, and we were terrified that it could all be taken away from us at any moment," he wrote. "Being a part of the Disney thing for so long will make you not want to be this perfect little puppet forever."

Jonas also shared with Vulture that he felt somewhat obligated to keep his short-lived relationship with "Camp Rock" co-star Demi Lovato going because it made for good publicity. Behind the scenes, Lovato was dealing with addiction, but the Disney stars tried to keep up appearances for the sake of their careers. "I had a brand to protect," he said. "It was an insane situation to be in."

Bella Thorne also felt like a 'puppet'

Bella Thorne played one of the two main characters on the Disney comedy series "Shake It Up." Despite Thorne and her co-star Zendaya finding success on and off the show, Thorne looks back at her Disney Channel days with sadness. In an interview with ABC News' "Nightline," she said she only pursued acting due to her family's financial problems following her father's death. "Everyone had taken everything, and then you've got a single mom with four kids who just lost her husband trying to have a roof over your head," she said. Acting was a way to support her struggling family.

When Thorne joined "Shake It Up" at age 12, she felt a significant amount of pressure to maintain a certain image, telling Harper's Bazaar she was even asked to change her natural speaking voice. "I was just a puppet. I wasn't allowed to make my own decisions or think for myself in any way," she said. The "Famous in Love" alum also recalled being reprimanded by Disney executives for posting a photo of herself wearing a bikini. "My mom was so scared after that, for them firing us and us losing our house, so it was kind of like, 'Don't be yourself, just be good,'" she said. 

Hillary Duff struggled with an eating disorder

After she shot to fame thanks to the Disney Channel series "Lizzie McGuire," Hilary Duff dealt with insecurity and body issues. In an interview with Women's Health Australia, the actor shared that her eating disorder stemmed from being a young girl in the industry. "Because of my career path, I can't help but be like, 'I am on camera and actresses are skinny,'" she explained. "It was horrifying." She later revealed to Cosmopolitan UK that she experienced bullying as a young girl which further fueled her eating disorder. Those past struggles make her more committed to now maintaining body positivity and focusing on healthy habits. 

After giving birth to her first child, the star looked back on all of the years she spent being critical of her body when she was a teenager. "I was totally obsessed with everything I put in my mouth. I was way too skinny. Not cute," she told Health (via E! News). "And my body wasn't that healthy—my hands would cramp up a lot because I wasn't getting the nutrition I needed. That constant pressure of wanting something different than I had? I regret that."

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Dove Cameron felt like an 'impostor'

Though Dove Cameron did not make her acting debut on Disney Channel, her acting career most certainly took off on Disney Channel. She starred in the hit series "Liv and Maddie" and played a key role in Disney franchise "Descendants." She is without a doubt a Disney Channel star who has not only found success as an actor but as a pop singer, but Cameron still has struggled to believe she fit in with her peers. "I never looked at Miley or Demi or Selena or Zendaya or Bella or anybody — Hilary Duff or anybody that came before me — I never looked at them and thought, you and me — same," she told the Los Angeles Times in 2022. "I had huge impostor syndrome." 

The singer and actor has even been open about the dysphoria she has felt regarding her identity. In a May 2022 Instagram post, she shared photos of herself in tears and detailed her recent struggles. "I've been struggling lately with the concept of self, my inner relationship to who I know myself to be and my outer perceivable self who I feel I have never known but other people seem to," she wrote in the caption. "I've been covering mirrors lately, I've been feeling wrong in clothing that used to make me feel beautiful lately, sometimes terrorized by my identity and image." Cameron came out as queer in 2020. "My coming out to my fans was life-changing for me," she told the Gay Times.

Miley Cyrus struggled with beauty expectations

When Miley Cyrus auditioned for the lead role on "Hannah Montana," she was just 11 years old. And not before long, she was one of the biggest TV stars and one of the biggest pop stars — she truly got the best of both worlds. On the flip side, Cyrus also had to deal with the pitfalls that come with celebrity at an early age. In a 2015 chat with Marie Claire, the Disney Channel alum opened up about the ways in which she internalized unrealistic beauty standards when she was still a kid. "From the time I was 11, it was, 'You're a pop star! That means you have to be blonde, and you have to have long hair, and you have to put on some glittery tight thing," she said, noting that she began struggling with body dysmorphia when she was working on the Disney show. 

What's more, she started to worry about who she would be without "Hannah Montana" when the series inevitably came to an end. "[T]he thing that gave me the most anxiety was not knowing what to do with myself when Disney wasn't there to carry me anymore or if I didn't have [Liam Hemsworth]. And now I'm free of both of those things, and I'm fine," she told Elle in 2014.

Selena Gomez felt like a 'product'

On the hit show "The Wizards of Waverly Place," Selena Gomez certainly brought the magic as she played a young wizard. Though she successfully transitioned from a Disney Channel teen star to a respected actor and singer, Gomez has since revealed how much she struggled during her Disney days. In her 2022 documentary "My Mind & Me," Gomez gave fans an inside look at her raw emotions. In one scene, a frustrated Gomez broke down in tears following an interview that rubbed her the wrong way. "Do you know how cheap that makes me feel?" she said. "She's asking me good questions and then she didn't even pay attention to what I was saying ... I feel like a product. It was making me angry. You know what it is? It made me feel like Disney. I've spent years of my life trying to not be that again." When the singer brought up her Disney past, a member of her entourage acknowledged that it is triggering for her.

Gomez has touched on her complicated feelings about Disney before. "I signed my life away to Disney at a very young age and I didn't know what I was doing," she told reporters in 2021, per Complex. While she is thankful for the success and opportunities Disney brought her, she told The New York Times in 2015 that she felt like she had to live up to a "good girl" image.

Alyson Stoner's traumatic memories

Alyson Stoner grew up in front of the camera. From small roles in commercials to iconic dance breaks in Missy Elliott's music videos to roles on Disney Channel shows like "Mike's Super Short Show," Stoner proved she was a star from a young age. While she made it look easy, it was anything but. In a 2021 op-ed for People, the actor said she suffered abuse and exploitation when working as a kid.

She referred to her 12-year-old self as a "machine" and said the hectic work schedule made her suffer physically and emotionally. "My body is medically undernourished and chronically stressed, which later will evolve into severe eating disorders, adrenal fatigue and mandatory bedrest," she wrote. In 2011 the star checked herself into rehab against her team's approval and was hospitalized for an eating disorder. 

After stepping back into the spotlight, Stoner has since used her platform to raise awareness about the pitfalls of child stardom. "When a child is voicing tiredness or crying out for help and they're met with silence or more methods of them being able to push an inch further, eventually they'll learn to neglect their needs and just go on autopilot," she told People in 2019. Stoner is currently an advocate for mental health and has called on Hollywood to create safer sets for young actors.

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.