"Where are they now?" is often the go-to question when it comes to former child stars, but today, through podcasts and social media, the celebrities many grew up with on-screen are candidly answering that question themselves.
"I feel like me and all my friends are just waking up from this slumber of trauma, and we're saying, 'Oh my gosh, like, here we are. We're still standing. We're stronger than ever,'" said actress Christy Carlson Romano.
Romano's most memorable jobs may have been her role as the overachieving middle child on Disney Channel's "Even Stevens" or as the crime-fighting cartoon cheerleader "Kim Possible."
Today, she's the host of "Vulnerable," a podcast about the ups and downs of growing up in the spotlight, the need for child labor reform in entertainment, as well as her own experiences with fame, trauma and sobriety.
"I have been sober long enough now where I feel like I can truly be of service to others in my community," Romano said. "My community just happens to look like people you've seen on your TV shows your whole life."
Since the project first started this spring, Romano has interviewed other former child stars, like Will Friedle of "Boy Meets World," Mara Wilson of "Matilda," Jodie Sweetin of "Full House" and Alyson Stoner of "Cheaper by the Dozen."
There's no poking or prodding in her hour-long interviews. Instead, there's a sense of friendly familiarity and honesty. That's because for Romano and her guests, the topics discussed are as personal as they are timely.
Before the recent death of former teen pop star Aaron Carter, he was scheduled to be a guest on "Vulnerable" to talk about addiction and sobriety.
"It felt like almost like a little brother even though I did not know him, I don't want to claim to know him," Romano said. "It felt like a little brother in arms was like lost to the trauma and the chaos of growing up in the industry without sort of any safety net."
That's why Romano advocates for child labor reform in entertainment — an issue heightened even more after the fashion brand Balenciaga published a series of controversial ads featuring children surrounded by sex paraphernalia.
"The only thing I really care about right now is the kids that were in those pictures: Are they okay?" Romano said. "It doesn't surprise me, but it's not acceptable, and Balenciaga needs to make amends."
Romano is hoping to build a coalition around child labor reform in entertainment — from advocating for more federal protections, guidelines for on-set mental health professionals and rehabilitation programs to solve what fellow former child star Alyson Stoner calls the "toddler to train wreck pipeline."
"It's a very multi layered issue," Romano said. "That is exactly why my coalition is gaining steam because it needs to happen."
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