Puberty isn’t kind to anyone. For child stars, it’s particularly painful. Not only do they have to endure all the braces, acne, and awkward missteps, but they have to do it in the spotlight. Here, the rest of us are trying to destroy any evidence of our self-cut bangs and regrettable platform Sketchers in our old photo albums, while child stars have to deal with the tabloids catching them on a particularly bad day for their bowl cut (which is honestly every day because it’s a bowl cut).
Nonetheless, these child stars entered the cruel cocoon of puberty and flourished out as beautiful butterflies. If Matthew Lewis didn’t spend years hiding in a fat suit on the set of Harry Potter, would his sexy underwear photoshoot be so shocking? And how did Samara from The Ring go from so darn creepy to so darn beautiful? From adorable braces-clad smiles to sexy six-packs, we can’t even recognize these stars from their breakout roles.
Jonathan Lipnicki rose to fame as the adorable, bespectacled kid in 1996’s Jerry Maguire. He also had notable roles in The Jeff Foxworthy Show and Stuart Little, but he struggled with his stardom during his teen years. Though he’s consistently landed roles since his debut as a child actor in the mid ’90s, being a famous kid — especially with such a unique look — was rough for the young star.
"As a kid/teen, I was made fun of relentlessly by some people," he wrote on Instagram (via Vanity Fair). "I was told I was a has-been and would never book a job again. I was made to feel like garbage every day of middle school to the point where I had a panic attack every night before school, because I wondered how I would get through the next day."
Fortunately, Lipnicki has put his self doubt behind him, and his brand new confident exterior is unrecognizable from the adorable child we saw on-screen in the ’90s. Not only is he still an actor with four projects slated for a future release, as of this writing, but he’s managed to become a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has some major muscles to show off from his hard work. And yes, he finally graduated from braces!
Josh Peck will probably always be known as a Nickelodeon star, first on The Amanda Show and later on Drake & Josh, which is perhaps his most famous role. Part of the reason his beloved sitcom worked so well was because Peck was the polar opposite of his co-star Drake Bell. Bell played a smooth-talking, ultra-attractive ladies man, while Peck was the chubby, nerdy brother. Oh, how the tables have turned. There’s a reason no one wants to peak in high school.
Since the early days of Drake & Josh, Peck has "lost about 110 pounds," while his cool guy co-star Bell navigated bankruptcy and DUI charges. In a 2008 interview with Parade the star admitted, "I always had a weight issue since I was a young kid. I just realized that I was not really happy, and I decided to become healthy. Hopefully, I will be able to keep it off."
These days, Peck is less of a nerdy sidekick and more of the actual star — and he did manage to maintain his slimmer figure. His YouTube channel has more than 3 million subscribers, and he’s racked up leagues of credits in TV series and indie hits, from voicing Eddie in Ice Age to a starring role in James Franco’s gritty The Labyrinth. He’s also come a long way from chasing Mindy Crenshaw on TV. The star grew up and got himself a wife and a kid.
No matter how awkward here middle school years were, Tania Raymonde was always a babe — at least, to Frankie Muniz, that is. The star broke out in Malcolm In the Middle as Malcolm’s krav maga master crush Cynthia Sanders. Basically, she’s always been totally tough and managed to translate this to grittier roles as an adult.
Since her days hanging in the schoolyard with Malcolm, the star has completely transformed into a powerful, painfully gorgeous grown woman. She transitioned from melodramatic teen roles like Zarra in ABC Family’s Switched At Birth, to seductive killers like Jodi Arias in Lifetime’s Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret, to sultry scream queens like Nikki in Texas Chainsaw 3D. She’s also nabbed parts in long-running series like Lost and Goliath.
Though Raymonde might be able to land sexier roles than she did as a teen, it doesn’t necessarily feel natural for her. Regardless, it sure is fun.
"She’s this typical free-spirit, sl—y girl in a horror movie that you always expect to see in them," she told Dread Central of her Texas Chainsaw role. "I never expected to be playing this kind of character, but I’m all for doing something vastly different too whenever I can. But it was just freeing playing that kind of expected role and hopefully fans have fun with her, too."
Long live Neville Longbottom, the Harry Potter underdog who taught us that you don’t always need to be brave to be a hero. Matthew Lewis started playing the nerdy Gryffindor when he was just 11 years old. By movie No. 2, he was already fighting with puberty to keep his childish looks. It didn’t work, and thus, his intimate, years-long relationship with a fat suit began.
"I thought they might recast me after No. 2," Lewis told AV Club. "I grew up, lost weight, got taller, which was by mistake. By accident. I didn’t plan that. I thought they might recast me. They didn’t. Then they had to stick the fat suit on, the false teeth, and the ears, and it was a chore."
Lewis finally got to debut his slim figure after enduring six films in a fat suit and fake teeth. He looked almost nothing like his former self, but hey, everyone has to grow up and graduate from Hogwarts eventually. His transformation was so astounding that Buzzfeed coined the term "Neville Longbottoming" to describe when puberty gives someone a major glow-up.
As of this writing, the unlikely Harry Potter hero is enjoying life as a newlywed and strutting his stuff in shirtless magazine spreads that show off his six pack and rather noticeable bulge. We never thought we’d see Neville in his underpants, but here we are (and we don’t mind it).
Most of us who saw 2002’s The Ring have the creepy, TV-static footage of the infamous VHS tape permanently burned into our brains. The image of Samara crawling out of the television to steal our souls is still absolutely terrifying more than a decade later, but as it turns out, Samara actually isn’t all that scary in real life. She’s all grown up and totally gorgeous.
Before her role in The Ring, actress Daveigh Chase had some minor TV parts, and starred as the voice of Lilo in Disney’s Lilo & Stitch (just about the polar opposite of a cursed kid that was pushed into a well). After playing the creepy, undead tween, Chase ditched the long, black locks and starred as Rhonda Volmer in HBO’s Big Love. As of this writing, Chase is nearing the end of her ’20s and has completely nailed the Instagram model shot. She’s still acting and even had a brush with the tabloids when she was arrested in 2017 after allegedly dumping a dying man outside of a hospital. According to TMZ, she wasn’t a suspect and was merely trying to help the man, who died of a possible overdose, but she did have an outstanding warrant at the time. According to The Blast, the actress was arrested again in 2018 for misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance.
Most of us first saw Abigail Breslin as the unlikely beauty queen in Little Miss Sunshine. Olive Hoover was an icon of self-love in oversized glasses and sweatbands. As it turns out, the star isn’t too far off from her character as an adult. She’s still smashing Hollywood’s beauty norms — despite her obvious good looks — and spoke out about the subject, specifically addressing some damaging comments on Selena Gomez’s bikini photos in 2015.
"How are young girls supposed to grow up normally and not feel bad about themselves and not develop eating disorders if it’s literally national headline news that a THIN girl may or may not have put on a few pounds, and YET still remains THIN?" Breslin wrote on Tumblr (via E! News). Amen, sister.
Breslin doesn’t just spend her days smashing the patriarchy and defying beauty norms. She’s still acting, and starred alongside Lea Michele and Emma Roberts as Chanel #5 in Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens. She also released a biting breakup song called "You Suck" in 2014 which sent 5 Seconds of Summer fans — the inspiration for the song was reportedly bandmate Michael Clifford — into a frenzy.
Daniel Curtis Lee
Daniel Curtis Lee started acting at the age of seven and landed his first major role in Friday After Next, but no one knew who he was. Despite the popularity of the 2002 Ice Cube flick, the star’s character wasn’t even given a name, just a number. Lee only became a household face to tweens across America when he nabbed a starring role in Nickelodeon’s Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide two years later. His character, Cookie, was your stereotypical middle school nerd — with the glasses, braces, and the unfortunate asthma, to boot. Fortunately, as an adult, Lee is anything but nerdy. Talk about a glow-up!
Lee has steadily acted since his debut with Nick. From 2009 to 2012, he played Kojo in Disney’s Zeke and Luther. At the end of his Disney run, he snagged a small recurring part in Glee, but has mostly focused his efforts on building a music career. According to a profile in Savvy Magazine, Lee "has built an even stronger following as a Hip-Hop emcee, performing under the moniker Saint Maurice. He showcases his "freestyles" and "new music from mixtapes and covers" on his YouTube channel, formerly called DanDontheFly. He’s also one smart Cookie, kind of like his Ned’s Declassified character. According to the star’s Instagram account, he graduated with Cum Laude honors with a degree in linguistics from California State University in 2019.
Before Sia enlisted Maddie Ziegler to play a young, mini version of herself, Alyson Stoner was the original music video dancing tween. The actress is best known for starring in a number of Missy Elliot music videos including "Work It," "Gossip Folks," and "I’m Really Hot." That success led to roles in flicks like Cheaper by the Dozen and Camp Rock, but growing up in the spotlight wasn’t easy for the star.
"The machine is not really designed for overall human health," she told Romper. "It chews us up and spits out, and we stay because we hope to raise and inspire other people and create impactful material. But ultimately the chaos and the daily fear of being unemployed … the highs and lows, and the volatility of it all is not for the faint of heart." Perhaps as a result of that experience, Stoner ended up firing her TV and film team to focus on her music career.
As an adult, Stoner looks almost nothing like the pig-tailed little girl above, and in 2018, she revealed another big transformation. "I, Alyson, am attracted to men, women, and people who identify in other ways," she wrote in a Teen Vogue op-ed that detailed her difficulty with coming to terms with her own sexuality. "I can love people of every gender identity and expression," she revealed, adding, "It is the love we can build and the goodness we can contribute to the world by supporting each other’s best journeys."
Nicholas Hoult has come a long way since starring alongside Hugh Grant in 2002’s About A Boy. He’s not just a boy anymore, though his cobalt blue eyes are the one thing that’s never changed. The star looks almost nothing like his childhood self, and, as of this writing, is embarking on his most important role yet: fatherhood.
"Having a baby puts you in this place where you go, oh, okay, this human is going to change a lot," he told the Evening Standard in January 2019. "It makes you value time differently, which is why I talk very quickly in interviews now, because I need to get home to them."
Hoult’s priorities have obviously changed in adulthood. Beyond being a father, he’s also transformed into a full-fledged movie star. After a recurring role in the British teen drama Skins, Hoult was initiated into the Marvel universe. The star plays Beast in the X-Men films. On top of killing it at the box office, in 2018, his period drama The Favourite was nominated for ten Academy Awards.
Blake McIver Ewing
If you saw Blake McIver Ewing today, you’d think he was probably a male model. Little would most of us know that the actor once starred as a nerdy (but totally adorable) little rascal in the early ’90s. Ewing played Waldo, the bespectacled troublemaker, in 1994’s Little Rascals. During this time, he also played Michelle Tanner’s rival on Full House and made a name for himself as a childhood antagonist.
Though child stardom is notoriously difficult and many former kid actors burn out in a string of DUIs and drug arrests, Ewing doesn’t regret a single bit of his past life. "I was one of those lucky ones," he told Lavender, adding, "I wanted to do it, I wasn’t pushed into it. I had parents in the industry who didn’t want me to do it, but I pushed and pushed. It afforded me a journey that I wouldn’t trade for anything."
Ewing has since focused his efforts on music — but it took him years to release an album. According to Lavender, the star picked up go-go dancing to fund his career rather than crowdsourcing his music via Kickstarter, which he described as "empowering" because he realized he was "comfortable in his own body." It sure doesn’t hurt when you’ve got a six pack.
Cole Sprouse’s glow-up is a thing of infamy. It’s not very often a star goes from bowl cut to Met Gala in a few short years. Cole Sprouse and his twin brother Dylan were like the male version of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen of the early aughts. The twins rose to stardom in Disney’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, where they hit every awkward puberty mark — punctuated by their unforgivable bowl cuts and Disney wardrobe (though they were done a little less dirty than, say, some of the cast of Hannah Montana).
After their run with the Mouse ended, Cole and his brother went from The Suite Life to the dorm life. "The goal for me to go to college, and my brother as well, was to fade out," Cole told Women’s Wear Daily. "It’s no new narrative to say that when people get out of child stardom, they often times rebel in very serious ways. I didn’t want to make that public spectacle. So part of the reason I went to college was that I wanted to fade out peacefully."
Cole’s plan to avoid fame seems to have reversed, at least, as of this writing. He’s completely reinvented himself as a sex symbol on the CW’s gritty Riverdale. The series marked his first role in five years. And yes, he finally cut his hair.
Isabelle Fuhrman pulled off a feat most child stars don’t ever accomplish. She jumped into the psyche of a 33-year-old adult who was posing as a child, when she was just a child herself. Discovering that Esther was a full-fledged adult in Orphan will forever go down as one of the most iconic horror movie moments of the early aughts, but it was challenging for the then 10-year-old star to understand some of the film’s adult themes.
"Everyone was conscious of the fact that I was a kid and didn’t want me to grow up too fast," she told The 405. "But I had to understand what it was like to be sexually rejected; I had to understand what it was like to want love so badly that you would do something like that: 10 year-olds just don’t think about those sorts of things."
In the ten years since that defining role, Fuhrman, of course, became an actual adult. The star has since landed very mature roles in shows like Masters of Sex and 2018’s Down a Dark Hall. She doesn’t look anything like the pig-tailed nightmare she played as young kid, but she’s every bit as fierce.