PLL’s Lindsey Shaw: Does 8th grade coolness really matter?

Lindsey Shaw as Paige McCullers on Pretty Little Liars.
Photo courtesy of ABC Family.

Lindsey Shaw was just minutes into her first day of seventh grade at her new school and already it was time for recess. Finally, she thought to herself, a chance to breathe and relax.

Lindsey’s mom had just finished walking her down to her new classroom. Her new teacher was friendly enough, and asked her a bunch of polite, get-to-know-you questions like “Oh, you came from Nebraska?” and “You’re here to be an actress?” But normally talkative Lindsey wasn’t saying much. She knew the kids in the class were listening. Check that. They weren’t just listening. They were examining Lindsey, as if she were a specimen on a slide underneath the lens of a microscope.

Finally, after Lindsey had murmured enough one- and two-word answers, the teacher asked, “Do you want to go out to recess with the kids?”

“Sure,” she said.

The teacher nodded to a couple of girls in the class. “Will you take her out?”

The girls walked Lindsey out of the classroom and to the schoolyard.  One of them turned to her. She scanned Lindsey from top to bottom, starting with Lindsey’s long, straight brown hair, working her eyes all the way down to Lindsey’s feet.

“So,” the girl asked, her voice oozing with sarcasm, “what brand of clothes do you wear?”

Lindsey’s eyes widened. She opened her mouth, but didn’t quite know what to say. How could she answer? People back home in Nebraska didn’t ask questions like that, especially not the first time they met a person. Lindsey assumed the new kids and new school would be an adjustment. She never thought moving to a different state would be easy. But this felt like a different planet.

Somehow Lindsey managed to mumble a response. She doesn’t remember exactly what it was, nor does she remember exactly what she was wearing, though she thinks it was probably something from Target. What she does remember is the girl’s own two-word response, one that was dripping with disdain:

“Oh. Really?”

Lindsey went home that afternoon and cried. No matter how hard she tried to blend in, a couple things made her stick out: She came from a different place and she was here to be an actress. She wanted to be a regular kid, too, but a few of her classmates wouldn’t allow it.

In the past, Lindsey’s friends and classmates had been supportive of her show-business dreams. As a little girl in Nebraska, she starred in several school plays. In the fourth grade she won a talent competition and started doing commercials and modeling.  By age 11 she was working professionally in New York City. That went well enough to prompt Lindsey and her mom to move to Los Angeles so she could pursue a full-time Hollywood career.

Lindsey was accustomed to criticism too. An actress has to be. You may go on dozens of auditions and land only one part — and that’s if you’re lucky. Plenty of kids (and adults) audition time after time and get no part. (Which isn’t the worst scenario. Many kids move to Los Angeles and end up getting hardly any auditions at all.) Handling that was not a problem for Lindsey. She understood it was part of the process. After all, no basketball player makes every shot. No inventor has every creation work on the first try. So how could a Hollywood kid expect to get every part? “When I came out here I was a pretty confident person,” Lindsey says. “I never thought that one audition or job was going to make me or break me.”

Hollywood didn’t get to Lindsey. Kids did. Kids who were her own age, but had a nasty streak. Kids who didn’t have patience for anyone whose interests or clothes or background were different.

Many Hollywood kids have had similar experiences, even after they’ve become a little bit famous. Actress Alyson Stoner was home schooled in seventh grade but returned to regular school for eighth. By then, most of her classmates had seen her on Disney Channel shows and in movies like Cheaper by the Dozen. Alyson tried to convince herself that her visibility didn’t change the way kids reacted to her, but it clearly did. “The kids started watching me a little more closely,” Alyson says. “Just how they do with paparazzi on Britney Spears, every more you made was either a great one or a terrible one. Everything was extreme.”

Rumors about Alyson flew around, both in her school and in others. One suggested she had gotten expelled from school — a ridiculous idea since she was a straight-A student. But misperceptions about kids in the spotlight can run rampant. Actress Kristin Herrera made it a point not to talk about acting at her high school. But when she landed a co-starring role on Nickelodeon’s Zoey 101, there was no hiding it — her classmates saw the show. “Some of the kids wouldn’t even talk to me anymore,” she says. “They were like, ‘Oh, she’s on a TV show now. She must be full of herself.’ Even though they knew me before that.”

Kids who feel like outcasts need people who understand them. It took a while, but Lindsey found those friends. About a year after the move to California, Lindsey booked the pilot episode of a television show called Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide. A pilot is a one-time, test-run version of a show. If the pilot is received well, the show usually becomes a series. That’s what eventually happened for Ned’s, which meant Lindsey had a starring TV role (she played a tomboy named Moze) and friends who understood her. In ninth grade she left regular school to work full-time on Ned’s, where she took classes with her castmates for three hours per days between shooting scenes. “Ned’s basically gave me the friends out here that I didn’t know existed,” Lindsey says.“I was finally able to relate to somebody out here.”

Lindsey’s newfound friends had experienced everything she had, so they were equally happy to have found her. The kids became fast and close friends, playing huge games of tag, watching Cops in someone’s dressing room during lunch, going to each other’s houses and celebrating everyone’s birthdays together.Every personality just meshed so well,” Lindsey says. “We were so comfortable with each other.  The Ned’s cast definitely made a permanent impression on my life for the better.”

Years later, Lindsey still hurts a little when she talks about her middle-school experience. She has a different perspective on it now.  “Really,” she says, “does it matter in your eighth grade class who thought you were cool?” She knows that when you’re in eighth grade, yeah, it does matter at the time. But she also knows that you can get through it — because she did.

Tim O’Shei

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