The stunning transformation of Lucy Hale

Aria Montgomery. Many can tell you that Lucy Hale is the actress who plays this well-known character on Pretty Little Liars. But what about her life beyond the the show's fictional town of Rosewood, PA? This was not Hale's first role and it definitely won't be her last. A talented actress and singer, the Memphis-native has a lot to bring to the table, along with a loyal fanbase reaching far beyond the addictive and fabulous Pretty Little Liars.

She is a star who brings her own style and confidence to everything she does. She's taken on roles that have pushed her outside of her comfort zone, and has never been afraid to be real, discussing her own insecurities in life in many interviews. We can't help but admire the young, 27-year-old and we always look forward to what she's going to do next, whether related to acting or music. So let's take a look at the transformation of Hale from young singer to ever-rising star.

How reality TV brought on her fame

While Hale's acting roles began in the mid-2000s, she was actually in the spotlight even before then. Though you may not remember, Hale was one of the Top 5 on Fox's American Juniors in 2003. The 14-year-old then moved on to be a part of the singing group by the same name until 2005, when the group disbanded.

Although music would again became a part of Hale's life in the future, after American Juniors, the young star focused on her acting. She was able to move out to Los Angeles and later spoke with BuddyTV about this important time in her life, saying, "I still consider it the best summer of my life so far. It's what forced me to move out – well, not 'force me', but made me want to move out to LA. It was the first time I'd be out to LA and I got to see everything and I convinced my mom to come out for pilot season and do some auditions."

Those auditions brought good things for Hale. She booked a few small roles and then in 2007 landed her first big gig playing Becca Sommers in the television show Bionic Woman. And she definitely did not take this success for granted, saying during the interview, "I've been out in LA for three years now, and things are happening and I'm really grateful."

She learned all about the acting ups and downs

Hale's breakout role in Bionic Woman ended after nine episodes when the show was cancelled. The 19-year-old was disappointed but, mature beyond her years, she understood that these things happen. She shared with TV Guide during an interview, "It was such a bummer. It was my first show, and for that to be my first experience...was hard. I mostly felt bad for Michelle [Ryan], who worked her [butt] off every single day [as the series lead]. People were so mean about it. It just wasn't meant to work out, I guess."

But even with the disappointments, good things ended up following. Her next biggest roles came in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 and Privileged. A fan-favorite book, Hale played Alexis Bledel's character's sister in the second installment of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. And Hale was one of the stars featured in The CW's Privileged. Considering these larger roles bulking up Hale's acting resume, which was her favorite role so far? It may surprise you. She claims it's her guest-starring role on How I Met Your Mother, playing Robin Scherbatsky's (Cobie Smulders) younger sister.

After her big guest-starring moment in 2007, she did not easily forget the role and wasn't afraid to share her hope for another opportunity to play the character. When asked by TV Guide in 2009 if she'd be back on the show, Hale said, "You know what? I'm really going for it, because outside of Privileged, that was the most favorite thing I've ever done. Keep your fingers crossed, because I sure am!" Hale – andHow I Met Your Mother? Sounds like the perfect combination, and an episode that needs revisiting ASAP.

When she learned how to lie

2010 was a big year for 21-year-old Hale. She officially began her role as Aria Montgomery on ABC Family's (now Freeform's) Pretty Little Liars. Now it's impossible to think of any other star in that role, but it wasn't a given she'd be playing the artistic character from the beginning. Hale spoke with The Examiner (via Wet Paint) about the audition process, saying, "I wasn't sure which character I was going to play yet because I went out for Aria and Hanna. I ended up being more drawn to Aria because she's sort of the different one of the group. She just does her own thing and has different interests. She's an old soul, and knows what she wants. She just seems put together and she's very fun to play." Audiences loved Hale playing the wise-beyond-her-years student.

It doesn't hurt that Hale was able to relate to her character as well. She told TV Guide, "Growing up I always felt like I was different from the girls my age because I had different interests and was thinking about different things. Aria's like that too." It's not just Aria's personality, but her style as well that makes her unique. So in 2010, who was Hale's biggest style icon? It's someone we can all approve of. She continued with The Examiner, "I love Kate Winslet. I think she's just so classy. I feel like she's gotten more and more beautiful as she's gotten older, which hopefully that will happen for me. I just think she always looks so put together and natural."

Playing a character so different from her

Even though Hale and her Pretty Little Liars' character Aria share some similarities, it was actually their differences that made Hale want to take on the role. Not so much in personality, but in life circumstances. Speaking with Assignment X on this very topic, 22-year-old Hale said, "The only thing I've related to in Aria's life is the divorce between her parents. That's the only thing I can relate to mirroring my life and her life. But everything else, you sort of have to put yourself in the most similar place possible, because obviously, I've never had a [romantic] relationship with my teacher and I've never, thank God, experienced the death of a best friend and I've never been stalked by anyone. So you just have to imagine what it's like to fill these girls' shoes, because that's definitely the hardest part, going through these situations that the girls are going through."

So what helps Hale get into character? Wardrobe. She said, "I feel like what you wear depicts who you are, how you're feeling that day – what you're wearing depends on how you feel that day, and it definitely helps with the situation." And aside from character development, Hale wanted to be a part of a show that was different and would make an impact. She said during the interview, "That was one of the things that made me want to sign on, because [before reading the script] I was like, 'I don't just want to do a show that's just going to appear and not really make an impact.' I feel that this show is unlike any other teen show out there and I feel like that's why people are tuning in each week. It's because it's different from everything out there and we're really pushing the limit." In 2011 the show was an unstoppable hit that kept on slaying, bringing success to Hale and her fellow co-stars.

She struggled with body image in the past

With all of Hale's career success by the age of 23, it's hard to imagine she'd have faced many real struggles. But that was just what she opened up about in 2012 during an interview with Cosmopolitan (via The Huffington Post). She shared her past history with an eating disorder, saying, "I've never really talked about this, but I would go days without eating. Or maybe I'd have some fruit and then go to the gym for three hours. I knew I had a problem... It was a gradual process but I changed myself."

Bravo to Hale for opening up about something so private and difficult. Just a year after the interview, Hale revealed even more with Self Magazine about the thoughts that would go through her head when she saw the paparazzi taking photos of her in her swimsuit. She said, "I was on the beach in Hawaii and there were paparazzi in the bushes. I don't think anybody wants to be photographed in their bikini unless you're like a Victoria's Secret model. There's always a little voice in my head that says, Suck it in a little more – but you know, I'm so comfortable with who I am, I'm just like, Screw it! Take pictures!" You go, girl. We could all learn a little lesson from Hale on being comfortable with who we are, and owning the moment.

Bringing music back into her life

In 2013, Hale took a big step in bringing music back into her life, deciding to release her first-ever country album. Although music had always been an important part of Hale's life – and her first ticket to fame – many fans had never seen this side of Hale since she became best known for her acting roles. Hale was very aware how big of a step this was. Speaking with Self Magazine, the 24-year-old opened up about her nerves regarding the big leap. "I'm scared as hell. Some days I go to sleep and I'm like, What am I doing? People aren't going to take me seriously."

But Hale's confidence in who she is helped get her through those fearful moments. She continued on to tell the magazine, "Music is my favorite thing, and I'm going to fight to make it happen." And she's not just into creating her own music, but also listening to other favorite artists as well. Sometimes that's just the inspiration she's needed to rally for a new day. Discussing her workout routine, Hale told the magazine, "I won't workout without music. I'm not one of those people who looks forward to exercising, so music gets me through it. My new favorite song is 'Wake Me Up!' by Avicii." Could this girl get any more likable?

She has a dark side too

It was finally in the summer of 2014 that Hale's country album came out. And the singing star wanted more than just to get her music out there: the 25-year-old wanted to give her fans a chance to get to really know her. Speaking with Billboard about her music, she said, "A lot of people don't know Lucy the person. They just know me from characters I played. I think after listening to the album, they'll have a clearer idea of the kind of girl I am. It's really real. It's hard for women to – it's almost taboo to explain how you're really feeling. We're not supposed to be sad, we're supposed to act like we have it all together. This album shows my flaws, it shows me being angry, being heartbroken. I think that's cool for girls to hear that it's okay to express how you're feeling."

But was it easy for Hale to open up like that to all of her fans and the world? Not so much. She continued on to say, "It was kind of a challenge at first. It's a scary thing to be vulnerable and put yourself out there like that. I'd be lying to say it wasn't hard to tap into that. I'm used to having to always be on, to always be smiling."

And even though music was the original plan for young Hale when she arrived in Los Angeles, she's happy that music took a back seat until she could actually focus on it, as well as becoming who she wants to be. She said, "I thought I'd move out there, get a record deal, be touring by the time I was 17, and clearly that's not what happened. I'm so grateful for the time. I wouldn't have had any life experiences to draw from. I would've been micro-managed and felt like a robot."

She's a big fan of her fans

By 2015, 26-year-old Hale's career was booming. She featured a new, short hair-do that we all became obsessed with immediately. And with success in music and acting offers coming in, it was still Pretty Little Liars at the core that brought her the most recognition – and Hale was more than happy to give her fans the credit for that success.

Speaking with AOL Build in New York City (via InStyle), Hale said, "I truly believe it's because of the fan base and when we started the show it already had a cult following. They break Twitter every week and it's internationally successful, which is really crazy. And I think it's because of the hype of the people that watch this show that encourages the writers and the producers to really, no pun intended, but like, bring their A game each episode. I really enjoy seeing everyone's reactions and still people get excited after six years."

Hale also shared her hopes that she could give back to these fans with the content of the show. The plot focuses on four strong women who have to band together to get through the tough times. She wanted to empower young women, saying during the interview, "Aside from the cliffhangers and the drama and the darkness of the show, what I really loved is that there are four really strong female characters and it's also, you don't always see on TV really strong friendships, and so I love that, too. I think that it's important for girls to see that they can stick up, especially the whole bullying stuff that's going on right now. I mean, our show revolves around one person bullying these four girls and so they're really fighting back and I think that that, aside from everything else, that's the underlying message." It's always awesome to find a solid Hollywood role model for young girls, and Hale definitely fits the bill.

Always slaying that red carpet style

If it didn't seem like Hale was busy enough, she also has a passion for fashion that can be seen basically any time she's on the red carpet. Her looks are always cool and fresh, and her stylist Alyssa Sutter explained to Teen Vogue just why this happens, saying, "Lucy is always open to trying something different...She can be unpredictable on the red carpet and that's what keeps my job exciting! Her love for fashion is truly inspiring."

We'd expect nothing less from the 27-year-old who has gone with the flow of her career and life for years, always adapting to the current situation. It's refreshing to see a star who is constantly willing to take risks on the red carpet instead of playing it safe. Sutter continued on to say, "Lucy doesn't gravitate toward any specific brands...because she is always open to trying new designers. I'm always bringing someone new to the table in each fitting. It is always important to research up-and-coming designers to keep things fresh and exciting."

And although Hale loves to take fashion risks, she also gravitates toward classic styles. During an interview with Yahoo Style (via Style Blazer), Hale said "I've gotten older, I've gotten more classic...When I was younger, I was more outrageous. Now I want to keep it simple. Some days I'll be more classic; some days I'll be grunge." No matter if the style is unexpected and risky or classic and effortless, Hale can do no wrong.

Showing off her love of fashion

But it's not just working with her stylist where Hale exerts her creative, fashionista side. In 2016 she became Creative Director for the fashion-tech line Casetify. Hale spoke with Teen Vogue about this decision to partner with the business and take on her big role. "I've always clearly had an obsession with my phone and with all the accessories and fashion, so [I thought that] a mutual collaboration between the two of us would be a good idea. I've had opportunities to design before, but this was definitely the most hands-on that I've ever been with a project. I basically would send [Casetify] pictures of things that I loved and it was a really fun project for me to do. It's so crazy to see it come to life and see all the accessories in person. [There's] a whole line of pictures of my dog. It was really fun and unique and I think that people are really going to like it." We're already in.

We carry our phones with us constantly, so why not add some of Hale's signature style flavor? Hale described where her style inspirations come from, saying, "I drew from things that I loved – everything from French fries to elephants to my dog. There's a bohemian vibe. There's something for everyone. I love leopard print, [so] there's a leopard print case. It was a lot of looking through magazines and Instagram."

Ready for new challenges

As an actor, singer, and fashion icon, Hale is a force to be reckoned with. She's been in the business since childhood and has continued to take on new and exciting roles. In late 2016, she spoke with Teen Vogue about her future plans, saying, "I'm working a little bit, but I am taking the rest of the year off and then doing some films at the top of next year. It looks like next year will be pretty busy, which is good. I'm excited for a little time off, too, so that'll be nice."

That time off is well-deserved, for Hale. As Pretty Little Liars finally comes to a close this year, her biggest fans are excited to see what new challenges Hale takes on next!