The weirdest thing in Troian Bellisario’s diaper bag is an anal thermometer. “We tried to be cool and high-tech, and got the one that, like, projects the temperature,” she tells SELF. “But I was like, this isn’t going to work for me, so I have an anal thermometer.”
Bellisario, 33, rose to fame as Spencer Hastings on Pretty Little Liars, which aired for seven seasons on Freeform. She’s also a writer, director, producer, and, now, mother of a 10-month-old baby girl. Her latest feature film—and first since the birth of her daughter—Where’d You Go Bernadette, hits theaters tomorrow. Adapted from the book by Maria Semple, the film tells the story of a socially anxious architectural genius, played by Cate Blanchett, who disappears from her daughter and husband and embarks on an adventure to re-discover herself.
During our conversation, Bellisario’s 10-month-old crawled on the floor between us, painting quite a literal picture of what it meant for her to be a working mother. (I was so distracted by the baby that I could barely put a sentence together. Bellisario, on the other hand, remained extremely eloquent and focused, keeping one hand on the baby’s back, making me wonder whether all mothers were automatically this good at multitasking.) “I’ve been talking a lot about mom-shaming,” Bellisario says. “I shot this film before I was pregnant, so the work I did on it was all before I had a kid. Last night was the first time that I actually got to see the film, and I was bawling the entire time.”
Earlier this week, she took to Instagram to post in honor of World Breastfeeding Week. Her lengthy caption covered everything from the joys of the experience (her milk came in immediately, her daughter latched easily) to the less-Instagrammable moments: mastitis, pumping at all hours, painful nights trying to sleep. But, as everyone knows, nothing is simple on social media, and Bellisario’s mindful approach to being a celebrity in 2019 is no exception.
“I was like, OK, I want to post this but I also want to talk about the fact that [breastfeeding] is not always the most beautiful. That is one of my favorite photos that this incredible photographer took of me when my daughter was a week old. It looks like I’m breastfeeding and it’s the easiest thing in the world, and I have had a really easy go of it, but a lot of women haven’t. I want to celebrate the choices that we make as women. I just don’t want to make other people feel bad for doing what they need to do and what’s best for them,” she says of the photo.
There are several ways to create a personal brand on social media, but two of the more common approaches lie on opposite ends of the spectrum: the highlight reel, where everything looks fake and perfect, and the too-much-information, where everything—everything—is just there. You don’t have to be famous to feel the tug between the two. It’s never good to be fake, but if the alternative is to be entirely open, then are you doing it at the cost of keeping any part of your personal life to yourself?
Bellisario has a solution: “I, on the one hand, sort of don’t want to post on social media at all,” she says. “First and foremost, I’m an actor. The less you know about me, the better it is for me and my career. Social media wants to know everything about you all the time—the more you’re giving us, the better we feel. But if I want to play a character, then it’s harder for you to believe me as that character, because it’s like, oh no, that’s not like Troian.”
“It’s walking a delicate line. Even some of my friends are confused by it—they’re like, ‘you’re letting us into this part of your life but not this part of your life.’ I’m honestly just trying to navigate it as I go. I’m trying to figure out what the right balance is for me, and my family, and my career. I want to promote things that I care about, and I want to speak about issues that I care about, but at the same time I want to maintain a slight distance so that I can do my job,” she says.
As you may have noticed, Bellisario is a part of the celebrity camp that doesn’t post photos of her baby (whose name is not public, either), though that’s more of a personal choice than a hard-and-fast rule. She says the decision was “so easy—so easy.” Until her daughter is old enough to consent to which photos are taken and posted, you won’t be seeing her on Bellisario’s Instagram. “I think it’s totally up to the parents,” she says. “My daughter has no idea. She might want to grow up to want to be an accountant. She might never want to be in front of the camera. I don’t want to take away that experience and that choice for her. If she gets old enough and she’s like, ‘Mom, put me all over your social media,’ we’ll have a conversation. At the same time, until she’s aware, it just doesn’t seem fair to her,” she says.
“But again, that’s my choice, and when people post photos [of their kids], I think it’s lovely, because at the same time, I’m the person that’s like, oh, that’s what so and so’s daughter looks like with them, that’s a wonderful photo. I don’t look at that and go, ugh, they’re being a terrible parent. That’s the right choice for their family.”