Alyson Stoner: Where the Missy Elliott Music Video Star Has Been All These Years

Actress and dancer Alyson Stoner made a surprise appearance at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards, joining Missy Elliott in the legendary rapper's Video Vanguard Award performance. As a child actor in 2003, Stoner appeared in Elliott's original "Work It" video and recreated her dance Monday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Stoner has never really been away from Hollywood, and continues to work in movies, television and music.

The 26-year-old Toledo, Ohio, native got her start on the Disney Channel, appearing in Mike's Super Short Show. She also worked for the network on The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, That's So Raven, Lilo & Stitch: The Series and Camp Rock. She also voices Isabella on Phineas and Ferb.

As a dancer, Stoner appeared Elliott's "Work It," "Gossip Folks" and "I'm Really Hot" videos. She also appeared in videos for Eminem and the Kumbia Kings, and danced with OutKast and Will Smith.

In February, Stoner did an extensive interview with PEOPLE, in which she admitted that being a child star was a difficult experience. She said working in high-stress environments let to heart palpitations, seizures and hair loss.

“When a child is voicing tiredness or crying out for help and they’re met with silence or more methods of them being able to push an inch further, eventually they’ll learn to neglect their needs and just go on autopilot," Stoner said. "As a kid, I learned to make fire out of fumes. There’s just infinite room for cognitive distortions and imbalance for any person who has millions of eyes watching them and whose childhood is dictated by legal contracts and unpredictability."

The Step Up actress also developed trust issues "because everyone has an agenda or feeds their families off of my salary or will be gone in a month."

Stoner said she considered leaving Hollywood behind, but said she still wanted to tell stories.

“My love for the art was still there — it is still there,” she said. “I think the power of story is undeniable and the ability to empathize with every human walk of life through characters was a gift.”

Stoner told PEOPLE the pressures of being a child star also led to eating disorders. In 2011, she was hypostasized and went to rehab a few months before her 18th birthday.

“I chose to keep the process private in order to put legitimate healing first,” Stoner explained. “Before treatment, the dietician estimated my caloric intake to be less than 700 calories with an average of two to eight hours of intense exercise a day. I have entire journals breaking down the grams of polyunsaturated fat and added sugar in every bite I ate.”

Stoner said these issues made her realize she needed to take control of her life and career. That began with her 2018 essay for Teen Vogue, in which she opened up about her sexuality.

"I, Alyson, am attracted to men, women, and people who identify in other ways," she wrote at the time.

Stoner is now releasing her music independently. In February, she released "Stripped Bare" and filmed a video showing her getting her hair shaved.

“Shaving my head is an act of mental health and confidence, not self-destruction,” she told PEOPLE. “I can’t tell you how many beliefs and opinions and insecurities fell to the floor with every tuft of hair, and I’m leaving them there. I’m shedding one era and rising as a new being in real time.”

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More recently, Stoner has released self-help videos to promote positive thinking and overcoming fears.

Photo credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images