As Pretty Little Liars comes to an end, it's funny to think that when fans first met Aria, Spencer, Emily, Hanna, and Ali, they were teenagers barely old enough to drive. Now, after 160 episodes, the Liars are women in their mid-twenties (thanks to a nifty time jump), and it's safe to say the Pretty Little Liars characters have changed a lot since high school — whether longtime fans want to admit it or not. Is it hard to come to terms with the fact that Aria no longer mixes patterns like it's her job? Yes, but it's also a sign she's growing up.
So many crazy things have happened over the seven seasons of Pretty Little Liars, but strangely enough, Rosewood has essentially stayed the same. The Liars are still being investigated for a murder, and there's still a pesky stalker cyberbullying and trying to tear them apart. They're also, for the most part, still with their high school love interests (ships that will sail forever), and they're all still friends.
But, those evolutions (or lack thereof) aren't really what's most important. As much as I'd like to say that viewers stuck with PLL because they wanted to know who A is, it's just not true. Aria, Hanna, Emily, Spencer, and Alison are the real heart of the show, and it's their growth that's kept fans wanting more.
Contrary to popular belief, a quieter wardrobe isn't the biggest change Aria's made over the past decade. That honor goes to her taste for a good fight. In the first season of Pretty Little Liars, Aria's risks were restricted to fashion and dating, but when it came to A, Aria was a little more conservative and passive. She wasn't one to go looking for trouble, or spearhead an investigation.
Now, however, Aria is much more proactive when it comes to fighting back against A.D. (despite her stint on the A team). She's ready and willing to fight for her and her friends, which is a pretty great quality to have, especially in Rosewood.
Season 1 Hanna was obsessed with what other people thought of her, and while her desire to be liked hasn't completely gone away, Season 7 Hanna is way more confident and secure. After years of obsessing over losing weight and having the right clothes, Hanna doesn't really care what other people think about her anymore. And that's pretty damn cool.
Emily's coming out was obviously a huge part of her PLL journey, but I wouldn't say that embracing her sexual identity has been her biggest change over the years (though it certainly contributed to her changes).
In the early seasons, Emily had an uncertainty about her life and her future. This sense of aimlessness continued after she left Rosewood and went to college, and even when she came back, she seemed to lack direction. Now, as the final episodes approach, Emily knows exactly what she wants out of life: to live in Rosewood with Ali and be a mother.
Spencer used to be textbook preppy: straight-A student, overachiever who craved perfection and wanted — more than anything else — to be more accomplished than her older sister. But, after doing some growing up, she has definitely left the "preppy" label behind.
Not only is Spencer no longer competing with her sister, she's no longer obsessed with the idea of perfection — she's not even interested in faking it. As a result, Spencer is more confident, more in touch with her emotions, and just a straight-up badass.
Ali started out the series presumed dead, so it's not a stretch to say that, out of all the Liars, she's the one who's changed the most. Other than going from "dead" to alive, Ali's personality has dramatically shifted over the course of the series. As a teenage girl, Ali was a vicious flirt who delighted in cruel pranks, blackmail, and torturing others. As an adult, however, Ali is much more subdued, and she'd rather keep to herself than get overly involved in the lives of strangers. Put simply, Ali grew out of being a mean girl and into a survivor.
Aria, Hanna, Emily, Spencer, and Ali have been through more than their fair share of horrors. And while some changes were forced on them, in the end, these PLL characters are proof that change isn't necessarily a bad thing — not at all.