The Dancing with the Stars contestant admits, "It was really hard"
Credit: Chris Craymer

Rumer Willis may look perfectly poised and confident week after week on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, but that wasn’t always the case for the eldest daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore.

“It was really hard,” she tells PEOPLE of being relentlessly bullied online. “I would read that stuff and feel awful. I thought, ‘I don’t even get a chance?’ ”

After leaving college, Willis, now 26, was working part-time at a Marc Jacobs boutique, taking acting and voice lessons all while auditioning for film and TV roles, yet she was still judged for her looks and famous family.

“People still don’t necessarily know that I work – they just have opinions,” she explains.

At times Willis admits she was perhaps “ill-prepared” for the spotlight.

“I would go to an event and I didn’t realize I needed to do my makeup,” she says. And online, “people really started getting ugly . People always say, ‘You signed up for this, you’re an actor,’ but I used to take it really personally.”

She’s since come a long way, thanks to the support of her close-knit family (who’ve been cheering her on since week one).

Says Willis, “If you let your value be determined by what other people think, you’re screwed.”

For more from PEOPLE’s candid interview with Willis, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

On sale now: PEOPLE’s 10 Years of Dancing with the Stars Collector’s Edition, available in stores here and for digital download here

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