‘Modern Family’ Star Ariel Winter Opens Up on Breast Reduction Surgery, Legal Battles With Mom, Life in the Spotlight

Online bullying over her body hurt her a lot, the actress said.

March 1, 2016, 7:41 AM

— -- People have watched Ariel Winter grow up on TV as Alex Dunphy, the smart, witty middle sister on the hit sitcom “Modern Family.”

Being thrust into the limelight at such a young age was at first “a little shocking,” Winter, 18, told “Good Morning America” news anchor Amy Robach in an interview Saturday in Los Angeles.

Along with the public scrutiny came online bullying. The hardest part for her was all the attention that was paid to her curvy body.

“Walking down the red carpet and seeing the photos afterward and having every headline be about my cleavage and -- not about my talent. Not about, ‘Oh, if they liked the dress.’ Not about what I was really there for or anything that I wanted to be put out there. And I thought that was really disappointing that everybody nowadays in the media, what we're talking about is the way people look,” Winter said.

The comments about her body hurt, she said.

“And it's really hard, because people don't think that I read comments ... And I guess it maybe seems like we don't have feelings or we're, like, invincible, but we're really not,” she said, speaking of people who live in the public eye.

Winter decided last year to undergo breast reduction surgery. The procedure took her from a bra size 32F to a 32D.

She explained that it was “awkward” for her to be developing so much as a young girl.

“You know, you're only 12 years old and you're developing a lot,” she said.

‘I Did It for Myself’

She wanted to get the surgery because her situation left her in “excruciating pain.

“I couldn't sit up straight. It was always super uncomfortable for me to sleep. It was uncomfortable to sit. It was uncomfortable to walk,” she said.

She recalled times when she would go shopping with friends and breaking down in dressing rooms because she couldn’t find a bathing suit with a top that would fit her.

“I just didn't feel right and I did it for myself,” Winter said.

Many people believed she had the surgery because she gave in to the negative public pressure. Winter set the record straight.

“That was so not the reason I got it ... I don't care what other people think about me,” she said.

Asked whether the surgery had changed her life, Winter replied: “It really did. It really did. It definitely changed the way I felt about myself. It changed the way I felt physically. It really just gave me so much more confidence that I don't now have to put on. I just feel like I can be confident.”

Winter made more headlines at January’s Screen Actors Guild Awards ceremony when she wore an open-backed gown that revealed her surgical scars.

“The funny part is I didn't even notice them. I didn't think to cover them,” she said of the scars. “I didn't even think twice ... It really astounded me when I was getting a lot of comments from people telling me to put my scars away and that they were gross. And I think that's just so ridiculous considering they're a part of me. They're not going away.”

She added: “There's absolutely nothing wrong with them. And I think that that's really messed up that a lot of people are saying that we can't be beautiful with scars.”

Winter: Industry Over-Sexualizes Women

Winter said she’s “really bothered” by the level of scrutiny women and girls face every day – especially those who work in front of cameras.

“I think it's ridiculous that women are really over-sexualized in the industry and ... on the red carpet we're always going to be judged,” she said.

She added that she found it “really irritating” that men don’t face the same scrutiny over their appearance.

“They talk about their talent ... And I wish that we would go -- in a direction like that for women,” Winter said.

Despite her passion, she said she might never have ended up an actress. She said she was “entered into the industry” at a young age.

“And I think when I was younger it was fun that -- you know, to go be on a set and do commercials. But then as you get older, and I had a particularly rough experience with it in my personal life dealing with everything that I was dealing with, and being in the spotlight and also, you know, kind of being pushed into the industry-- that's not to say I don't love it and it's not my passion now. I do love it. But I definitely think that at four, nobody knows what they want to do,” she said. “And I don't know that if I had had my own run to be able to decide what I wanted to do if I would have.”

Among those personal problems was having a mother who pushed her hard to do what she herself wanted instead of what Winter herself wanted or needed, the actress said.

Winter went through several years of legal battles with her mother, Chrisoula Workman, over allegations that Workman emotionally and physically abused her. Winter was ultimately emancipated from her mother.

A Really Hard Childhood That ‘Wasn’t Normal’

“I did have a really, really hard childhood,” Winter said. “It wasn't normal. It wasn't what I should have had. It wasn't a supportive, loving home. I had a really tough time.”

Winter said she no longer has a relationship with her mother and hasn’t spoken with the woman in three and a half years, but she believes her father, Glenn Workman, is one of her biggest supporters.

“Although my relationship with father was turbulent in my younger years I'm fortunate that we got through the toughest of times together by bonding over some monumental moments in young life and through each obstacle he's been nothing but supportive and loving me unconditionally and for that I'm grateful and we are closer than ever,” Winter later told ABC News.

Winter told Robach that is was “very sad” to grow up without the comfort of a mother.

“It's really hard to have that kind of drama in your life and to be going through that court situation and have an open court case and have everybody look at it and have the media around you trying and paint different pictures,” she said, adding: “It's already hard enough for abuse victims, but it's harder in the public eye when everybody has an opinion ... .”

Commenting on Winter’s reference to being an abuse victim, Robach asked the actress about what happened to her.

“Well, the thing is it's really hard to talk about, and the reason I haven't talked about it thus far ... is because it was really painful for me to watch my mom go on news outlets and go on (the “Dr. Phil Show”) and kind of spread things everywhere -- when it's really just private, family business,” she said. “And that was really hurtful for me.”

Acknowledging that she did “endure a lot of things,” she said “part of me feels like I shouldn't really care about her feelings, seeing as she didn't care about mine, but at the end of the day I feel like for me I probably should take the high road and do something that I would have wished she would have done for me.”

Considering Other Career Goals

Winter is closing that chapter of her life and moving forward to doing things that a typical 18-year-old would – such as applying to colleges.

“School was never really important when I was younger in my family,” she said. “I mean they never really pushed me to do anything other than entertainment. And while entertainment is great I think education is incredibly important. And that's -- it's always been a dream of mine to go to college ... I would love to be a social justice lawyer.”

Robach asked Winter what life lessons she’d learned from her legal battles with her mother, being a child star, growing up in Hollywood and being under harsh public scrutiny.

“Don't take anything for granted, for sure, because I have an amazing life now, but I know what it's like to not. So I definitely am grateful for everything I have. Everyone I have. Everything I have,” Winter replied. “And to always -- not in a selfish way -- but always put yourself first. I think it's really hard a lot when you're in certain situations to be able to do that, but I think it's really important to love yourself and be there for yourself first before you do anything else.”