Ariel Winter: How I Learned To Love My Body & Silence The Haters

Photo: Amy Graves/Getty Images.
The following is an interview with Modern Family star Ariel Winter, the ambassador for Dove's #SpeakBeautiful campaign, which launches today. As told to Cat Quinn and edited for length and clarity.
I started out on Modern Family when I was 11 years old, and our show gained a lot of press fairly quickly. I underwent a drastic change with my body that year. When I was 11, I was completely flat-chested and super-skinny, and I got a lot of flak for that. I always felt embarrassed about it. And then, on my 12th birthday, I woke up and had a D-cup. I was completely different and a curvy girl. Automatically, I wondered how people were going to react online.
As soon I went to my first or second Emmys, I was criticised; I was called fat; I was told I was dressing like a slut because I had larger breasts. It was harder for me to dress my body but still feel good in what I was wearing. The criticism was really harsh and really difficult.
For many years, I was incredibly insecure about myself. I read the comments [on articles and social media], and it made me feel terrible and depressed and really stressed out...and I wanted to do everything I could to change to fit the standard of what I thought everyone online wanted me to look like. I gained weight, I lost weight, but no matter what I did I always got the same thing: There wasn't anything I could do to please anybody else.
And then, at a certain point, I really pushed myself to change the way I was thinking. I decided to have a better relationship with myself. I stopped reading the comments, because I didn't need to. I posted the photos I wanted to post, and whatever people wanted to say about it is what they said about it. And that worked out really well for me.
Photo: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images.
Over the years, I had some really great role models. I worked with Sofía Vergara since I was a young girl and she helped me navigate being a curvy woman and being proud of it. My sister was always confident in herself, too, and I always aspired to be like that. Through a lot of amazing women, I definitely started to change my opinion. I started to tell myself, Well, it didn't work to change yourself into what they wanted, because at the end of the day people are gonna say what they want regardless. I should just be what makes me happy, and that's it.
Looking back, it makes me really sad that that's the time I grew up in, and that's what was being promoted in the media: the way I looked at 12 and 13 years old — instead of the fact that I was really lucky to be on the show, and that I was working hard and that I was doing my best in school. It's unfortunate that people don't understand that behind their words online, there is a person sitting there reading [what they write] who is just trying to live their life and be who they are.

I think it's really important to talk more about women's issues than about our dresses.

There's been such a focus on women and their bodies and what they wear, and so much less of a focus on our minds and how we feel and our opinions on things. I think now women are mainly used as dolls that people like to dress up, but that they don't really like to hear from. We spend so much time on websites talking about women's dresses at awards shows, and that's all people see — that's all they learn to talk about. I know it's harder to get the media to change, but I think it's really important to talk more about women's issues than about our dresses.
I was really upset that my graduation dress came under fire, because I worked really hard in high school and I was really excited to have gotten into UCLA and that was what my graduation party was for. But not one outlet talked about that. All they talked about was the underboob on the dress I wore to my party. And that was really disappointing.

Couldn't be more grateful to @shanelle_gray & @davidbarrygray for throwing me the most amazing graduation party ever last night...the amount of love and support they've shown me for the past four years has been life changing. My sister is my absolute best friend and my everything...❤️ Thank you so much. I couldn't be luckier or more grateful. I was in awe last night and I still am that you guys love me that much to do all of that for me...I never would be where I am today without you guys saved me and taught me to be the person I am today. Dad...I love you!!! Thank you for always being there to support and love me as well and always put a smile on my face no matter what :). I'm so grateful for the bond we now share. Alenah the song you put together with Shanelle and recorded for me was one of the most special gifts I've ever received. I'm still tearing up thinking about it. Thank you for that and for your beautiful, special performance. Also a big thank you so much to Geraldine for putting it all together and to @contemporarycatering @robpauerful for the most amazing food! A special thank you as well to Sharon who is probably the biggest reason I was able to get through high school and accepted into pushed me to always do my best and encouraged me...not to mention you were always there for my 1am freak outs about late projects :) Anddddd thank you SO MUCH to all of my amazing family members and friends that flew in to celebrate with us- you guys are the absolute best. Thank you also to the ones who didn't have to fly much love was felt all around last night. Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!! Class of 2016...❤️ #uclabound

A photo posted by ARIEL WINTER (@arielwinter) on

[After I decided to get breast-reduction surgery,] I definitely had a lot of people who were bashing me for being affiliated with body-positivity campaigns, and telling me, "You got plastic surgery, so basically you don't promote body positivity and you don't love yourself." And that's completely untrue. As soon as I had large breasts, I was severely uncomfortable; I had really bad back problems; I couldn't fit into a lot of clothes; I had really bad indents in my shoulders from heavy bras; I could barely stand up straight. I felt it was necessary for me, and I made the choice entirely for me. I think it can definitely be empowering if you make a change for yourself that you always felt you wanted. If it raises your self-esteem and makes you more confident, then it's up to you and you should do whatever you want.

I gained weight, I lost weight, but no matter what I did I always got the same thing. There wasn't anything I could do to please anybody else.

But it's been a long journey to get here. I wasn't raised with a lot of the support and love that I find all women should be raised with, to love themselves, so it was harder for me. But I definitely had outside role models who were incredibly helpful. I learned a lot of things on my own, and I took care of myself. I worked on myself in therapy and out of therapy. I worked to make myself feel comfortable in my own skin.
Throughout those years, I learned that the most important relationship I had was with myself; I wouldn't be happy until I loved myself. And I'm not at the level I would like to be yet — that I'm perfectly confident and I have no self-esteem issues — because, let's be real, everyone has self-esteem issues. But I am in a much better place than I used to be, and I'm super-happy about that and proud of myself for it.
This Dove body-positivity campaign is one of the most amazing campaigns I've seen. I know I wasn't alone in [experiencing] cyberbullying, but when you're going through it by yourself, it can be incredibly isolating. It's really nice to hear and understand other women's stories. And it's nice for me because I have nieces who are younger than me [whom] I can start to mentor now, so they don't have to go through the same thing I went through. To receive that positivity from other women who tell me I've made a difference for them — it does so much to heal the wounds I incurred when I was younger. It's changed me and helped me a lot. To learn more about Ariel's involvement in the Dove #SpeakBeautiful campaign, check out her video below.

More from Celebs & Influencers

R29 Original Series