Sad Details About Ariel Winter

This article contains references to child abuse, disordered eating, body shaming, and mental health issues.

Much like her "Modern Family" character, Alex Dunphyformer child star Ariel Winter has always had a good head on her shoulders, and she's long possessed the ability to look to the future and plan the rest of her life accordingly. While some child stars assume that their fame will last forever, she isn't one of them. "You never know if something's not going to work out, if one day acting is like, 'No, we don't like you anymore!' You gotta have something else you can do," she said in a 2015 interview with E! News. Her backup plan? Attending college and studying to become a social justice attorney. "I want to be able to make a difference," she told People, a year later. 

Sadly, what the "Modern Family" star couldn't prepare for was the alleged behavior of some of her real-life family members and fans of her show. In a 2012 interview with KW, Winter painted a picture of a happy family while explaining how she ended up with a moniker ready-made for the entertainment industry. "Since my mom always called me her little princess, my brother and my dad came up with princess Ariel from the character in 'The Little Mermaid,'" she said. The young actor added, "My parents are supportive of anything I would like to do." 

When Winter became a teenager, her feelings about her family dramatically changed, and she no longer viewed one of her parents as being in her corner. But this wasn't the only sad detail to have been revealed about Winter.

Ariel Winter felt pushed into acting

Ariel Winter was 12 when she spoke to KW about her career and home life. She revealed that watching "Dora the Explorer" and wanting to be a part of that world inspired her to become an actor. By age 4, she was booking roles in commercials, noting her parents' skepticism about her joining the industry. "When I was seven years old, my parents asked me if this was what I really wanted to do and I just remember pledging my dedication to being an actress, so my parents relented and I moved on to do television and movies," she recalled during the 2010 interview. 

However, Winter later changed this characterization of her parents. "I think that when I was born, it was kind of already decided what I was expected to be, and so I was kind of pushed into the industry," she alleged in a 2016 appearance on "Nightline." 

This realization didn't embitter Winter to the point that she lost her enthusiasm for acting. Regardless, she told People, "I don't know if it's a choice I would have made on my own." Being a kid working in a competitive industry was demanding and the young star was repeatedly faced with the heartbreak of rejection. The constant criticism was difficult for her, as was the focus on her appearance. At age 7, her hair was dyed black to help her land more roles. 

She felt sexualized as a child

While speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in September 2017, Ariel Winter claimed that her mother made her wear age-inappropriate clothing when she was 12 years old, including short skirts and garments with plunging necklines. The actor said that such attire made her look twice her age, adding, "If there was going to be a nude scene when I was that age, my mother would have a thousand percent said yes."

Around the time of the interview, Winter was attracting attention for dressing in a way that some internet trolls apparently viewed as being too provocative. "I'm not a wh*re because I wear shorts and tank tops. I'm a normal girl," she tweeted that July. Some of her wardrobe watchdogs even attacked her based on her previous complaints about how her mom once dressed her. Winter fired back on Twitter, "As a child, you do as you're told regardless of what is good for you," she wrote. "I'm an ADULT now, who can make my own choices and have my own identity."

Winter's mom, Chrisoula "Chrystal" Workman, contended that her estranged daughter's allegations about her childhood attire were untrue. When Workman appeared on "Inside Edition" to defend herself, she was shown a photo of Winter wearing a short gold dress as a child. She saw nothing wrong with the garment, saying, "She's wearing a dress that's adorable. You don't see any other part of her body except her cute little legs." 

The actor felt pressured to diet

Ariel Winter received a negative response from some "Modern Family" viewers for her new, curvier figure after she had hit puberty. It made the actor feel so bad about herself that she tried to lose weight in an effort to look more like she did before. "I got the worst comments. I was called fat and ugly and a sl*t and all the worst possible things," she recalled to The Cut. "It was really, really hard for me."

In addition to her own experimentation with extreme dieting, Winter claimed to The Hollywood Reporter that her mother limited what she ate when she was a child. The alleged diet was so lacking in adequate nutrition that one of her tutors, Sharon Sacks, noticed how famished the actor was when she was hard at work on the "Modern Family" set. "I would order a couple lunches in my name so Ariel could eat one of them," Sacks recalled. "Boiled chicken and cucumbers isn't going to do it for a growing kid."

As she grew up, her openness about her struggles, along with her perseverance and the unshakeable self-confidence that she fought so hard to win, made Winter a body-positive icon. She told Teen Vogue in 2013 about her own body issues, "Every girl has insecurities — mine were heightened at the time because my mother wasn't supportive." Six years later, she revealed to E! News that she was now enjoying all her fave foods in moderation alongside an exercise regime.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

She was emancipated after suffering alleged abuse

Ariel Winter was removed from her home in 2012 after her on-set tutor, Sharon Sacks, reported her mother, Chrisoula Workman, to authorities, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In court documents, Winter's older sister, Shanelle Gray, claimed that her mom had physically and verbally abused the young star, per Radar (Chrisoula denied the allegations). Gray also accused their mom of restricting Winter's access to food with court documents further stating that her dad, Glenn Workman, was estranged from the family and was "incapable" of caring for his daughter (he disputed these claims).

In November 2012, Gray was granted temporary guardianship of her sister after evidence was discovered backing one of her claims — that Winter had been abused emotionally, per E! News. At 17, Winter was officially emancipated from her parents. "I want to thank @shanelle_gray and my father for their special support regarding this matter, I really couldn't have done it without them," Winter tweeted when she shared the news with her fans in May 2015.

According to TMZ, when Gray was a minor, Chrisoula had lost custody of her under similar circumstances. Winter revealed that her older sister was a positive influence on her during their time living together, and the siblings developed a strong bond. "I didn't know my sister much growing up, and I wasn't really allowed to see her," Winter told Teen Vogue in 2013. "I know now that my sister is the type of person I'd aspire to grow up to be like." 

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

Her mom made a very public response

In 2014, Chrisoula Workman addressed her daughter's abuse allegations in a public forum during an appearance on "Dr. Phil." There, she accused Winter of fabricating her claims because she was being prohibited from dating a man who was 18 when she was only 14. "I have never abused Ariel in any way. I love Ariel with all my heart. She's my baby," Workman said. She also alleged that Winter's older sister, Shanelle Gray, was instructing her younger sister on what to say to emancipate herself from her parents. 

When the "Modern Family" star appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" in 2016, she shared her thoughts about her mother's "Dr. Phil" interview. "It just didn't really try and fix anything with me," she pointed out. "It just tried to make herself look better." On "Nightline," Winter explained how her mother's actions influenced her decision to avoid speaking to the press about private family matters. "I feel like for me, I should probably take the high road and do something that I ... wished she would have done for me," the actor stated. 

Winter's mother didn't exactly follow her lead by refusing to talk about her daughter. Instead, Workman decided to discuss Winter's daring style choices with outlets including In Touch and "Inside Edition," telling the latter, "I just want to see her have respect for herself and have some class ... I feel this is a cry for help from my child."

Ariel's brother didn't take her side

While Shanelle Gray helped Ariel Winter fight to get free from their allegedly abusive mother, their brother, actor Jimmy Workman, chose the opposing side in the family feud. In November 2012, Jimmy, whose most notable role was as "The Addams Family" character Pugsley Addams, alleged to ET that both Winter and Gray had lied about being abused by their mom, Chrisoula Workman.

The following year, Jimmy decided to get involved in Winter's legal battle by seeking to replace Gray as their younger sister's temporary guardian. According to TMZ, he viciously attacked Gray, accusing her of drug use, public nudity, and squandering Winter's money. "It's interesting how Jimmy and [Chrisoula] talk about repairing their fractured family and then make allegations like this," said Gray's attorney. Chrisoula, meanwhile, was accused of trying to tarnish Gray's image further by asking a publicist to help her leak nude pictures of Gray that she allegedly had in her possession. However, Chrisoula denied the claims.

As for Winter's father, Glenn Workman, TMZ reported that he was awarded temporary oversight of Winter's finances in 2012. Although he and his daughter were estranged for a time, Winter appeared to defend her father's absence, telling The Hollywood Reporter, "He just opted out a little bit." They eventually repaired their relationship, as evidenced by Winter describing Glenn as "The best dad there is" in a since-deleted 2017 Instagram post (via People).

Her relationship with an older actor came under scrutiny

When Ariel Winter was 14 years old and dating 18-year-old actor Cameron Palatas, her mother reported her daughter's boyfriend to authorities for alleged statutory rape, per Fox News. But it wouldn't be the only time the age difference between Winter and one of her boyfriends made headlines.

At 19, the young star had to defend her decision to move in with her romantic partner at the time, Levi Meaden (pictured above). The issue? He was 10 years her senior, which prompted some criticism. "I don't understand why someone would even comment on our situation at all. There are tons of people of all ages that live with their boyfriend," Winter told Refinery29 in 2017. "... I'm super happy in the arrangement that we have. We love living together." The actor was so smitten with her boyfriend that she told Us Weekly that she wanted to marry him.

The relationship became tabloid fodder, with Star (via Suggest) claiming that Winter was paying Meaden to basically be her housekeeper and personal assistant. Winter blasted the apparently false claims on Twitter, writing, "I would NEVER pay my boyfriend any sort of allowance, nor would he EVER accept if offered ... he more than pulls his weight for our life" After three years together, the couple split in 2019. An insider suggested to Hollywood Life that their age disparity contributed to the breakup, adding, "As time passed ... she and her boyfriend had less and less in common."

She was hassled by internet trolls

Ariel Winter has faced an immense amount of internet criticism, including being slammed for showing too much skin. However, in a 2016 interview with ET, she fiercely defended her devotion to sharing photos of her derriere on social media. "I'm not going to fight with someone on my Instagram that tells me they don't like my outfit or I should put my butt away ... Just unfollow me" she informed her body-shamers.

The trolls who just can't seem to stay away from Winter's social media accounts also engage in the juvenile practice of name-calling, something they've been doing since she was just a child. "I got called a fat sl*t when I was 13. That was rough," she recalled on "Red Table Talk: The Estefans." The online abuse was so hurtful and profuse that Winter decided to take a respite from social media in 2018, with her rep telling Us Weekly, "She needs a moment to breathe and enjoy herself without judgment."

The following year, Winter spoke to Us Weekly about being a target of internet trolls. She reasoned that those who attack her must be lacking fulfillment in their lives. She also expressed regret for having responded to some of the people attacking her online. Eventually, she quit letting the trolls get under her skin so much. "I've learned that the only person I need to care about making happy is myself," she wrote in a Bustle essay.

Why the teen star got breast reduction surgery

In 2015, Ariel Winter underwent breast reduction surgery. Speaking to Glamour she suggested that the procedure had been so appealing because she was tired of being sexualized. Speaking about the tabloids' obsession with her décolletage, she griped, "Every article that has to do with me on a red carpet always had to do with 'Ariel Winter's Crazy Cleavage!' Or 'Ariel Winter Shows Huge Boobs at an Event!'" The teen added that the weight of her breasts had caused neck and back pain, as well as spinal issues.

Ultimately, the physical discomfort and psychological pain her breasts were causing her to suffer were what really spurred her desire to make a change. "I was uncomfortable and unhappy," Winter wrote in a piece for Time. "I chose surgery because of how I felt, not because of what anyone else thought." 

Unfortunately, the procedure didn't halt headlines about her body, and the media zeroed in on her visible surgery scars when she walked the red carpet at the 2016 SAG Awards. Her own mother, Chrisoula Workman, also criticized Winter's decision to go under the knife. "She should never be embarrassed of her scars but she shouldn't be flaunting them," she said on "Inside Edition." Winter disagreed. "Guys there is a reason I didn't make an effort to cover up my scars!" she tweeted. "They are part of me and I'm not ashamed of them at all."

Ariel Winter's antidepressant difficulties

Ariel Winter has long been open about her mental health struggles, telling "Good Morning America" that she's experienced both anxiety and depression. The actor has also worked hard to remove the stigma surrounding going to therapy — in fact, she told ET that she loves her twice-a-week sessions. "I never want to quit therapy. I feel like people are never 'cured' [with] therapy. It's not a 'cured' thing, because you're not going in sick," she said in a 2020 interview with Teen Vogue. "What's negative and wrong and embarrassing about bettering your life?"

While Winter might be her therapist's biggest cheerleader, finding an antidepressant that was right for her was a major struggle. Some of them had unwanted side effects, including weight gain. "It was always frustrating for me because I wanted to be able to get fit and feel like the work I was doing was paying off, but it never felt that way," Winter wrote on her Instagram Story in 2019, per Page Six. Some of her followers accused her of switching depression medications just to slim back down. While changing meds did help her lose 30 pounds, she insisted to Teen Vogue that the weight loss was just a happy coincidence.

"I think it's important to fully normalize mental health and the use of mental health medications," Winter told ET. In 2021, she even shared a selfie on Instagram with her meds clearly and proudly on display in the background.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Paparazzi problems drove her to move

Ariel Winter eventually learned how to triumph over insidious internet trolls by ignoring their outcries and sharing whatever she wanted online. She even began using her Instagram page to combat sl*t-shaming. "I post photos of my butt and I have cleavage out on the Internet — who cares?" she told Maxim. "... I make a point now to just post it. If I take a good picture of my butt, it's gonna go on the Internet."

But what Winter couldn't gain control over were the candid images taken by the paparazzi. The star has often complained about such pictures. Particularly the manner with which they would be published online and slapped with unfavorable headlines, such as this gem from the Daily Mail: "Ariel Winter takes her family and her cleavage to see Santa at the Grove in LA." The photogs even gave her grief when she started school at UCLA in 2017, prompting her to tweet,  "Well the paparazzi just successfully ruined my first day of school. Thanks."

It got so bad that she and her boyfriend, Luke Benward, decided to leave Los Angeles and move to a secret location in pursuit of a more normal life. On an episode of the Quitters podcast, she explained her decision to move, "I don't like pictures of me when I haven't signed up for pictures of me. I don't like feeling watched." According to the actor, life is much better without the shutterbugs swarming around.

She was forced to pause her college education

While Ariel Winter hasn't yet landed another gig as big as "Modern Family" at the time of this writing, she's still getting paid to act. She did voiceover work for the hit horror game, "The Quarry," and she got to star alongside her boyfriend, Luke Benward, in the thriller "Don't Log Off." However, after she replaced Demi Lovato as the lead in the pilot for "Hungry," NBC decided against picking up the series, per Deadline. Clearly, Winter is well aware that her "Modern Family" fame doesn't guarantee a lifetime of secure work in entertainment.

Unfortunately, her backup law career also had to be put on the backburner. In 2019, the actor told Schön! that she really enjoyed getting to study at UCLA, but it just became too difficult for Winter to balance work and school when she was still filming "Modern Family." She explained, "I wasn't being able to make as many classes and it's harder to take exams when you can't be there in the classroom ... I just felt like I wasn't getting my full education."

Thankfully, Winter seemed open to the possibility of resuming her studies. In an interview with ET (via Yahoo! News), she explained, "At the moment I'm taking a break from it so I can continue to pursue my career and also try to have a little bit more of a life because I've been so busy ... But I think education's really important."

She was slammed for a Go Fund Me request

In 2019, one of Ariel Winter's cousins, actor Tino Tsutras, had to be placed on life support after suffering a frightening health scare. Winter tweeted a link to a GoFundMe page that had been set up to raise money for his recovery, and it explained that Tsutras was suffering from a potentially deadly bacterial infection. "This is my cousin Tino. If you can, please consider donating to his recovery fund. Anything helps. I love him so much," Winter wrote. 

A number of her followers responded by slamming her for asking others to donate instead of simply dipping into her own savings. Some netizens pointed to her high net worth as proof that she could have easily provided Tustras with all the financial support he needed. Celebrity Net Worth estimates the value of Winter's total assets as $12 million, although she disputed this number in response to a critical tweet. "Pathetic and disgusting asking for money when you have the means to pay for it yourself," another response read. Winter responded to the backlash by writing, in part, "I'm shocked at how many people have sent me hate tweets about my cousin instead of a simple, kind message showing him some love and support."

Tsutras received over $25,000 in donations, and six months after Winter reached out to her fans, he was back at work on the set of the BET series "American Soul," per his Instagram profile.

Saying farewell to Modern Family was hard

Ahead of the final season of "Modern Family," Ariel Winter told The Hollywood Reporter, "It's strange to think that it's coming to an end. It will be hard to say goodbye." She also confessed that she felt apprehensive about losing her steady gig. "I do not like lack of control," she said in an interview with Teen Vogue. "I don't like that. So that's definitely been hard for me."

Luckily, she was satisfied with the way the show ended and believed the timing was right. "We really explored [Alex] and explored her life as much as you can in a family sitcom," Winter told Digital Spy of how she felt about her character's overall story. Members of the show's cast got along so well that some of them had a mini-reunion in 2021, a year after the series finale. On her Instagram page, Sarah Hyland shared a photo of herself, Sofia Vergara, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson having a picnic together. Per the Daily Mail, Winter jokingly responded, "Did mine and @nolangould's invite get sent to the Dunphy house? Because you know we don't live there anymore guys!"

Winter told Pop Culture that she doesn't see "Modern Family" getting a reboot in the future but said that she'd be open to appearing in a spinoff series. "We're sad, obviously," she stated. "We loved working here and loved working with each other, but we had a great run."