Growing up a child actor would be difficult for anyone, but for Ariel Winter, she had much more than just the pressures of Hollywood to deal with as a young girl. The Modern Family actress recently opened up about how her own mother sexualized her as a pre-teen.
Ariel starting acting at the age of 4 and landed her big break as Alex on Modern Family when she was only 11. But it was never truly her dream — it was all her mother Cyrstal Workman. According to Winter, her mother took everything to the extreme. She limited Ariel’s food, refused to allow her to make friends with other girls, and took her out partying late at night. It got so bad that those on set started taking notice. Ariel’s school tutor at Modern Family, Sharon Sachs, told THR,
“I would order a couple lunches in my name so Ariel could eat one of them. I could tell she was hungry. Boiled chicken and cucumbers isn’t going to do it for a growing kid.”
It wrecked havoc on Ariel’s self-esteem and as the actress noted,
“You don’t get to mess up when you have somebody around you who is constantly watching.”
And Ariel remembers being sexualized by her mother as early as age 7, when her mother would dress her in “the smallest miniskirts, sailor suits, low-cut things, the shortest dresses you’ve ever seen.” She added,
“People thought I was 24 when I was 12. If there was going to be a nude scene when I was that age, my mother would have a thousand percent said yes.”
With the help of her tutor, Ariel had her mother reported to Child Protective Services. By the time she was 14, a judge ruled that Ariel should be placed in temporary custody of her 39-year-old sister, which was made permanent a year later. Now Ariel is 19 and emancipated.
It’s taken her a while to process what has happened to her, and even longer to start embracing her body again. As she noted,
“I went through a really rough period, a really bad chapter.”
She hasn’t spoken to her mother in about five years but she’s finally found her voice and her confidence. She’s starting to take classes at UCLA this month and will continue acting on the show for at least two more seasons.
Modern Family returns to ABC on September 23.