In 2012, Ariel Winter was enjoying the success of being a star on one of television’s most popular, Emmy-winning shows. But off-screen, she was facing life in foster care.
In an extensive new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the teen star opened up about her “really rough” childhood and how, despite it all, she’s headed to college.
Winter said her estranged mother Crystal Workman‘s influence over every aspect of her life was intense. She wasn’t allowed to befriend other girls “because females are competition — that’s how some people see it,” and her diet was “very, very restricted.” She was dressed in “low-cut things” and “the smallest miniskirts” starting at just age 7.
“People thought I was 24 when I was 12,” Winter said. “If there was going to be a nude scene when I was that age, my mother would have a thousand percent said yes.”
She added of the pressure that stage mom Workman put on her to hit it big in Hollywood, “You don’t get to mess up when you have somebody around you who is constantly watching.”
Though she had “amazing” tutors, Winter said attention to her education was minimal – in fact, she only attended half of kindergarten and half of second grade. In addition, her father was then mostly absent from Winter’s life.
After joining the cast of Modern Family – which premiered in 2009 – Winter decided enough was enough and turned to her on-set teacher Sharon Sacks for help.
“She was very scared. … She knew the consequences,” said Sacks, who was the one to report Winter’s home life situation with Workman to Los Angeles’ Child Protective Services.
Winter, 19, told the outlet that she was prepared to go to foster care, until, in 2012, her older sister Shanelle Gray agreed to take her in – despite barely knowing each other.
“I went through a really rough period, a really bad chapter,” admitted Winter, who said she hasn’t spoken to her mom in five years (though Workman has used the spotlight to blast her daughter).
Now, Winter’s preparing to start classes at UCLA as a freshman – her final choice after also getting accepted to Ivy league schools Yale and Princeton.
“I definitely want to continue being an actress. I love it,” Winter said. “The reason I’m going to college is because I do want knowledge in another field. College isn’t the college experience for me. I’m not going to be in a sorority, I’m not going to network, I’m not even really going to make my lifelong friends.”
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She continued, “I’ve had the career experience. I’ve had the experience of taking care of myself. I’m going to college because I genuinely want to learn.”
Winter wants to focus on politics, law and social justice – all steps toward eventually creating a charity for abused children and adults.
“Even though I wish I had a better childhood, I wouldn’t trade it, because it made me who I am today,” Winter said. “I still respect the people that hurt me.”