'Modern Family' 's Ariel Winter on Her Decision to Get a Breast Reduction at 17: My Breasts Were 'Ostracizing and Excruciatingly Painful'

"There shouldn't be a stigma about it," Winter tells PEOPLE about discussing the pain she went through

Photo: Ari Michelson

Ariel Winter suffered in silence for years.

She’d spent her childhood longing for puberty, but the time she was a teen, the Modern Family star says she felt her breasts were “too big.”

“Being a 5-ft.-tall girl and having extremely large breasts is really ostracizing and excruciatingly painful,” Winter says in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “But I didn’t really express how I felt about that.”

So Winter, who turns 18 on Thursday, spent years dreading dressing for red carpets and reading online comments about her wardrobe.

For more from Winter – including her plans for after Modern Family – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

“I’d just be wearing something anyone else could wear, but I’d read comments saying, ‘She dresses inappropriately,’ ” she says.

Winter admits she was “hurt” by the online bullying, but it was ultimately the physical pain that led her to decide to undergo breast reduction surgery shortly after becoming an emancipated minor last year.

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“I think it will be the only [cosmetic surgery] I’ll have done, but I’m extremely happy with the decision I made, Winter says of going from a size 32F to a 34D. “It’s important to talk about it because there are young girls suffering like I did, but there shouldn’t be a stigma about it.”

Now, Winter is looking forward to a future filled with red carpet looks without having to worry about her bust.

“It was an instant weight lifted off my chest – both literally and figuratively,” she says with a laugh about the surgery. “There’s a confidence you find when you finally feel right in your body.”

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