The Stunning Transformation Of Ariel Winter

You probably know her as Alex Dunphy. Yet, since she first appeared as the youngest star of the sitcom "Modern Family," actress Ariel Winter has proven she's so much more.

Throughout 11 seasons, while we were all enjoying the series from our sofas, Winter was actually going through a lot off-screen — things she hoped no one ever would be able to see. "I think the key to doing that is to try to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible unless you're doing something that you want people to see," Winter once told ET. However, headlines seemed to follow her everywhere but, through it all, the young actress has continued to hold her head up high. "I've seen young actresses have major falls from their career, and that's just not what I want," she told Glamour.

Since 2009, the world has watched firsthand as this actress navigated growing up in the spotlight. This is the stunning transformation of Ariel Winter.

Ariel Winter began acting at just 4 years old

Ariel Winter has called Hollywood home for her entire life, so it only seems to make sense that she was destined for stardom. While most kids her age were preparing to go to kindergarten, Winter was entering the entertainment industry with a debut in a Cool Whip commercial in 2002. "My mom put me in the industry when I was 4," she explained to People. "I love what I do, but I don't know if it's a choice I would have made on my own." Yet, it was something at which she truly seemed to excel. Even at her young age, she was constantly booking guest roles on various TV shows like "ER," "Monk," and "Bones."

Winter had such a busy shooting schedule that she even began being homeschooled when she started second grade (via Teen Vogue). All of her interactions were with adult actors, and growing up in the entertainment industry was all she ever knew. "There's a lot of rejection," Winter explained. "I heard 'no' thousands of times. That was hard to cope with." When she was only 7 years old, she even began dying her hair black to help her land more roles. However, in her first recurring role, she needn't have worried about her hair.

In the early years, most people only knew her by her voice

In 2007, at 9 years old, Winter finally booked her first recurring role on a television series — and it didn't even matter what she looked like. For seven years, she'd replace the TV camera with the sound booth as she voiced Gretchen on the animated series "Phineas and Ferb."

During her time on Disney Channel, Winter starred on the series alongside big names like Ashley Tisdale, Alyson Stoner, Jane Lynch, Kelly Osbourne, and Sandra Oh. Yet, oddly enough, Winter never interacted with the other actors on the show. "We don't see the other characters very often," she admitted to ClevverTV, "so it was exciting for me to meet them."

For the next few years, Winter continued to work on a few other animated series, like "Jake and the Neverland Pirates," where she played a mermaid. Coincidentally, she was named after the animated Disney character Ariel from "The Little Mermaid." 

Ariel Winter made it big on Modern Family

Though "Phineas and Ferb" was a big success with young kids, another audience seemed to be calling for Ariel Winter. In 2009, at the age of 11, she booked the role of Alex Dunphy on a sitcom called "Modern Family." This time, audiences everywhere got to enjoy a lot more than just her voice. As a regular, she had the opportunity to spend real time alongside the other actors she worked with each day. "We all really liked each other from the beginning," Winter told Good Morning America. "There was good chemistry between us." The entire cast and crew quickly felt like family to her, and fans were loving it.

Season after season, the show was repeatedly renewed, and Winter found herself beginning to be recognized — something she had never experienced during her voiceover career. "It's now, like, I go in public, and people recognize me, and they want to take pictures with me, and they know my name," she explained during an interview at the time with George Satsidis. The young actress began getting noticed for a variety of other new roles, as well.

Ariel Winter used her voice in a whole new way

In 2012, Ariel Winter booked her first leading role in an animated series called "Sofia the First." Much like Winter's experience making it big on television, "'Sofia the First' is about Sofia learning how to grow up in her new environment," the young actress explained to People. While animation wasn't anything new for Winter, this specific role was something special. Playing the young princess required Winter to use her voice in an entirely new way — by singing.

Around the same time she made her singing debut on Disney Channel, Winter also began posting videos of her vocal range online. It turns out, singing was always something she had hoped to do in the spotlight. "I started out writing poems and then little scripts and then my poems turned into lyrics, and then I started singing," she said. Eventually, she even got to perform during an episode of "Modern Family."

In the spotlight, Ariel Winter dealt with online bullying

Growing up isn't easy, and it was even harder for Ariel Winter to do in front of the entire world

As "Modern Family" continued to air year after year, Winter was growing up, and her body began changing. "As you get older, you go through so many different phases with your body," she explained on "Chicks in the Office." "It's hard to do in general without people commenting on it," and everybody seemed to have something to say about it online. "People on the internet really suck," she told Teen Vogue.

Though she was grateful to have such a long run on "Modern Family" — something that is practically unheard of in the entertainment industry — seeing herself on screen would sometimes make her uncomfortable because of the backlash. "It's like a double-edged sword," she explained on "Live with Kelly and Ryan." "Throughout the years, I'll be able to look back at all of my different moments — getting braces, getting braces off, going to prom." She added that everyone gets to see these moments as she experiences them herself, which can be hard. 

Animated roles were still something she pursued for an important reason, too. "I feel comfortable there," she admitted to Elite Daily. "It's a shorter amount of time and I could go looking like a trash bag and ... nobody cares."

Going public with her breast reduction surgery

As a teenager, Winter found that her body was changing. "Once I developed, I couldn't really play 12 or 13 or 14 anymore," she explained to Glamour, and it was happening fast. On the set of "Modern Family," she even had to have her chest strapped down in order to play her role of Alex Dunphy. Unfortunately, it seemed as though everybody was focusing on what she looked like instead of what really mattered. "That's all people would recognize me by," she said. "Not, 'Oh, she does great work on 'Modern Family.'"

As people all over the world were busy commenting on her changing body, Winter was in pain — and it wasn't just emotional pain. Because of her growing bust, "I had a lot of back problems. I really couldn't stand up straight for a long period of time," she admitted.

In 2015, Winter decided to undergo breast reduction surgery to drop two cup sizes. Yet, instead of keeping it secret — like a lot of celebrities do when they go under the knife — Winter felt it was important to make her story public. "I didn't want to not tell anybody and then have another million stories [saying], 'What happened to Ariel? She looks so different,'" she explained. "And I also think there's some good that can come from [telling] my story. It's something that I did to better my life and better my health and I think that that can benefit a lot of young girls."

Ariel Winter became emancipated from her mother

While Ariel Winter had a loving family on her famed sitcom, her real-life family had an entirely different story. Behind the scenes, the young actress seemed to be suffering. At 14 years old, she ended up in the custody of her older sister, Shanelle, after allegations that her mother — the one who had forced her into the entertainment industry — was both physically and emotionally abusive to her (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Though Winter has bypassed speaking publicly about the situation, her mother hasn't. She appeared on "Dr. Phil" solo to discuss the relationship she has with her daughter. "It just didn't really try and fix anything with me," the young actress later told "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." "It just tried to make herself look better."

In 2015, when Winter was 17 years old, she officially became emancipated from her mother. From then on, she was legally in charge of her own money, her own living arrangements, and her own life.

Ariel Winter became a mental health advocate

Though Ariel Winter's acting career seemed to be an overnight success story, everything going on behind the scenes was starting to affect her. Around the time she became emancipated from her mother, "I went through a really rough period," she admitted to The Hollywood Reporter. "[It was] a really bad chapter." After Winter began living with her sister, she was encouraged to seek therapy — which completely changed her life. "Therapy is so important. I never want to quit therapy," she admitted to Teen Vogue. "I feel like people are never 'cured' [with] therapy. It's not a 'cured' thing, because you're not going in sick."

Today, Winter continues to put her mental health first and even considers her therapy sessions one of the best parts of her week. She's even started to share her mental health journey online with fans, hoping to make the subject less taboo and encouraging them to take care of themselves, too. "You've got to do as much as you can to make sure that you're feeling healthy, mentally and physically," she told Entertainment Tonight. "And that's something that I'm doing a lot more of now."

Ariel Winter waved goodbye to her on-screen family

After over a decade on television, it was announced that "Modern Family" would be ending in 2020. "It's been 11 years, and I think, you know, everybody's ready to do new things," Ariel Winter admitted on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. At the time, she was 22 years old and had spent exactly half of her life shooting the iconic sitcom.

Though she and her castmates would have loved to continue the show, everyone on set knew they had done the series justice. "There are families that have talked to us about how 'Modern Family' has impacted them," she told Good Morning America. Yet, the series impacted a lot more than just its fans' lives. The series is truly what catapulted Winter's acting career.

Even though she had walked away from her own mother while shooting the show, her "Modern Family" co-stars are ones she will always keep in her life. "We became this family," Winter said, and her on-screen family is forever.

Ariel Winter went to college

Outside of acting, there was something else Winter aspires to do. "I want to be a lawyer," she revealed on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," so, in 2017, she enrolled at UCLA to pursue her degree in political science. Though she doesn't to give up acting altogether, having knowledge in a completely different field seemed necessary to the Winter. "I could be an actor today and then never get another role again in my life," she explained. "And as long as I have a backup plan, then I'll be all set."

Yet, it didn't seem that Winter really needed a backup plan after all. Within a semester of enrolling, she decided to take a break in order to pursue other acting roles that became available to her. "I loved going [to UCLA]," she admitted to The Hollywood Reporter. "However, I overestimated what I could do at that time. ... I wasn't really able to get to the majority of my classes." It seemed as though Winter wouldn't be getting much of a break from the big screen, after all.

Ariel Winter took on more mature roles

For 11 years, the world watched Ariel Winter play the role of Alex Dunphy on "Modern Family." When the show officially ended, she decided it was time to tackle completely new roles — specifically, ones that reflected where she was at in her own life. "I'm excited to play new roles and to do things that challenge me a little more," she explained at the time to The Hollywood Reporter. "Alex is a great character, but Alex doesn't change a ton. I was a kid as Alex on the show and now I'm an adult as Alex, so it's a little different than the roles I want to play."

After appearing as an animated character in the adult series "Robot Chicken" in 2019, Winter achieved her dream of starring on a much more serious show. "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" had been her all-time favorite show but, with co-stars who weren't accustomed to comedy, it was a big challenge for Winter. "It really is completely different," she explained to Entertainment Weekly. "'Modern Family,' I've been doing for 11 years, and comedy is not simple, but I've been doing it for so long, it comes easier to me at the moment." Yet, even though the new experience wasn't so easy, more serious roles seem to be coming in the future. "I want to do something completely different from what I've always done," she added. "And I think this was an amazing experience for me to start that."

Ariel Winter found love

During her years on "Modern Family," it seemed as though Ariel Winter had finally found her people. Even off-screen, she had been in a serious relationship with actor Levi Meaden for three years. Yet, at the end of 2019, the two opted to call it quits — and then a new spark of love put Winter in the spotlight once more. That same year, a source told Us Weekly that Winter was now an item with actor Luke Benward. At the beginning of 2020, the two were spotted together for the first time at a Golden Globes afterparty.

Though they started off by keeping their relationship private, "Having every little aspect of your life in the public eye is really hard because it leaves more room for criticism and I just want to live," Winter told ET. Benward slowly started appearing on Winter's Instagram account and, by the end of 2020, the two became Instagram official and even announced that they had become business partners.

Winter and her boyfriend both share a love of the big screen but, behind the scenes, Benward is more to Winter than another actor. "He's definitely my safe space," she told ET, adding, "I'm grateful for the love and support he shows me when there are such difficult times."

Ariel Winter takes her place behind the camera

As an actress, Ariel Winter has a passion for telling stories. In 2020, she decided to tell them from behind the camera. While we'll still be seeing her on the big screen, "I've also gotten into producing, and I really, really love it," she revealed to ET. She has a pretty great producing partner by her side, too — her boyfriend.

In July 2020, it was announced that she would be starring in and producing a feature film called "Don't Log Off," which would be Winter's first project with her beau, Luke Benward. By the end of the year, the couple wrapped up producing a second project together called "Boys." 

"Can't wait to keep growing, building, creating and achieving together," Winter gushed on Instagram. Now, it seems safe to say we'll be seeing a lot more from these producing partners.

Ariel Winter looks at her next chapter

Ariel Winter has been an actress, a law student, and a producer. Yet, her end goal is something entirely different. "What my goal is, is to open a rescue shelter for dogs," she revealed to Elite Daily, and it's something she's working hard toward every day. It's a subject near and dear to her heart, too. Winter has five dogs of her own, all of which she has adopted straight from shelters.

While there are animal shelters all over the world, Winter wants her specific one to be special. "I don't want to make just a regular shelter. We have those," she explained. Instead, she hopes to create one for older animals that have spent their entire lives waiting to be adopted, "Because a lot of senior dogs die in the shelter. That breaks my heart," she said. "I would like for a senior dog to live out the rest of its days happy."

Seeing as Winter is now worth an estimated $12 million — according to Celebrity Net Worth — we have no doubt that we'll be seeing her shelter opening up someday soon.