Ariel Winter is a bit tired. After all, it's not the average eighteen-year-old who can balance two jobs, school, and college applications (an impressive seventeen). But the Modern Family actress doesn't see her situation as particularly impressive. There will be time for Netflix binging sooner or later, and besides, portraying television's favorite honor-roll student Alex Dunphy for seven seasons on the Golden Globe-winning comedy has clearly taught her a thing or two.
"She's pretty much gone through everything that I'm going to go through before me," Winter explains of her character. "So that's amazing, and kind of a tutorial for me, which is great. I went through the college application process with her, getting acceptance letters, getting rejected with her—that kind of briefed me."
There's no doubt that Winter is in a great frame of mind, something that her frequent use of the word "blessed" is a testament to. There's a grin in her voice as she describes over the phone one evening from her home in Los Angeles how her side gig voicing Sofia on the Disney show Sofia the First impresses her nieces ("Oh my God, they finally think I'm cool!"), her love of hip-hop—particularly Drake ("If I met him, I would probably faint and die and you would never see me again because I'd be so embarrassed that I did that"), and her favorite book, John F. Kennedy's Cuban Missile Crisis memoir, Thirteen Days ("People ask if I've ever read Twilight. Yeah, that's a good book, but…").
But it's not just small talk Winter excels at. Last summer, plagued with years of back issues, she underwent breast reduction surgery. While it cleared up her medical woes, she notes there were other exciting side effects to the decision.
"It was the biggest, greatest decision I ever made," she says emphatically. "After the surgery I went shopping and I was so happy because I remember that before I got the surgery I would go in fitting rooms with my friends and we'd all try on bathing suits or T-shirts or tank tops and I could never wear any of it. I would sit in the dressing room and I would cry because nothing looked good on me. It looked ridiculous on me! I never felt right. I finally feel right."
Had she chosen to, Winter could have easily passed off the change in her appearance as a case of weight loss. But the actress says positioning herself as potential rumor fodder just isn't her style; going public was a no-brainer.
"I think what's really special about being in the industry nowadays and having social media is that people like myself who have a platform can use it to do good things," explains the actress, who has 435,000 followers on Twitter and 1.5 million on Instagram. "I just thought it would be really helpful and important for me to share my story."
Winter reveals that she's been approached by girls who say they're now called cool, thanks to Alex Dunphy's brainy, flannels-and-glasses persona. It's that part of her character that the actress says she also identifies with the most: the desire to be recognized for exactly who you are. Living life in the public eye—for now anyway, it's something she tries not to forget. (She's considering acting while studying in college to become a social justice lawyer, but makes it clear nothing is set in stone.)
"Being a role model is telling people it's OK to be who you are," Winter muses. "Telling people to do what makes them happy…. Celebrities are humans. Everybody is. We all make mistakes; we all live our lives—nobody's perfect. When you promote an image that people have to be perfect and that's what people should see, other people being perfect, I think that's a mistake. Everyone's imperfect. We all have flaws, and that's what's great about us."
Photographer: Jacqueline Di Milia. Photographer's Assistant: Zach Callahan. Stylist: Jessie Cohan. Stylist's Assistant: Hunter Woodruff. Hair: Ryan Richman. Hair Assistant: Brooke Cheever. Makeup: Patrick Ta. Makeup Assistant: Seana Gorlick. Shot on location at the Charlie Hotel, Hollywood, California.