My life changed over the course of a summer. I came back to film season 3 of Modern Family, and I knew that I looked totally different than when we’d wrapped season 2. Suddenly, I was just over 5 feet tall and was an F-cup.
Women are already over-sexualized, and I grew into my body so young. I was 13, 14 years old, and I looked 19. Suddenly, people didn’t want to talk about my job—they just wanted to talk about my cleavage. I’d go to awards shows and the next day see everyone on the Internet telling me I shouldn’t look like this and dress like that. The conversation became about my looks instead of my talent and work—everything that I didn’t want. I even started getting messages from older male fans, and let’s just say they were gross.
Sometimes, it felt like even my work was defined by my body. I was offered a lot of older roles because I wasn’t able to play “younger” anymore.
It’s really difficult to be such a small girl and have so much weight on your chest. You physically hurt. You can’t find clothes that fit right. I couldn’t find a cute bathing suit. Everything looked like I was trying to be “sexy.” It didn’t help that I didn’t look like any of my friends my age.
Read more: How I Finally Learned to Love My Body
People may find it hard to believe, but when I got my breast-reduction surgery last year, it wasn’t because of the mean comments online. It wasn’t because I didn’t like how I looked. Having so much weight on my frame was affecting me psychologically. I was uncomfortable and unhappy. I chose surgery because of how I felt, not because of what anyone else thought.
Afterward, I automatically felt so much happier and just better physically. My back and shoulders didn’t hurt anymore! The first thing I wanted to do was go clothing shopping because I was so excited to be able to find things that fit properly instead of hiding in a baggy sweater. That meant the world to me.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think women should ever change themselves based on anyone else’s standards. My surgery got a lot of criticism from some people, but I’m happier for it. In the end, I think it’s all about how you feel—not what other people think.
Ariel Winter is an actor best known for her role as Alex Dunphy on the Emmy Award-winning comedy series Modern Family.