Actress Ariel Winter of the hit television show Modern Family would like everyone to stop talking about her breasts—and the rest of her body, too. It seems like a simple enough request, and one that she shouldn’t have to make. As is often the case, however, there’s more to the story than that.
Recently, Ms. Winter appeared on a panel with her Modern Family costars. While the rest of the cast were all dressed in casual attire (jeans and the like) Winter looked as though she were ready to go clubbing after her appearance. The gold shimmering dress she wore was low-cut on top and as short as most swimsuits on bottom. The outfit was topped off with sky-high heels and way too much makeup. Fellow panelist and Modern Family star Sofia Vergara, also known for her flamboyant manner of dress, looked muted in comparison to her teenage costar.
Comments began rolling in from many who disapproved of the look, calling it exhibitionist and too revealing. Winter deemed them trolls and took her critics to task on her Instagram account, writing:
One line in particular stands out: “As long as you feel good about yourself that’s what matters.”
This is the perspective of many people in Winter’s generation and it is fundamentally flawed. The weaknesses of the argument are readily apparent: what if cocaine or unprotected sex or driving drunk make one feel good? When the line of acceptability is merely “it feels good,” what are the limits?
Millennials didn’t get this way on their own, of course. A generation rife with self-absorbed and emotionally stunted individuals didn’t just appear; they were created. In the case of Ariel Winter, the absence of positive adult role models in her life is a matter of public record. At age seventeen the starlet became legally emancipated, and she has not had a relationship with her mother since 2012.
Details of the conflict between mother and daughter are for the most part unknown. Winter’s older sister is also estranged from their mother, and has served as something of a maternal figure in her younger sister’s life. How much discipline might an older sister be willing and able to provide? Has Winter ever had someone in her life, in the past or present, who simply told her “No”? Has the actress been sat down and told, “Ariel, you can’t do whatever you want just because it feels good”? Many young people today don’t have this kind of authority figure in their lives, and given Winter’s unique family situation, she likely doesn’t either.
Along with never being told no, how many people in her life have asked Winter, “Why does wearing revealing clothing make you feel good about yourself? Why do you feel validated by posting rear-end pictures of yourself wearing a thong bikini on your Instagram account?” There is something profoundly troubling about a young woman, still in her teens, who feels the need to pose mostly nude in order to feel good about herself and her body. Equally troubling is the fact that because Winter is a celebrity, many other young women have likely chosen to mimic her behavior.
Winter and her generational cohorts seem to believe that covering one’s body is an expression of shame. “I’m embarrassed by the way I look and therefore, I cover up.” In reality, most women who choose to dress more modestly do so because they view their body as something private and personal, something worthy of respect. Dressing in this manner often has an added bonus: when the public can’t see your assets, they don’t feel the need or desire to express an opinion about them either.
By dressing the way that she does, Winter clearly does want to attract attention. What she did not anticipate was that it would be negative. It was Winter’s response to the “haters,” not the original appearance, which drew the headlines. Had Winter simply ignored the comments, few would even be talking about the actress. This is not the first time she has chosen to publicly respond to criticism about her revealing fashion choices. Why does she feel so defensive if she feels so empowered? And why does she feel empowered in the first place?
All of these are questions that people closest to the young actress should be asking. As a public figure who has taken to lecturing other young women about how they should react to criticism, Winter’s wardrobe is now the business of American parents and teens alike. There may be nobody in Winter’s life asking these hard questions of her, but hopefully there are adults in the lives of her fans willing to do so.