Ariel Winter on moving out of L.A. to get away from paparazzi, tabloid culture: 'I want to have privacy'

·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
·6-min read

Ariel Winter has said goodbye to Los Angeles for her sanity.

The actress appeared on Modern Family mom Julie Bowen's podcast Quitters to discuss how she recently sold her house, packed a U-Haul and moved out of Hollywood with her boyfriend, Luke Benward, and dogs. The 24-year-old's complicated relationship with fame is behind the move. She said having spent most of her life in the spotlight has caused her to grow tired of being tracked by paparazzi and having the photos used to fuel negative gossip stories about her.

"Part of the reason I always hated L.A. was because I have been followed by paparazzi for a very long portion of my life," said Winter, who landed the role of Alex Dunphy at age 11. "I really, really dislike having my space invaded. I don't like pictures of me [that] I haven't signed up for. I don't like feeling watched. I've always just wanted to live a very normal life, have a normal existence and I never really felt like I could do that. Everywhere I went, someone was taking my picture. I'm just not that person. Fame and all that is not something I'm interested in. I just want to live as normal a life as I can."

Winter traced the start of the negative paparazzi and tabloid attention to 2012, when her then-momager, Chrisoula Workman, initially lost custody of her over allegations she had been abusive. The personal saga played out for years with Winter's sister, Shanelle Gray, becoming her guardian before she became emancipated.

She called it "really traumatic" that 30 paparazzi followed her on a daily basis starting at age 14, shouting things and hoping to provoke a response for their photos. That trauma continued as she grew into a woman in the spotlight, having photos of her body scrutinized and shamed. She said paparazzi have continued to follow her today hoping to catch her "f*** up." She said everything is given a "negative" twist and is spun into "lies."

"I don't feel comfortable walking my dog down the street" in L.A., the dog lover said. "If my dog gets off leash I can't be like, 'What the f*** get back here!' It's going to be [turned into]: 'Ariel Winter, rescue advocate, screaming and abusing dog' when really I'm just trying not to let my dog get hit in the street. Everything I'm doing is scrutinized."

Now that she officially moved to her new city, not identifying it to maintain her privacy, "It's kind of the principle for me to be [like]: 'Haha, you're not going to get sh** about me.' What I want to put out there is what is going to be put out there. I've never wanted everybody to know everything about my life. I'm not a particularly open person. I want to have privacy and I've never really had privacy to just live my life."

As for critics who will inevitably say that paparazzi and tabloid attention go along with being a star, "This sounds aggressive, but really f*** off," she said. "Until you've experienced it, you don't understand it ... Just because you signed up to create something doesn't mean you sign up to have your life invaded and taken away from you ... You should be able to choose what you share."

She added, "There are people OK with sharing everything in their lives — and I respect that. But it should be a choice. I want you to see my work and my characters. That's what a lot of people get in the industry for ... Everyone deserves privacy and to share what they want to share about themselves ... [People] think, Oh, you have money ... just take that and accept it. No. I did myself a service by leaving L.A."

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 23: Luke Benward and Ariel Winter arrive to the 17th Annual HollyShorts opening night celebration held at Hollywood & Highland Complex on September 23, 2021 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/Getty Images)
Ariel Winter said that she and boyfriend Luke Benward were friends for years before they got together. She said therapy has helped their relationship and her ability to be more open and vulnerable with him. (Photo: Michael Tran/Getty Images)

Winter also talked about being in therapy for 10 years, which has helped her navigate not just her family trauma and relationship with Benward, an old friend she started a romantic relationship with in 2020, but unpacking what it was like coming of age on TV in the era of social media and, horrifically, being fat-shamed at age 13.

She said the "fat slut" comments people made about her led her to initially change things about herself. However, "once I got to 18, I realized every time I changed me there was still something new that [people] hated about me. I was just like: 'Alright, so they're never going to be happy. It is what it is.' As I got older, I kind of got out of giving a sh**."

But what's stuck with her was how "people feel comfortable" making those mean comments in the first place. She looks at her nieces now — who are the same age when she went through a lot of it — and said it's "devastating to me to see the trickle-down effect ... to see them experiencing the same fears and uncomfortability with themselves that I did. Even if it's on a smaller scale, it doesn't matter ... It makes my heart hurt."

MODERN FAMILY - ABC's
Ariel Winter started on Modern Family in 2009 when she was 11 years old. At just 13, viewers began to body shame her. (Photo: Bob D'Amico/ABC via Getty Images)

Winter said she will return to L.A. when work calls. In fact, right after she moved, now two months ago, she was hired to replace Demi Lovato in the pilot Hungry. She'll probably even get an apartment there to stay in when she's in town to work.

As for life in her new city, Winter said, "It's just so different," in the best way. "It makes me so happy to know that life is just going to be the way I'd always hoped it would be."

At 24, she's "only now starting the journey of: What do I want? What do I need?" and in this "new chapter," she doesn't want to be "the person who's remembered for the outfit they wore," but for the good things she's doing."

Plus, "I don't want to get to 30 and still not feel healed and still not feel peace within myself."

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