Ariel Winter and the Sexualization of Teenage Girls

Ariel WinterBy Njeri Summey (FGS ‘17)

Eighteen-year-old Ariel Winter, best known for her role as Alex Dunphy on the ABC television show Modern Family, recently made headlines for arriving to the Screen Actors Guild Awards in a dress that bared scars from her recent breast-reduction surgery. Fans publicly inquired whether the exposure was accidental, and Winter answered through her Twitter account: “Guys there is a reason I didn’t make an effort to cover up my scars! They are part of me and I’m not ashamed of them at all. :)” Although Winter has cited physical discomfort due to the size of her breasts as a reason for getting the surgery, the reason that she has spoken on most is the overt sexual attention that she has received from the media surrounding her breast size and body. It’s important to note that Winter just turned eighteen at the end of January, which tells us that the majority of the body ridicule and comments that she’s received occurred when she was underage.

In “Nothing Less Than Perfect,” Kirsty Fairclough discusses the way plastic surgery has become a post-feminist sign of female empowerment, and is often understood as a symbol of “femininity as bodily property; the shift from objectification to subjectification; an emphasis upon self-surveillance, monitoring and self-discipline; a focus on individualism, choice and empowerment” (297). This potentially misguided ideology is reflected in the way that media outlets have reported on Winter’s surgery, as well as the way Winter has spoken on it herself. The showcasing of her scars has been championed as a move toward body positivity, and Winter has been quoted gushing about the freedom to be more adventurous with her clothing styles because of her surgery, stating that she’s “excited to finally actually feel confident and not just appear confident”(Yahoo Celebrity). Although body positivity is great, I think we need to question where certain forms of body acceptance stem from. If the only reason you felt bad about a part of your body was because of public ridicule, is this newfound body positivity merely a form of compliance to others’ opinions of how you should look?

Although Winter’s new-found confidence is something to celebrate, it’s important to question what type of media environment we must foster for it to be okay for people to publicly comment and sexualize a teenage girl because of the size of her breasts, so much so that she is inclined to get surgery. Most of the time Winter was mentioned in the media, it was comments about her body as opposed to her talent as an actress. For example, Winter once claimed, “Pretty much all I was known for and that upset me…it made me feel really uncomfortable…Every article that has to do with me on a red carpet always had to do with ‘Ariel Winter’s Crazy Cleavage!’ or ‘Ariel Winter Shows Huge Boobs At An Event!’ That’s all people would recognize me by, not, ‘Oh, she does great work on Modern Family’” (Independent News). Because the famous woman’s body has become the “locus for discussion” in media discourse, it makes sense that Winter’s body parts are talked about more often than her talents as an actress.

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