While the natural inclination is to associate Modern Family with laughter, the hit sitcom includes some decidedly un-funny memories for its young stars. Sarah Hyland and Ariel Winter experienced body-shaming while growing up on the series, and now they’re opening up about those experiences and how it’s affected their perception of the show.
Speaking to reporters at the 2020 Television Critics Association winter press tour, Hyland and Winter addressed dealing with “keyboard trolls” as a result of spending their formative years onscreen. “I definitely think it’s really difficult to grow up in front of those people who have an opinion on everything you do, and who are allowed to say it at any point,” said Winter, who plays Alex Dunphy. For her, the year she got braces proved to be “really awkward” and subject to many unsolicited opinions (it was also the year she hit puberty).
For Hyland, who plays Haley Dunphy, certain years on the show feel “cringeworthy” to her. Due to “health things,” she had acne and her weight fluctuated which made her a target for online fodder. “People really love to attack women especially,” she said, adding, “I think Ariel is such an amazing woman and has always been so mature and handles it with such grace and poise, and I think between the two of us, we really have gone and tackled them with all of our spice and wit.”
Now 29, Hyland says she feels “great.” Winter, who turns 21 at the end of this month, agrees that the sting from online criticism has been tempered by time. “Yes, people love the internet, you know,” she said. “So, it’s definitely difficult, but we had great support in each other and it’s made us stronger as we got older, and now we are older. Now we’re all adults.”
But Winter says that, at the height of the online abuse, she learned an important lesson about giving those “keyboard trolls” your time and energy. “I’d respond and be salty to somebody who was salty to me or I’d respond and try and be nice about it and hope maybe their day goes better,” she explained. “But as I got older, I developed a thicker skin and I said to myself, ‘It’s still going to bother me because it never goes away. You’re still human. You’ve just got to remember these people online, what they’re saying, it’s not your opinion of yourself.'”
It’s a foregone conclusion that scrutiny is an unfortunate side effect of fame. And worse, an insidious form of scrutiny is shame. In a perfect world, there would be boundaries — lines that aren’t crossed — and they would certainly include not attacking impressionable young women who already deal with enough noise about their bodies from society.