When met with harshness online, social media users can either concede to vitriol, or they can keep their heads up and weather the storm. Ariel Winter, for one, has learned to do the latter, though the road hasn't always been easy.

Across the 18-year-old's seven years on Modern Family, a lot has changed, though Winter laments in a new essay for Refinery 29 that sometimes, it feels like followers have exclusively noticed physical transformations. And while she's learned to overcome internet-flak, she's still hurt by the memory of the first year her body really evolved — from age 11 to age 12 — when her curves took shape, and out-of-left-field backlash began.

"As soon I went to my first or second Emmys, I was criticized; I was called fat; I was told I was dressing like a slut because I had larger breasts," she writes. "And then, at a certain point, I really pushed myself to change the way I was thinking. I decided to have a better relationship with myself. I stopped reading the comments, because I didn't need to. I posted the photos I wanted to post, and whatever people wanted to say about it is what they said about it. And that worked out really well for me."

Winter credits her Modern Family co-star Sofia Vergara for helping her to embrace her body shape, and said self-acceptance finally came when she gave herself license to live independently of the opinion of others. Still, that's easier said than done, she notes.

"Looking back, it makes me really sad that that's the time I grew up in, and that's what was being promoted in the media: the way I looked at 12 and 13 years old — instead of the fact that I was really lucky to be on the show, and that I was working hard and that I was doing my best in school," she writes. "It's unfortunate that people don't understand that behind their words online, there is a person sitting there reading [what they write] who is just trying to live their life and be who they are."

Now, she's finally the master of her own fate, and says she hopes her fans work hard to cultivate a similar sense of self-worth.

"Throughout those years, I learned that the most important relationship I had was with myself; I wouldn't be happy until I loved myself," she explains. "And I'm not at the level I would like to be yet — that I'm perfectly confident and I have no self-esteem issues — because, let's be real, everyone has self-esteem issues. But I am in a much better place than I used to be, and I'm super-happy about that and proud of myself for it."

Read Winter's full essay and share your thoughts in the comments.

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