Ariel Winter's Estranged Mom's Criticism of Her Clothing Is Emotional Abuse, Not Parenting

Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Juliette Virzi, The Mighty’s Associate Mental Health Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway. 

On Tuesday, Ariel Winter’s estranged mother Crystal Workman spoke with Inside Edition, criticizing her daughter’s recent fashion choices before requesting to be part of her daughter’s life again. Winter, who was legally emancipated from her mother in 2015, has not spoken to her mother in five years.

In the interview, Workman commented on Winter’s Emmy Awards gown saying, “I just want to see her have respect for herself and have some class.”

Shaming someone — an estranged daughter no less — for their clothing choices is not only never OK, it can also have damaging psychological consequences.

According to Maria Bogdanas, an emotional health coach and writer at PsychCentral, “Shaming and humiliating a child can have long-term devastating effects,” including feeling unwanted and unloved growing up.

Workman’s comments not only highlight the societal problem of “slut shaming” women who choose to wear clothing that shows more skin, they also display a common control tactic of emotional abusers — humiliation.

Not only has she used her daughter’s fame as a platform to humiliate and judge her publicly, she has used her status as Winter’s biological mother to validate her criticisms.

By framing her statement “I just want to see,” Workman makes her criticism of Winter about what she wants and what she would like to see in her daughter. This kind of phrasing is problematic because it shifts the focus of parenting to the parent, instead of the child. In a study examining the effects of controlling parents, it was found that parents who exert too much control over their children can cause them lifelong psychological damage.

In the interview, Workman followed up her belittling criticism with an emotional appeal saying, “All I could do was cry and feel sorry for her.”

The difference in tone from her previous statement is jarring, and it’s important we talk about it. This type of inconsistent, “hot and cold” attitude is characteristic of parents who engage in manipulative behavior. Studies have found that inconsistent parenting practices, like Workman’s, can negatively affect kids’ self-esteem and can make them more vulnerable to depression later in life.

But the most problematic part of the interview was when Workman said, “It’s time to fix your relationship with your mom. Every girl needs her mom and every mom needs her daughter.”

This statement shows us that sometimes, emotional manipulation can look a lot like playing “the mom card.”

Workman’s very public plea was not a request, but a demand that shows continued disregard for the boundaries Winter set up to protect her own mental health and well-being.

By positioning herself as a parental figure, she assigns herself credibility in asserting that her daughter “needs” her. But statements like these perpetuate the unhealthy narrative that parents always know what is best for their children — which is simply not true. 

Being a parent shouldn’t be about creating a “mini-me” or grooming a child to be who you want them to be. Parenting should be about giving your child the tools to become the version of themselves they want to be.

This is a concept Winter seems to understand better than anyone. On Tuesday, Winter responded to her mother’s comments in an Instagram post she captioned, #rant. She wrote, “I’m an ADULT now and can make my own choices and have my own identity.” 

Thank you, Winter, for speaking out and being open. Keep protecting your boundaries and your mental health. We’re rooting for you.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Photo via Ariel Winter’s Instagram.

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