The latest "America's Next Top Model" winner, Ann Ward, got on the phone with StyleList just a day after the season finale was announced to tell us her victory was a "surprise."
The 19-year-old waif-thin, super-tall Dallas beauty was the subject of a controversial show promotion that went viral because it featured show host Tyra Banks gushing over her emaciated waist. Banks declared it the "world's smallest."
Banks, who has since apologized, was accused of promoting an anorexic look. Ward, who says she has struggled to keep weight on "since I was a baby" was caught in the ugly middle.
Ward spoke to StyleList Dec. 2 about winning the Italian Vogue-themed cycle 15, and told us the controversy caught her by surprise.
"It was so strange, I wasn't even really on TV yet and people were talking about me," the former college art student tells StyleList. The scrutiny, she says, was out of context: "This is my natural body weight. It's how I've been since I was born. Everyone has their own healthy weight and this is mine. I can't gain weight because of my naturally high metabolism. I've tried."
Ward said she believes viewers learned she takes care of herself and has suffered because of her rail-thin, 6'2" frame. "I basically grew up with people staring at me. In the third grade I was taller than the teacher. I was viewed as a freak," she says.
The model insists she eats a normal, healthy diet including the occasional "fried Oreo" recipe she shared with fellow contestants, shocking visiting supermodel Karolina Kurkova. "I got the recipe at our state fair," she says. "It's Oreos, dipped in pancake batter and fried in oil. They're great, but I eat healthy food too."
After the tiny waist controversy, it was Banks who rallied to her defense, reminding
Ward as viewers of the CW series got to know her, their perceptions would change. "Tyra spent a lot of time with us. She talked so much about self-acceptance and self-esteem and how everyone is beautiful in their own way," she says.
Competing on "ANTM" in front of some of the biggest names in fashion also boosted her confidence. "On the show, my whole world kind of flip-flopped," she says. "My height and my look made me stand out and seem unique and for once, it became an asset."
Ward described American fashion designer Zac Posen as among the best mentors of cycle 15. "We did a fashion show and he was just very hands on ad critiqued our walks and gave us great tips," she says.
Ward will receive $100,000 from Covergirl, and says her winnings will be spent "doing whatever it takes to launch my career." That includes her yet-to-be shot Vogue Italia pictorial and a mystery job she was jetting off to after speaking with us.
Where to? "It's a surprise, but I'm so excited. I'm already working!"
Speaking of "ANTM" winners, read about what the show's first plus-size winner, Whitney Thompson, and first Latina winner, Jaslene Gonzalez have been up to.
And find out the 10 most successful 'ANTM' alumni.