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THE NORMAL WOMAN ON PAGE 194

I've spent a lot of time nitpicking my flaws. As a preteen, I wished my straight hair was curly. As a teen, I tried in vain to get my freckled Irish skin to tan. Now, with only two months left in my 20s, I fret over the hints of cellulite on my thighs. - So I get why women around the world have reacted with such passion to a 3-by-3-inch photo on page 194 of Glamour's September issue. The photo features 20-year-old Lizzi Miller, sitting casually in a thong for a story on women feeling comfortable in their skin. Pretty typical magazine fare, right? Except in this case, the model with a radiant smile is also a size 12-14 with a tummy roll. "My normal is this," Miller said on the Today show. "I work out (she plays softball and belly dances), I live a healthy lifestyle. This is how I look, and I embrace it."- That one little photo of her - not even a cover shot - has sparked more than 900 comments on Glamour's Web site. Many readers are downright joyful that the magazine exposed a "real" woman in a world of airbrushed perfection. Some share painful details of their struggles to accept their own, less-than-perfect bodies and their longing to feel as confident as Miller looks. - They laud the magazine for helping them, too, feel normal. - "Thank you Lizzi for showing us your beauty and confidence, and giving women a chance to hopefully recognize a little of their own also," one reader wrote. "And, thank you Glamour for giving women some tools to try to feel better about ourselves in a world that constantly bombards us with a message that being ourselves just doesn't cut it." - Glamour editor in chief Cindi Leive said she was floored by the intense reaction. She shouldn't be. With all the warped messages the media send about beauty, it's surprising that the chorus of frustration isn't louder. - Consider this: Though the average American woman wears a size 14, the size of runway models has shrunk from 8 to 0 during the past 20 years. Miller is a plus-size model by fashion industry standards, even though she's barely large enough to fit into clothes sold at most plus-size retailers.

For every Dove campaign featuring women who are more hips than bones, there are many more advertisements filled with models and actresses whose waistlines look like they haven't expanded an inch since high school. And for every magazine article that urges women to accept themselves as they are, there are eight to 10 times as many that focus on changing something, said University of South Florida psychology professor J. Kevin Thompson.

His studies on the effects the media have on body image have made him acutely aware of the beauty stereotypes that assail even his own 10-year-old daughter. The Victoria's Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch advertisements at the mall. The "hot bods for summer" tips in her teenybopper magazines. And don't get him started on how skinny most of the characters are on popular kids' TV shows.

As one might expect, his research has shown that women who are exposed regularly to such images feel worse about their own looks. Their body image and self esteem go down as they compare themselves to these supposed ideals.

He isn't at all surprised by the gusto Glamour readers have shown in clamoring for the magazine to present a broader array of body types on its pages. It's human nature to yearn for definitions of beauty and body that we can actually attain.

"It's so rare," he said of the Lizzi Miller photo. "When something like this happens, it's sort of a rallying cry, something people can get behind."

But Thompson also doubts the photo is the beginning of, as one Web comment hopefully suggested, "a media revolution." There is simply too much evidence to the contrary.

For starters, most of the other 295 pages in this month's Glamour are filled with the usual stuff of fashion glossies: skinny models, tips for a flat belly and a cover story on how Jessica Simpson is coping with Men! Weight! Life!

Elsewhere in magazine land, Self has caught serious flak for the retouching of its September cover. In a feature story, singer Kelly Clarkson dismissed criticism of her weight and declared herself happy with her body. Yet her cover shot seems at odds with her actual shape.

Editor in chief Lucy Danziger didn't come right out and say the magazine made Clarkson slimmer. Instead, Danziger wrote about the time she asked the art department to shave a little off her own hips in a photo of herself running a marathon. Yes, she said, the magazine's editors also altered the singer's appearance, but "only to make her look her personal best."

So much for the "Total Body Confidence" headline that also graces Self's cover.

For her part, Glamour editor Leive said on the Today show that the positive response to Miller's photo will change her magazine's approach. She said it's clear that women today are looking for more authenticity and less artifice.

Thompson, the USF professor, would like to see more emphasis in women's magazines on size acceptance and healthy living. He's not suggesting that the country quit tackling its obesity problem, just its attack on fat people.

Count me as a passenger on that bandwagon. For the past 14 months, I've contributed to the Deal Divas blog on tampabay.com. My fellow bloggers and I don't dwell much on weight. We prefer to emphasize the value of dressing the body you have, not the one you want. With a little bit of effort and a few clothing tricks, every woman can reflect her inner beauty outward.

Do I love myself in a bathing suit? No. Will I ever wear skinny jeans? Unlikely. But I have found styles of both that I feel good in.

And those so-called flaws I've nitpicked over the years? The rational voice inside my head knows they aren't worth the worry. They are me, or at least parts of what makes me who I am.

Most days, I'm okay with that.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story. Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

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