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Inside People

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When PEOPLE magazine prepared to interview Tyra Banks for our Feb. 5 cover story, we were told there was nothing about her body she wouldn’t share … except for a glimpse of her posterior. As she posed in a red leotard, Banks asked everyone—even the photographer—to stand in front of her, later saying with a laugh, “No one sees my cellulite!”

But that was before she started hearing from fans—PEOPLE readers sent more than 300 letters and posted nearly 1,000 comments on—who were inspired by the ex-model’s proud admission that she now tips the scales at—gasp!—161 lbs. As she learned of how she had inspired countless women to love their bodies (the good, the bad, and the cellulite), Banks decided it was time she did the same.

And so for an episode of The Tyra Banks Show, Banks—and her entire audience—donned the red leotard, touting their weights. And this time Banks allowed a 360-degree view. “I can’t believe I’m letting you see this!” she exclaimed. Banks then invited four women who had been moved by her story to share their epiphanies, like Louisville, Ky., nurse Tabitha Thomas, 23, who was considering taking diet pills even though she knew doing so could aggravate a heart defect. After reading Banks’s tale, “I thought, ‘I just need to embrace this,'” Thomas said.

Banks hopes to help other women do the same: During the taping she announced her “So what?” campaign, which she describes as “a movement that encourages women to say to ourselves, ‘I’m not perfect—so what!'” Guest Mary Harrison, 25, caught on quickly enough. “My thighs jiggle when I walk,” she told the audience. “And so what!”