Maureen Harrington
February 04, 2008 12:00 PM

As Miss Virginia 2003, Nancy Redd ran for the ’04 Miss America title with dreams of changing the world. But it wasn’t war and world hunger the then Harvard senior wanted to stamp out—it was young women’s insecurities and misconceptions about the importance of looks. “It’s important that girls know they’re not alone,” says Redd. “Not everyone looks like a perfect size 2.”

It might have been a hard sell, considering that her own 5’5″, 110 lb. figure (she had lost 60 lbs. in preparation for the pageant) ended up winning her the swimsuit competition, if not the big prize. But now Redd, 26, has found another way to get her message out. Her just-published book, Body Drama, is a warts-and-all manual aimed at today’s teen and preteen girls, many of whom, as Redd says, “are well educated in terms of sex, but know nothing about their bodies.”

Filled with unretouched, sometimes graphic photos of real people and addressing not just looks but everything from body odor to constipation, the book comes out of the author’s own insecurities growing up in Martinsville, Va. “In junior high and high school, I hated my body,” says Redd, now married to actor Rupak Ginn and living in Los Angeles. “I felt weird and stinky and couldn’t figure out what was going on: Why all this hair everywhere and dandruff? How do you deal with bad breath?”

She overcame her self-doubt enough to enter the pageant circuit, even writing her Harvard junior thesis on the Miss America contest. While competing, she learned once and for all that perfection is illusory. “I can put makeup on my legs and hold my stomach in and walk in a certain way,” she says, “but it’s tricks, not reality.”

To document reality for her book, she consulted a physician on the facts, hired a photographer and advertised on Craigslist for unself-conscious models—”young women willing to show their boobs for a good cause,” she says. “I got tons!” Photos were important, she says, because when she looked for them as a teen, there were none. “You can have a diagram of your vulva,” she says, “but you have no idea that there are a wide variety of shapes and sizes, just as there are in breasts.”

Her husband—an all-natural type who wipes off her makeup if she’s wearing too much—was behind the project from the start. “He was like, ‘It’s awesome! You should do stretch marks and stuff!'” The book is striking a chord with a wider audience as well. “It is such a great way for women to know and love their bodies,” says Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues. “It covers all the things women struggle with in our culture.”

Redd hopes she’s helping them struggle a little less. “We’ve been holding all this shame inside,” she says. “It’s good to let it out.”

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