Amanda Marsalis
Julie Mazziotta
May 24, 2016 01:25 PM

While her height certainly helped former pro volleyball player Gabrielle Reece on the court, it made her teen years tough.

“I grew up very, very tall,” the 6’3″ Reece tells PEOPLE. “By the time I was 12 I was six feet. It was awkward, it was different. The worst thing you can be when you’re going through puberty and those formative years is to be different.”

But dealing with that at a young age taught the Strong host, 46, how to appreciate her body.

“It was important for me to understand how I felt,” she says. “Even if people were like, ‘That’s kind of strange how big you are,’ I thought, I’m going to make peace with that.”

Having that mental strength helped during her time working as a model in New York City.

“When I started working and got into fashion, people would go, ‘Oh, you’re great.’ I didn’t buy into that either,” Reece says. “You have to understand how you feel for yourself, which means you can’t get too high, but you don’t want to get too low, because too high is not realistic either, it’s unhealthy. So it was about having a healthy relationship about my body, myself.”

For more from Gabrielle Reece and our gorgeous photoshop-free women, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

And during college, while playing volleyball for Florida State University, Reece realized that she felt better at a higher weight.

“I have been in better shape and my clothes have fit better when I’ve been heavier than when I’m leaner and stronger,” she says. “I have a different type of relationship with weight. I went into college at 145, came out at 162. I started lifting and then realized that I’m probably at my ultimate weight, to perform or play, at 168.

“My mental scale is different from other women.”

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Now, as Reece continues to delve into Hollywood, she’s aware of the pressure that people place on women’s bodies, but it doesn’t bother her.

“I think for me it’s about delivering in performance, not showing up and having to look a certain way,” she says. “I think for me it’s been the most important thing to be authentic.”

“It sounds silly because I’m known for being such a physical person, a physical being – but one thing I’ve learned is that our body is just a vehicle for us to take this journey, and ultimately who I am is not really my body. So what I’m most happy about my body is what it has taken me to – that I can play professional sport or go on these adventures, have babies. I’m 46 and it seems to be sustaining.”

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