By People Staff
Updated October 12, 2008 12:00 AM
Credit: Will Binns/Pacific Coast News

After putting on a few pounds during the break and getting flak for it when Dancing With the Stars premiered its seventh season, Cheryl Burke fought back, telling PEOPLE, “You don’t have to be anorexic to be beautiful.”

Now, her friends and colleagues are speaking out in support of the two-time Dancing champ.

“That’s the one part of the Internet that I find at times to be very unsettling. It encourages this sort of cowardly unkindness,” DWTS judge Carrie Ann Inaba says. “It takes a lot of courage for to stand tall just as they are. She is a beautiful talented girl who is a role model to many girls out there for just being who she is.” Fellow dancer and close friend Kym Johnson says Burke, a size four, decided to draw attention to the issue to encourage to love themselves as they are.

“Cheryl is a very level-headed girl. Obviously, the comments were hurtful, but she can rise above that stuff. She’s a very classy, strong woman and ultimately she didn’t let it get to her,” says Johnson, noting that neither Burke nor any of the dancers have been pressured to look a certain way. “The show’s producers like the healthy bodies all of us dancers have. Cheryl’s body is incredible. Everybody comments on how she looks and how beautiful her body is. I found it really bizarre were saying stuff like that.”

Burke’s season six partner, actor Cristian de la Fuente agrees.

“We live in a very plastic society where everybody needs to be a size zero. If somebody gains five pounds or ten pounds it’s not a crime,” de la Fuente says. “It’s life.” — Monica Rizzo

For the complete interview with Burke, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.Will Binns/Pacific Coast News