By People Staff
Updated May 21, 2008 12:00 AM

Whitney Thompson is tucking into cheesecake and fruit salad with sorbet after lunch. She didn’t order both — one was sent with “Congratulations,” written in chocolate, when a waitress recognized her as the winner of America’s Next Top Model. “This,” she says, licking the spoon, “is so good.”

Revenge, as they say, is sweet. Called “fat” by mean girls in Atlantic Beach, Fla., Thompson, 20, says that despite the teasing, she never obsessed over diet. “You don’t have to starve to be beautiful. I made that decision in seventh grade, when my friends were drinking Slim-Fast.” By age 15, she shot up to 5’10” and slimmed down–but never to the pin-thin size favored by designers and, until now, ANTM. In nine seasons no “juicy” model, to use the show’s terminology, had cracked the top three. Thompson, who at size 10 is small for the plus-size market, now has the Top title and –befitting any new celeb–an internet mini-scandal. Photos of her in what bloggers estimate is a size-4 bikini surfaced after her May 14 win. Rumors alleged that a show staffer asked her to put on weight prior to taping. Says a CW network rep: “We never asked Whitney to gain weight in order to appear on ANTM.” Had they asked, “I wouldn’t,” says Thompson, adding that the photos “are from tenth grade, when I was a size 6.” In college, she went up to a 10. “I’ve never been a 4.” Nor does she aspire to be. “I’ve gotten so many emails saying, ‘I admire your confidence,'” says Thompson. “That’s the best reward.” –Kristin Mascia

What Is ‘Plus-Size’?The industry says it’s size 12 and up. So while her win “is a healthy step,” says plus-size star Emme (a 14/16 at her career peak). labeling Thompson plus, “is ridiculous. A 10? In our society she’s normal.” Thompson “is on the smaller side,” says her Elite manager Jose Covarrubias. “We’re looking into high fashion and full-figured campaigns.”

Jon Ragel