May 15, 2008 12:00 AM

It’s a first for America’s Next Top Model — a full-figured winner.

Whitney Thompson was named the CW show’s Cycle 10 champion Wednesday night, after competing in a final challenge — walking in a Versace runway show — against Anya.

“No matter what, I want to be a role model,” Thompson, 20, told PEOPLE at a New York City viewing of the season finale. “I hear my 13-year-old cousins say, ‘I’m so fat.’ But they’re perfect. They’re beautiful. And they’re too young to think like that.”

But getting to the top wasn’t easy for the confident beauty, who is a size 8 to 10.

“Right before I left for the show, one of my best friends said to me, ‘You’re not going to go that far. You’re fat,'” Thompson told reporters at the event, noting that the two are no longer friends. “Every week I would remember her saying that. And every week I was like, ‘In your face!'”

Top Model host and judge Tyra Banks has been outspoken about body confidence, particularly on the cover of PEOPLE magazine. Now Thompson, a student from Atlantic Beach, Fla., who calls Banks an inspiration, plans to do the same.

“Already, I have received fan mail from — boys and girls — from all over the world, telling me how much they admire me for just standing up and saying that I have a body,” says Thompson.

Just how are these fans contacting her?

“Facebook! One of my biggest networks is Hong Kong, actually,” Thompson pointed out at the party, hosted by Seventeen magazine and the CW.

But Thompson — who won a $100,000 contract with CoverGirl, a deal with Elite Model Management, and a cover story with Seventeen — plans to pick up the phone to share the moment with a special someone.

“I have to call my mom! My parents watched the final episode at a community center that we work really closely with. There are all these little girls there,” Thompson told PEOPLE after Seventeen‘s Editor in Chief Ann Shoket revealed the July issue with Thompson’s face on the cover.

But as soon as she talks to mom, Thompson wants to get to work. “I’m ready to knock down doors. I’m moving to New York. My bags are packed, I’m ready to go,” Thompson — in a military green Ingwa Melero dress — told reporters. “It’s just the beginning.” –Laura Hahn

Tell us: Is Whitney the right choice for America’s Next Top Model?George E. Holz/The CW

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