From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
SHE'S AMERICA'S MOST-WATCHED TALK SHOW host, but when Oprah Winfrey, 43, looks at herself in the mirror, she doesn't hear applause. "Beauty is a hard word for me 'cause I always think you're talking about someone else," she says. Winfrey recalls receiving her first compliment at age 10 when the wife of a man running for Tennessee governor noticed her "beautiful bee-stung lips." She went on to be named Miss Black Tennessee at 19, but in 1976, when she became the first African-American female anchor at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, she remembers her boss telling her, " 'We think your hair is too thick, your eyes are too far apart and your nose is too wide.' " The station, she says, sent her to a New York City salon for a treatment that caused her hair to fall out. "I had two little spriggles, like a bald man. My sense of beauty was shot completely." She began comforting herself with food, ultimately topping out at 237 pounds when she won her third Emmy in 1992.

But that was then; this is now. Thanks to exercise (40 minutes on the StairMaster or a four-mile run early each morning) and a low-fat diet, the 5'6½" star is down to 162 pounds—just 12 away from her ideal. "She really has it together. You can tell in the way she moves," says best friend Gayle King, news anchor at WFSB-TV in Hartford, Conn. Others are picking up the vibe. While vacationing in Miami recently, Winfrey "got all dolled up," she says, then jumped into her new red Aston Martin convertible, drove into a gas station—and turned heads. "It was fun," she says. "I felt like a chickey babe." At last.