From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
2006 HER FAMOUS 'FAT' PHOTO

It has been nearly three years since the unflattering Tyra Banks bathing suit shot seen—and viciously mocked—around the world first surfaced, and ever since then the talk show host has been downright defiant in her defense of full-figured women. "To all of you who have something nasty to say to me or to women built like me," she famously declared on a 2007 episode of The Tyra Banks Show, " ... I have one thing to say to you: Kiss my fat ass!"

So what does it mean now that Banks, 35, is sporting a noticeably slimmer figure, having dropped roughly 30 lbs. this year? According to members of her inner circle, the weight loss—which came about after Banks invited several friends to join her in a "get fit challenge"—represents nothing more than Banks "wanting to get healthier," says one close source. "She didn't do it to lose weight. Tyra loves her body no matter what size she is—and thinks every woman should feel that way."

In Banks's case, being lighter means feeling "more comfortable, and I have more endurance," she told PEOPLE in 2007. Almost daily, Banks goes for power walks in her downtown N.Y.C. neighborhood; she has also cut back on carbs and is eating more vegetables when dining out (like adding a side of spinach to her steak dinner).

But Banks took pains to reassure fans in an Aug. 9 Twitter posting, "My butt is still juicy and round"—albeit small enough to fit into a sample size 2 Rachel Roy dress at the Aug. 30 Daytime Emmy Awards (where she won her second consecutive prize for Outstanding Informative Talk Show). "It's not the size that matters," insists Roy. "It's how you look and feel. And Tyra feels and looks great!"