Weight of the World

updated 02/10/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/10/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

THE VERY WARM BODIES BEING PUT through their paces in Manhattan's Exude gym seem close to cosmetic perfection; check out these washboard abs, those wasplike waists, that healthy glow. And check out Alicia Machado: She doesn't look a bit out of place as she sweats charmingly through an hour-long exercise regimen, skipping rope, biking and stretching. In fact, at 5'9" and 149 lbs., she looks just great.

Machado, however, is the reigning Miss Universe—formerly Miss Venezuela—and great-looking or not, 149 pounds is not acceptable to the folks who run the pageant. In fact, there have been persistent rumors that they plan to strip her of her title because of it. When crowned last May, she weighed in at a scant 118 pounds, but as she reigned, she gained, finally topping the scale this winter at 160 pounds. Her quest to get in shape by May, when she will have to don an evening gown and crown her successor on TV, has led to her to Exude and the ministrations of fitness expert Edward Jackowski, called in by Donald Trump, a partner in the company that just purchased the Miss Universe Pageant.

"Before Miss Universe," says Machado, 20, the daughter of a toy-store owner and his real estate broker wife in Maracay, Venezuela, "I was a normal girl, but my life has had big changes. I travel to many countries, eat different foods."

In Jackowski's view, Machado's ideal weight is somewhere between 125 and 130 pounds. To that end, he has put her on a low-carbohydrate, higher-protein diet and prescribed an exercise program that emphasizes rope-jumping—"the only exercise," he maintains, "that can remove cellulite off a woman's body." In four days, Machado has lost 7 pounds, and an inch and a half off her waist.

Trump, at the gym to oversee his investment's crown jewel, blew off any suggestions that Machado had eaten herself out of her tiara. "We want her to stay as Miss Universe," he said, "and she is working on her problem." The issue, though, is a weighty one for the Donald, himself a robust 6 foot 2. "When you win a beauty pageant," he said, "people don't think you're going to go from 118 to 160 in less than a year, and you really have an obligation to stay in a perfect physical state."

Perfection, however, is not emaciation, and Jackowski, author of Hold It! You're Exercising Wrong, has no wish to see Machado at 118 again. "She had done that by taking dieting pills and powders," he says. "That's not a realistic weight for her. She's an hourglass, not a small-frame woman. She'll never be thin. If she were, she'd be unhealthy."

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