09/01/2009 at 07:00 PM EDT
Sure, she may have the confidence to strut around in a bikini now, but for years Kathy Griffin struggled with low self-esteem.
"What I can't figure out is why I wasted time worrying about my looks. I am a comedian. I'm not on the runway in Milan," says Griffin, whose memoir, Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin
, hits stores in September. "Believe it or not, people don't come to see me really thinking I'm going to look like Jennifer Aniston
Still, for years Griffin did what she could to change her appearance. Trying to land an agent in Hollywood, the actress decided to get a nose job at age 26. "I was told repeatedly, 'You would be pretty if it weren't for that nose. You'd work more if it weren't for that nose. Hey have you considered getting a nose job?’ You would think I had a nose the size of Texas. I was young and impressionable and I was told that enough that I started to believe it, so I got a nose job."
Griffin also became obsessed with her weight. She would take back-to-back step aerobics classes, starve herself all day and then binge at night. She tried diet pills, and even took things a step further. "I am very
proud of my two weeks on speed," she jokes. "It was full-on illegal speed. I took it to lose weight, which is not very smart." The result: "I just felt three times as hungry afterward," she says.
Even once she got her big break on the Brooke Shields sitcom Suddenly Susan
, Griffin felt pressure to slim down. "I lost 15 lbs. friggin' fast in season 1," she says. "But being on television … I was never thin enough. [Being on TV] told me that clothes didn't come in anything larger than a four. That got to me."
Griffin turned to liposuction, but complications from the procedure nearly killed her. Opening up about the experience, and showing never before seen post-surgical pictures in her book, "is embarrassing," Griffin says. Still, she says, "I want women to know that this is what lipo looks like. Like, are you sure you don't want to just work out a little more?"
Now at her "thinnest" weight, at 5 feet 3 inches tall and 115 lbs., Griffin admits, "staying in shape is a struggle. I struggle with it every day. I just came from a very healthy lunch but the whole time I was having the healthy lunch I wished I was having cupcakes," she says. "It's not a simple thing. I have to watch what I eat and I have to work out quite a bit."
As for getting into bikini-ready shape, "The funny thing is the lipo, which was more than 10 years ago, has nothing to do with it," says Griffin. "I actually got into fairly good shape from yawn: diet and exercise."
For more from Kathy Griffin's book – including a gallery of her past loves – pick up the new PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday