America's Next Top Model Winner Has a Message for Taunted Teens

America's Next Top Model Winner Has a Message for Taunted Teens
Ann Ward's winning photo
Fredrico De Angelis/Pottle Productions Inc

12/03/2010 AT 11:30 AM EST

After being taunted while growing up for being unusually tall and ultra skinny, Ann Ward was crowned of America's Next Top Model this week.

The 6-ft., 2-in.-tall 19-year-old from Dallas spoke with PEOPLE about dealing with the backlash over her shockingly small waist (runway coach Miss J was seen fitting his hands around it in a controversial promo), how she wants to inspire other girls to feel comfortable in their own skin, and what's next for the formerly painfully shy Texas girl.

What does winning Top Model mean to you?
Being America's Next Top Model is really awesome, because I really like being an inspiration for people. I've been getting messages on the Internet about how I've helped people get through something they were going through, like bullying, so I'm really excited about people being able to look up to me through the struggles they're going through.

Going into the show, you had to deal with the controversy over your tiny waist. How did you handle that?
I didn't really mind it that much, just because it was only the promo. The show hadn't even started at that point, so people didn't really know me for me. They just saw a little clip of me, so I was confident that people would know that I went through a lot more than just that. I had issues with my height, so I was pretty sure that once people got to know me that it would be all right.

How did your confidence grow throughout the show?
My confidence really grew immensely. I went into the competition not really sure of myself. I was really insecure about [being so tall]. I would be nervous about going out in public, especially if I was wearing heels. People would stare at me, but I got actually a lot more comfortable during the show because people taught me that it was all right to be tall and it wasn't something to be ashamed of.

What advice do you have for girls who are being taunted or feeling awkward?
I would tell all the young girls that are being bullied not to pay attention to the bullies, because they're just doing it because they're insecure about themselves. It's not really something to worry about because we're all different in different ways. I was super, super tall and it was something that made me unique and it got me further into the competition, so just be proud of how you're unique.

Where do you want to take your career?
I'm really not sure at this stage, but I know that I really want to start working a lot. I definitely see myself doing a lot of editorial stuff, but I would really like to just kind of get into all of it. I know that editorial is easiest for me, but I'm actually kind of interested in voice acting even though it didn't go that well at the Cover Girl shoot, but it's actually something that looks really, really fun.

How have your family and friends reacted?
They've been really, really proud ... At the finale, everybody was screaming and running around. They've been really proud of whatever I do. I've been trying to be an artist, I've been trying to be a model, just anything that I really get into, they're super, super supportive of.

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