Big Star

07/29/2004 at 12:00 PM EDT

Big Star
"I think the world is so distorted on beauty," says Alley (at her home in Maine on July 26). "How long are you trying to look 35? When you're 80?"
Troy Word
Inside Kirstie Alley's expansive but cozy cottage in Maine – the one with the 8-ft.-tall lobster statue on the front lawn – the host shows her love to friends and family by making biscuits with sausage gravy, chicken and noodles, and apple pie (to die for, she says). On this day, however, she's offering up a selection of desserts from a local baker. "Here's your choice," Alley instructs a visitor. "We have this cake, which is sort of vanilla with a teeny little bit of a lemon taste. And you have this pie, which is a plum-blueberry pie. Or you can have both. That's the beauty of being in a fat person's house."

If it seems strange to hear an actress refer to herself with Hollywood's dirtiest three-letter word, well, consider it Alley's supreme act of rebellion. The woman who rose to fame on Cheers in the late '80s, trading on her bedroom eyes and bombshell body, is so comfortable with her current weight of 203 lbs. that in July she announced plans for a buzzed-about new cable series called Fat Actress – a comedy-reality show airing on Showtime next year and starring Alley in the title role. Now, after several years of keeping quiet while the tabloids obsessively chronicled her weight, the outspoken Alley is finally ready to set the record straight in an interview with PEOPLE. "The weird thing is, I don't like the way I look – and I like who I am," says the 53-year-old actress, who has devoted much of the past four years to raising her kids Lillie, 10, and William True, 11. "I like who I am better than I've ever liked myself."

Sitting barefoot at her kitchen table and smoking cigarettes (a habit she only recently resumed), Alley appears far slimmer than the 300 lbs. frequently cited in the media: "A gross exaggeration," says the 5'8" star. Alley says that paparazzi shoot her from lower angles to make her look bigger and contends that some photos have been doctored. "I'm forever walking around in grocery stores and people go, 'You don't look that fat! How did you lose that weight so fast?'" she says. "I haven't lost a pound."

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She also takes issue with speculation that her career has stalled, especially after her run as Pier 1 Imports' spokeswoman came to an end in February. Both Alley and Pier 1 Imports say that her three-year contract simply expired. "I've made a bajillion dollars in the last four years, and I haven't stopped working," says Alley, who produced and starred in the 2003 TV movie Profoundly Normal and recently completed filming While I Was Gone, a drama based on the 1999 Oprah-sanctioned Sue Miller novel.

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