Like many a model, I get asked all day long the million-dollar question of how I stay so thin. What do I eat? And what exercises do I do? Or do all models actually starve themselves and live off gum and cigarettes? Have I always been thin? Has it always been so easy for me?

When I signed that first modeling contract more than five years ago, I wasn’t happy with the way I looked. I wasn’t as thin as I wanted to be, for one thing. I was almost 20 pounds heavier than I am now, and I had terrible self-esteem. My agents really believed in me, and rather than saying, “You need to lose weight,” Nicole Bordeaux, my agent at PhotoGenics, encouraged me to stop lifting weights to help my body become more slender.

I thought she was crazy! I was obsessed with the gym, going there every day for two or three hours, running and lifting weights. I had no concept of how to eat a nutritious meal and practically lived off spinach because I kept reading that it was the healthiest food on the planet. I was hardly eating and was working out all the time, so I thought I was as skinny as I would ever be.

Actually, I was undereating and overdoing it at the gym. The scary reality was that my body thought it was starving, and when I did finally eat, even if it was merely a bowl of spinach, my body would hold on to whatever it could, not knowing when it would get food again. Hello, fat storage! And hello, familiar situation for so many women and girls out there!

I took my agent’s advice and began eating healthy, regular meals and doing no resistance training. It was ridiculously easy compared to what I was used to, but it worked. Before long, I dropped 20 pounds and I was model-ready, and in no time at all, I was off to New York. From then on, it was a nonstop roller coaster among New York, Milan, and Paris. I made it.

Today I eat more and exercise less than I ever did before I became a model, and have maintained what I believe to be my natural set weight. At 5'10½", I weigh about 117 pounds. Any BMI (body mass index) calculator—and many physicians—will tell you that I am too thin, but I will tell you with complete honesty that I am healthier and happier than I have ever been. I don’t starve myself. I don’t throw up. I don’t take diet pills, and I don’t go to the gym every day. I’m at the right weight for me. Not for anybody else, just for me.

I’ve learned what I love to do and how I love to feel. I do enjoy the gym on occasion, and I especially love yoga class. I’m also a vegan—I don’t consume any animal products—and I love raw food. I don’t eat this way to make some kind of statement or to stay thin. It’s just what makes me feel the best, the most alive, the most energized, and the happiest.

I don’t think I have a perfect body. I’m a bit gangly, I’ve been told I have an alien-looking face (gee, thanks!), and I’m pretty flat-chested. But I love my body! It’s all mine. Nobody has a perfect body, but everybody has a body they get to own. I’m finally happy with myself, and I accept every part of me—itty-bitty boobs included!

Of course, we all wish we had the perfect bikini body, but in today’s fast-food, sleep-deprived, chemically altered, pesticide-loaded world, sometimes it seems like we have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than of ever getting “model-skinny.”

Yet, one group seems to defy nature: models! This is why, when I was a young girl, I wanted to be one.

There are a lot of negative stereotypes associated with models and with people who are thin, especially when they are in the spotlight. The modeling industry gets blamed for encouraging eating disorders, and a lot of people point fingers at skinny models, saying that we aren’t good role models for women because most women can’t ever get the bodies we have.

I don’t believe this is true at all. First of all, most of the models I know are not crazy and do not have an eating disorder. Many of them tend to have a tall, thin body type, but not all of them. Kate Moss is only 5'7", and she’s one of the most famous supermodels ever.

Second, I believe any woman can have her dream body. Who says you can’t get to the weight that makes you feel like a knockout? Telling women they shouldn’t want to look good just makes them feel more frustrated, because deep down, they do want to look good and feel good. For some women, models are inspirational.

However, it’s also really important to remember that fashion models are there to show off clothes, so they often have the bodies that distract least from the way the clothes hang: tall and straight. Your dream body may not be anything like Kate Moss’s body, or my body, or Heidi Klum’s body, or anybody else’s body. But it can be your dream body nevertheless, and that’s what I want you to go for.

Don’t let anybody tell you that you have to be fat, that you’ll always have big hips or a big butt or big thighs. You can have them if you want them, but if you don’t want them, you don’t have to have them. You can have thin thighs, a tight butt, a flat stomach, and toned arms no matter what body type you have. You can feel good about yourself. You deserve to feel good about yourself!

Overcoming childhood poverty and tragedies, Sarah DeAnna graduated high school with honors, then put herself through college finishing ahead of schedule and went on to become an international high fashion model who's worked for Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Vogue, and countless others.