She may have been taunted for her tall and skinny stature, but Ann Ward's figure proved to be a boon in the modeling world. Wednesday night, Tyra Banks named her the 15th winner of "America's Next Top Model."
"Oh my god!" Ward said in the season finale that aired Wednesday on the CW network. She burst into tears after Banks, the creator and host of "ANTM," revealed her winning photo displayed at the final judging.
"I'm so honored right now," Ward,18, said, "[after hearing] all those comments about being too tall or just being not normal."
Ward defeated 22-year-old Chelsea Hersley to become the new "Top Model." Hersley said she felt "cheated" by Ward's victory, arguing "I feel like I have the whole package, what it takes to be America's Next Top Model and I don't think Ann does."
But Ward was too overwhelmed by her win to worry about her detractors.
"I'm so happy that I can make my parents proud," she said. "I won! I can't believe any of this right now."
Ward was the subject of scrutiny even before the start of the latest "ANTM" installment because of her 6-foot, 2-inch frame and tiny waist. An adult's hands can easily fit all the way around her waist, as judge Miss J. Alexander demonstrated in a trailer released before the beginning of the season.
Upon seeing Ward for the first time, Banks exclaimed, "You have the smallest waist in the world. Look at that waist!"
Following speculation about whether Ward's thinness might negatively influence young "ANTM" viewers, Banks released a statement clarifying that she doesn't condone overly skinny models.
"As a leader in celebrating and promoting healthy body image, I must admit that I regrettably didn't see this clip before it was released to the public," she said. "But on behalf of the Top Model team, these were not the intentions, and we truly apologise for any confusion, anger or disappointment it may have caused."
"I am committed to expanding the definition of beauty which includes ALL shapes, sizes and proportions, from skinny to curvy and everything in between," Banks continued. "During this season of 'Top Model,' you will see that Ann provided another opportunity for me to support a young woman struggling with her own body image issues (she's 6'2?; and is the receiver of countless stares and ridicule). Helping young ladies, like Ann and countless others that have confided in me, furthers and supports my core mission."