April 29, 2009 -- Australian beauty contestant Stephanie Naumoska spoke out today to defend herself and "all the skinny girls out there" against criticism and speculation that she might have an eating disorder.
"I've never been anorexic or bulimic. I've never been malnourished or underfed. ... I live a healthy, active lifestyle," Naumoska said in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America." "I definitely think I've been victimized. I was singled out at that competition."
At a reported 5 feet 11 inches and 108 pounds, the pageant finalist's body surprised some onlookers when she donned a red string bikini at Australia's Miss Universe Pageant that showed off her petite frame. Naumoska was chosen out of more than 7,000 hopefuls to make the final event promoting "healthy, proportioned, bodies."
Naumoska said she definitely exemplifies that motto, because she eats healthy food and has an active lifestyle and disputes reports about her weight. She claims to weigh 117 pounds.
"I feel fine. I feel great. I don't deprive myself of anything," Naumoska said. "I think I'm a positive role model for girls."
But images of Naumoska on the catwalk in her swimsuit clearly show the 19-year-old's rib cage and hip bones protruding and have caused some dietitians and doctors to question whether the "down under" beauty has an eating disorder.
"If she was my daughter I would have wanted to go and feed her straightaway," one pageant judge said.
The controversy quickly spread to the region's media, with one newspaper sporting a "Bony or Beautiful?" headline.
All the scrutiny about the Naumoska's slim size hasn't escaped the gaunt contestant.
"I'll never forget that moment I found out," she said. "I woke up in my hotel room. ... I was looking in the mirror, and I saw the reflection of the TV behind me. I've never cried more in my entire life."
A Body Not to Be Envied?
Critics contend Naumoska's body type isn't one to be envied. Health officials said Naumoska has a body mass index of just 15.1, which is well under the benchmark of 18.5 for underweight.
BMI is an internationally recognized measure of a person's weight in relation to their height.
"She does look like she is malnourished based on the fact that her bones are protruding and you can see her rib cage," said Cleveland Clinic registered dietician Tara Harwood.
A person with a normal weight has a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Being malnourished can lead to a bevy of health problems.
"Loss of your period, this can lead to bone lose and possible osteoporosis. Also you can lose lean muscle mass and even muscle of your heart, which can lead to heart failure. Also you're at risk for dehydration and low core body temperature," said Harwood. "Other things that can happen -- loss of hair, dry scaly skin and those things may not be as serious however they are the first signs that your body is becoming malnourished and you really should do something about it."
"I think that it's horrible," Naumoska said. "They don't know me and they don't know what I eat every morning or for lunch or dinner. They probably don't think I eat anything, but I do. I'm very hurt and upset by what they've been saying. I think it's very unfair,and I also think it's very unfair just to all the other girls out there who have the same body type as myself."
Naumoska said she eats six moderate meals a day and has just always been thin and tall.
Naumoska insisted to "GMA" that she is not malnourished.
"If I was [malnourished], my skin would be suffering, and my hair. I wouldn't have the energy to enter modeling contests," she said.
A Too Thin Trend?
Naumoska, who some experts said should weigh 135 pounds, is just the latest in a long line of young women whose lean bodies have sparked debate.
Pictures of a skeletal Lindsey Lohan have some wondering if a shrinking waistline is the 22-year-old star's way of crying out for help.
Nicole Richie, Katie Holmes, Victoria Beckham, Angelina Jolie and Kate Bosworth are just a few of the A-list celebrities whose willowy frames have garnered inquiries.
It's this criticism that Naumoska spoke out against.
"I want to defend all the skinny girls out there, all the celebrities and people who get criticized about their appearance," she said. "Some people are naturally skinny."
But experts say there is a line between naturally skinny and unhealthily skinny.
21-year-old Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston brought weighty issues to the forefront of the news in 2006 when she died of causes linked to anorexia. Another model Luisel Ramos died during Uruguay's fashion gala after weeks starving herself before the show in 2006.
For her part, Naumoska insists she is healthy.
But that couldn't win her the crown. That honor went to Rachel Finch, who will go on to represent Australia in Miss Universe world finals in the Bahamas in August.
Reuters contributed to this story.