I was a ballerina, and I came from a normal and loving family in Venezuela. We ate a Latin diet with lots of rice, beans, and meat. Both my body and my mind were strong. My family told me I was beautiful, powerful, and smart. It was a very positive environment to grow up in. Before entering beauty pageants I never had any concerns about my weight.
I started pageants when I was 16 years old. And while Venezuelan beauty queens have a reputation for undergoing plastic surgery, I never felt like that was for me. At that time, I was really happy with myself, and I never once thought that I needed to have surgery to win competitions. I didn’t follow any strange diet plans, either. I just ate healthy food, exercised, and danced.
When I won Miss Universe in 1996, I was a size zero. I was a very skinny 18-year-old and worked out every day during the competition. But after I won, I was always traveling and eating different foods from different places. I was also working 18 to 22 hours a day—and I didn’t sleep well. Because of all those factors, I gained about 15 pounds, which brought me up to about a size six.