Supermodel winner: I'm not too thin (and I'm not too fat)

The size zero debate is back with the death of a model and the contest between two women. They talk to Jonathan Thompson

Jen Hunter feels vindicated. In a week where the debate over size zero models has been turned up yet another notch, the voluptuous mother-of-one from Wigan was voted the female winner of Five's must-watch reality TV show Make Me a Supermodel.

Speaking for the first time since her win, she said last night: "I was constantly being told by the panel that I had to get slim, that I had to lose weight, but the voting public proved them wrong." Ms Hunter, 24, describes herself as "a real woman - warts and all".

The final, in which she beat size eight Swedish teenager Marianne Berglund, came just hours before news broke of the tragic death of Ana Carolina Reston, the 21-year-old Brazilian model who succumbed to anorexia after reportedly living on a diet of apples and tomatoes. Ms Reston was the second young model to die in the last three months as a result of eating-related disorders.

Ms Hunter's victory in the television show after a public phone vote is already being discussed as yet another backlash against dangerously thin, or "size zero" models. It came in the wake of Madrid Fashion Week's ban on models with a body mass index of less than 18 - classified as underweight by the World Health Organisation.

During its five-week run, Make Me a Supermodel provoked fury from health experts after Ms Hunter, a size 12, was repeatedly attacked, and reduced to tears, by judges who accused her of being too fat. But the last laugh belonged to the British public, who voted in their tens of thousands for her to be their female winner.

In Thursday's live final, Ms Hunter upset the odds by beating Ms Berglund, who was the judges' clear favourite. But the overall title went to a man - 20-year-old Albert Mordue from Cornwall.

Professor Janet Treasure of the Eating Disorders Service and Research Unit at King's College, London, said Ms Hunter's victory sent out an extremely positive message.

"This win is common sense showing its face again," said Professor Treasure. "The slim ideal leads people down a pathway of unhealthy dieting."

Ms Hunter herself said it was time that the modelling world admitted it had a problem and took steps to tackle it: "You are constantly told to get slimmer, slimmer, slimmer and it is an issue that needs addressing.

"You are given all this guidance on how to walk, how to dress, how to wear your hair or makeup, but you are left to your own devices when it comes to diet. People need to realise that to be beautiful doesn't mean you have to be the size of a 13-year-old boy."

The show's resident psychiatrist, Dr Gareth Smith, voiced his support for Ms Hunter, who had refused to buckle under the increasingly critical comments of the judges.

"Jen got given a hard time on the show for just being a normal girl," he said. "What happened this week was that people saw what the modelling industry is like - and voted against it."

But Tandy Anderson, owner of Select Models and one of the show's judges, said it was unfair to compare Ms Berglund - who is naturally slim - with Ms Hunter. "Women simply have different bodies," said Ms Anderson.

"During the programme, Marianne was eating all the time but never put on weight. Jen's metabolism was slower and so she did - it's as simple as that.

Ms Berglund was bemused by the furious debate over body size: "People tell me I'm too thin, but it's my natural body shape, and I can't do anything about it. It's really sad if young women look up to me and try to change their body shape to be like me. Women come in lots of different sizes, but they're all beautiful."