Sarah Hartshorne was cast as America's Next Top Model's only ninth season "plus-size" runway wannabe -- and while she didn't feel like the role was a good fit, she eventually came to embrace it.

"I don't feel like I was the token plus-sized girl at all," Hartshorne told reporters during a Thursday conference call.  "If I was, that's fine.  I think it's good for them to have a plus-sized girl on the show.  But they brought up the fact that I was on the small-side for a plus-sized girl right in my first interview, so it was there from the beginning."

The 20-year-old college student from Heath, MA was the sixth girl eliminated from Top Model 9, and was told by the show's creator and lead judge Tyra Banks that it was because of her "confusing" place in the industry after she lost weight during the competition.

"I lost a whopping three-and-a-half pounds.  The decision to do that was based on absolutely nothing; it wasn't a decision at all," Hartshorne told reporters.  "I can't believe [the judges] even noticed.  I didn't notice... It was just so minimal, I couldn't believe it.  I think I was sort of thinking about the way I dressed and the way I held myself.  I did have this different hairdo, which changed the way I moved and acted... But really, I wasn't trying to lose weight.  Where I stand, I really didn't lose that much at all.  On a 5-foot, 10-inch frame, three-and-a-half pounds doesn't go very far."

Hartshorne said she has "no idea" why her weight was constantly such a big issue with the judging panel.  Since the topic of her weight only "occasionally" came-up with her fellow models, she said it must have something to do with the fact that the judges are "so very observant" after being in the industry for so many years.

"I feel like I can only be myself.  I can only work with the body I was given.  I think I did that to the best of my abilities," she said.  "I wish maybe that I had kept any minimal insecurities that I had to myself.  I didn't know that it would come up, that it would show.,  because on the whole I am so comfortable with myself.  It is sad for me that maybe people are going to see me and say, 'Oh well she's insecure, maybe I should be too.'  I don't think that's true at all."

Hartshorne said she "didn't think about" her weight at all during photo shoots, and thinks that was evident in her various frames.

"I'm really pleased to see that I knew how to take a picture and just be myself and work with the body I was given," she said.  "I think it is tricky because part of it is I am right in the middle [with my weight]... [Plus-sized modeling is] an ill-defined category, so that might have been part of it."

While she didn't have much trouble during the Enrique Iglesias music-video shoot that preceded her elimination, the judging panel commented how Hartshorne looked "nervous" about her body and had a "moment of slight embarrassment."

"A lot of that was just seeing myself in a music video and sort of seeing Enrique Iglesias," she explained.  "It wasn't so much discomfort as it was surprise... I wasn't actually as uncomfortable as I think came across.  You put anyone in a mesh outfit, and they're going to have a moment of, 'Oh my goodness!'  But I was really comfortable when it came down to it... in my body, in the outfit."

Hartshorne described herself as an "erratic" Top Model viewer before appearing as a ninth-season runway wannabe.

"I became involved with the show at a friend's urging," she said.  ":I went to stand in line with her, and then sort of tried-out spur of the moment -- kind of thinking, 'How could this possibly happen for me?  This is silly.'  But obviously it was not [silly] and it worked out and I ended up on the show!"
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Due to her lack of previous modeling experience, Hartshorne said she was unsure how to approach the competition when producers told her she would be representing the plus-sized portion of the industry.

"I guess since I had never done any modeling or ever thought of myself as any type of model, I really didn't come into it with any preconceptions," she said.  "I think it would have been easier to take what [the judging panel] said and say, 'Okay, I'm a plus-sized model.  I am.  That's what I am.' Then sort of get drawn into that.  But instead, I took it as, 'I am who I am, and I'm not going to change myself to fit this label that seems like the closest thing that I fit into.'  At the same time, I knew I was not a normal-sized model, so I tired to take what they were saying and take their criticisms."

Once the competition began, Hartshorne said her weight became a "strange thing to talk about and deal" with, but added she was ultimately happy to represent a different part of the modeling profession.

"I feel great about that.  I want to represent anyone who sees a little of themselves in me.  If that's plus-sized girls, that's fantastic," she said.  "If your involved in [the modeling] industry, your looks and your size are going to be an issue.  I wish that the lines weren't so clearly defined.  I wish it wasn't plus-sized, regular-sized."

Hartshorne said she's unsure if Top Model will ever have a plus-sized winner.

"I think the thing about a plus-sized winner for America's Next Top Model is a complicated issue.  It's really tied into the industry -- which to be fair -- is changing," she explained.  "In Spain, they recently required models have a certain body-mass index that was more healthy, and they're not letting these really emaciated women on the runway... I think the winner of Top Model kind of represents what is the height of modeling and fashion, and I think as fashion changes and goes more towards real-size girls, it will become more of a possibility."

Hartshorne is also unsure what's next for herself, as she's dabbled in several professions -- from studying drama and theater to picking blueberries on a farm.

"I don't know what's next, but I'm excited for whatever it is," she said.  "I want to act, I want to model.  I'm really, really glad that I had this opportunity because I see that maybe modeling is a possibility I never thought of but that I love and I think I have a certain predisposition to it... I want to keep going, definitely."

Despite being ousted from the competition, Hartshorne hasn't lost her sense of humor, as she told reporters her middle name and her mom's maiden name is Banks.

"I just always appreciated it because of Tyra Banks," she joked.  "We do look so much alike.  People confuse us for sisters all the time!"