For those of us who don't exactly embrace our bodies -- and frankly, I don't know any women who do -- I'd like to give a strong shout-out to Melissa McCarthy.

The actress stars in a movie coming out Friday called "Spy." She is funny. She's self-deprecating. She's pretty. She has dimples. She's talented. She's overweight.

Which one do you think of first?

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If it's overweight, you're like 9 out of 10 women who judge themselves as harshly as they do others. You're like me and my sister and my friends, who identify this extremely talented woman by her weight. Why? Because we define ourselves that way.

Don't get me wrong. I've had moments where I think I've looked good. I have photographs, looking back at after a few years, where I look better than I thought when I first saw the picture. (I even have a picture of me in a little black dress that my family is instructed to give to the police should I ever get kidnapped.)

I've gotten whistles, men crossing the street to meet me, I've turned some heads. I know this because my sister has told me. I know this because my mother has said it. They wouldn't lie. My thoughts about that? That "they" were probably looking at the run in my stocking or the smear of mascara under my eye or my bad haircut.

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The voice in my head tells the world that I am being humble or self-deprecating, when it's really the meanest, harshest judgmental bitch (let's call her J.B.) you will ever run across.

That judgmental voice is the one that sees every flaw, every drooping breast, every laugh line, every gray hair. It rarely takes in the whole picture. I mean, if you put the "Mona Lisa" under a microscope, all you'd see are brush strokes. So is it fair what I do to myself? No. It's not even sane.

And how many times have I let this J.B. prevent me from doing something? How many times has J.B. made me wear a jacket because my butt or my stomach wasn't a sculpted, muscle-gleaming body fit for the cover of an exercise DVD? Too many.

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When I was a kid, I idolized Carol Burnett. I wanted to be her. I wanted to have a TV show and talk to the audience, wear all those dresses, do skits on movies and place bets on how soon any skit could make Harvey Korman laugh hysterically.

Here's the thing: I am funny. I am kind of a ham and I could have done something along those lines. I went to school for TV production. I've performed stand-up comedy. I tell a great story. But J.B. hated the way I looked on television, so I went behind the scenes as a writer -- the underground for performers at heart.

I've done a lot of work to shut down J.B. And I've had a lot of validation -- from men, women, family, friends, strangers. It feels nice. But there is an inordinate amount of attention placed on being pretty, or perfect, and people think you don't have any problems because you look good. Not so. J.B. goes into full-frontal assault at those times, and it's taken repeated and consistent efforts to shut her down and go forth as a woman of grace, talent and imperfections -- and even more work to embrace all of it.

So, thank you, Melissa McCarthy. Brave, to-hell-with-ya smiling Melissa McCarthy. Melissa McCarthy, who does physical comedy as well as my childhood hero. The fearless actress who uses every gift in her arsenal, one who never plays a character too fat for a man to be interested in, or the overweight (read: lonely, single) friend.

No, she plays strong confident, endearing characters. She has carried the lead in more than one movie and stolen the show in others. Melissa McCarthy, who is inspiring girls and young women who don't feel pretty enough or thin enough to be in front of a camera and need to borrow that bravery until they find it within themselves. Melissa McCarthy, who has shown me, more than any of those svelte, hot-yoga-ing, leaf-eating actresses, what beauty and courage are all about.

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Reader Maureen H. Cronin lives in Long Beach.