If Miss Universe has a weight problem, what hope is there for the rest of us?

The depressing news came from Venezuela, home of Alicia Machado, who won the beauty pageant in May. An unnamed official of the Miss Venezuela pageant told the Reuters news service that the 19-year-old had put on 27 pounds since the contest and now weighs 130. She's five-foot-seven.

The pageant official claimed that the Miss Universe organization, headquartered in Los Angeles, told Machado to lose the weight or risk losing her title. "She obviously has a weight problem, which affects her swimsuit contracts" this official added, "but this does not mean she will be stripped of her crown."

However, in a statement today, Martin Brooks, president of Miss Universe, Inc., denied the report. "We are extremely happy with Alicia," he said, "and feel she fulfills her obligations as Miss Universe 1996 exceptionally well."

Brooks said that the organization is "distressed" about reports that Machado could lose her title because of her weight. In fact, he said, "a weight requirement is not part of our titleholder employment contract." The reigning Miss Universe works for a year as an employee of the pageant.

Though Machado told reporters after the pageant that she planned to "do something I haven't been able to do in three weeks: eat, eat, eat and sleep," a spokeswoman for Miss Universe, Inc., couldn't confirm reports about Machado's current condition because, she said, the organization never asks winners or even contestants for their measurements. "It's not important," she explained. "We're not looking for the perfect woman."

But you can judge for yourself how well rested and fed she is by tuning in to the Miss Teen USA contest on CBS tomorrow night. Machado makes a guest appearance.

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