The Only Way Is Essex: Maria Fowler transforms in to Jessie J and Madonna and admits to starving herself (PICTURES)

Showing off her toned stomach as Jessie J and Madonna for Closer magazine’s exclusive Queens of Pop photo shoot, reality star Maria Fowler oozes body-confidence.

Maria admits she feels like a new woman compared with last summer, when the reality TV star was dangerously obsessed with her weight and on antidepressants, after a story broke accusing her of working as a prostitute.

As Maria opens up to Closer about her new curves – she’s gone from a size 8 to a 10 – she admits falling in love with her footballer boyfriend Lee Croft, 27, is the key to her newfound happiness. And she refuses to let anyone or anything bring her down.

We’re speaking to Maria in the wake of a “fake abs” scandal, in which she was accused of having painted muscles on with fake tan when she was pictured with a mysterious new “six-pack” on holiday in Antigua in March. In fact, the glamour model, who left TOWIE in January, is keen to set the record straight.

She hits back at critics, saying: “I’d had a spray tan, which I’d asked to be quite dark, then Lee picked me up in the car. The tan just dried oddly in the creases of my skin. Loads of people commented that I’d put on weight when they saw the photo, which is irresponsible as I’m only 9st and a size 10.

“When I found out about the story, my stomach flipped. It’s obvious they weren’t fake abs and I don’t even like that muscly, sculpted look. To be ridiculed like that is just embarrassing.”

Maria, 25, who’s 5ft 5, may now be a healthy weight, but she admits she starved herself last July in a bid to go from a size 10 to an 8. She worryingly spent a month (rather than the recommended 5-10 days) on the “attack” phase of the Dukan diet – the initial phase where salad, carbs and fruit are banned and you can only eat oatbran and unlimited protein.

Maria, who suffered from extreme hunger, mood swings and headaches on the diet, says: “I’m not saying I had an eating disorder, but I was definitely obsessed with my size. The more people told me I’d lost weight, the more I carried on. I was really thin. I don’t know how much I lost, but I went from a size 10 to a skinny size 8 and was around 8st. I remember seeing photos of me in an orange dress on a night out at Nobu in London and I had a lollipop head.”

Maria admits falling in love with Derby County player Lee – who’s currently on loan to Scottish Premier League team St Johnstone – means she’s happier than ever, and that includes her body.

She says: “I used to think about getting liposuction, but now I’m with Lee – who I met in Marbella last August – I’m not bothered.”

“If I feel paranoid about my looks, Lee just tells me he loves me as I am. Now, when I look at my naked body in the mirror, I focus on the bits I like, rather than the parts I want to change.

And Maria, who lives with Lee in Perth, Scotland, has another incentive to stay at a healthy weight – she wants to have a baby. She reveals: “We talk about having a family a lot and I know that when you’re too skinny it’s hard to fall pregnant. Lee would like two children, while I want three. We’ll probably have kids before we get married – starting a family is more important to me than having a big white wedding.”

The full interview and more pictures appear in this week’s Closer magazine, on sale now (Tuesday).

Lisa McGarry

Lisa has been watching reality TV for too long now. She won't do any housework unless 'Big Brother' announces it over the tannoy and everything she does has to be put to a public vote!