CAN A GAL with a normal-sized body catch a break? You'd think folks had never seen a real woman before.

For those who have forgotten or been brainwashed by too many Playboy centerfolds, let me issue this reminder: Women have curves. Many have cellulite, too - unless it has been airbrushed into oblivion. A lot of women have fleshy thighs, too, even if her weight is proportionate to her height.

Or even if she's a size 2, as Jennifer Love Hewitt says she is. By now, you've heard of Hewitt's saga - bikini-gate is how I'm referring to it - that was set off by the publication of photos of Hewitt taken during a recent Hawaii vacation with her fiance. Her crime? Having an hourglass shape and - ohmygosh - actual flesh on her thighs and butt. In other words, she's not emaciated. She has a perfectly normal body. The woman has starred in underwear commercials for Hanes, for goodness' sakes.

But the way some folks in the blogosphere have carried on, you'd think Hewitt had been photographed inside a real-life fat suit with her head shoved inside a tub of Ben & Jerry's. TMZ.com said, "We know what you ate this summer, Love everything!"

To her credit, instead of skulking off to Jenny Craig, the star of the TV show "The Ghost Whisperer" and the film "I Know What You Did Last Summer" posted a statement on her Web site, pointing out, "A size 2 is not fat! Nor will it ever be. And being a size 0 doesn't make you beautiful."

People magazine put a photo of her in the offending two-piece swimsuit on its cover. And while it doesn't have the digitally altered look we've come to expect of Hollywood starlets, she looks completely normal. Good even.

But Hewitt is a celebrity. And we just expect more of our stars than we do of everyday folks we might see frolicking in the surf at the Jersey shore. Starlets such as Hewitt are supposed to dress way better than we do, be happier, have more stuff, etc. Hewitt knew the superficial Hollywood game before she made it onto her first red carpet. To make it in Tinsel Town, it's usually not enough for a woman to be talented - she has to also look the part. Hey, it goes with the territory, as the saying goes.

The only reason that Hewitt's bikini-gate is worth noting is because of what it says to young women. And if the ladies in the single-digit section of the clothing rack are getting slammed for being overweight, what hope do the rest of us have? As Hewitt said in her statement, "I'm not upset for me, but for all of the girls out there that are struggling with their body image."

I know plenty of women who would love to look half as good as Hewitt does in that black bikini. The average American woman wears a size 14 and will probably never squeeze into a size 2 in her lifetime. Speaking of clothing sizes, there are dozens of e-mails on Gawker.com debating whether or not Hewitt is even a true size 2 - as if that matters.

When it seemed that this whole silly affair was about to die down, former model Janice Dickerson proclaimed on NBC's "Today Show" yesterday that Hewitt is a normal-sized woman. I was feeling good about that until she added, "You want to see someone who's fat - 'I'm sorry, Tyra' - Tyra Banks is fat." It wasn't clear if she was joking or not. *

Have you peeped a hot trend that hasn't been reported? E-mail heyjen@phillynews.com and let me know what you know.