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Shania sheds inhibitions

Twain talks about her breasts, her belly and her music, too

A conversation with comely Canadian country music queen Shania Twain about her breasts is probably most men's idea of a good time.

But in this case, the Timmins native with the most talked-about midriff in music today is explaining the "empowered female" theme on her week-old third album, Come On Over. Song titles on the release, which Twain co-wrote with her husband, rock producder Mutt Lange, include Man! I Feel Like A Woman! and If You Wanna Touch Her, Ask!

"I'm singing about the things I'm singing about because I really feel like it's time for me, anyway, to stop being so inhibited," said Twain, 32, in town yesterday.

"I know people think, 'Well, she's not very inhibited, she bares her midriff.' It's like, 'Well, big deal. I bare my midriff. That's really sexual.' I think when it comes to the lyrics, it's more based on, 'Look, if I'm a C-cup I should still be able to wear a T-shirt the same way that a girl with a A-cup does.' "

Twain -- drop-dead gorgeous at 9 o' clock in the morning (there's a makeup artist hovering nearby) and quietly sexy in a purple velvet blazer, black leather pants and high heels -- eventually gets to the point.

"I used to be very insecure about having large breasts," she said. "When I was younger I was very overdeveloped, I would say. And I used to wear layers, I would never wear a bathing suit. I was very insecure about the whole thing because guys stare at your breasts all the time. So now I've decided, 'You know what, no. I'm going to feel comfortable with my breasts.' If they want to look at me as a sex object, that's fine, but that's not going to make me go crawl into the corner."

Still, Twain, who begins rehearsals in January for her first headlining world tour next spring (expect a mix of arenas, amphitheatres and smaller theatres, with a Toronto date early on) is not comfortable showing off her body.

"I'm very conservative. I am the last person you'll see in a string bikini on the beach. Forget it! I'm not a Baywatch girl."

I interject at this point that if the perfectly-shaped Twain's not comfortable enough, then we're all doomed.

"It's not a good thing that I feel that way," she explained. "I think those things are instilled from teenage years."

Twain, the second-oldest of five siblings orphaned when their parents were killed in a car crash 11 years ago, has certainly come a long way. She got her start singing as a teenager in community centres, senior citizens homes and even bars after the liquor curfew went into effect.

But despite her 1995 breakthrough, The Woman In Me, which sold 12 million copies worldwide and became the best-selling record in history by a female country artist, there was criticism when she didn't tour.

"I was expecting it to a degree," said Twain. "But I didn't expect people to just disregard the fact that I had been singing live my whole life. I just got to the point where I thought, 'I'm not even going to worry about defending myself.' I'll just wait 'til the time comes and then everybody will just see it's second nature to me to be out on stage."

What isn't second nature are TV appearances. Twain, who is due to appear on Regis And Kathie Lee on Thursday, arrived in Toronto after a reserved performance of her second single, Don't Be Stupid, on Jay Leno last Friday night.

"That's all very new to me and a little awkward, I have to say," said Twain, who watched a tape of herself afterwards. "I hate watching myself. I'm just definitely not my best. I'm a perfectionist, and if I can't do my best, I'm very disappointed. And that (TV) is an environment where I just do not do my best. Maybe in time I will."

Twain launched Come On Over last Tuesday with an autograph signing in Minneapolis that drew 20,000 people. A similar event in Calgary on Saturday saw 27,000 fans in attendance.

Despite the fan feedback and the first single, Love Gets Me Every Time, currently at No. 1 on country music singles charts in Canada and the U.S., Twain doesn't expect Come On Over to do as well as The Woman In Me.

"The goal for me for this album was not necessarily to make a bigger album, it was to make a better album," said Twain. "And I think I've done that."

JANE STEVENSON, Toronto Sun, November 11/97

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