The Bee Girl, aka Heather DeLoach, is now 26.

LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. — She was a little bit chubby and a whole lot dweeby, a freckled, bespectacled little girl who didn’t seem to care what other people thought.

She was, let’s not forget, dressed in a bee suit.

It took her exactly 4 minutes and 7 seconds to become one of the defining images of mid-1990s pop culture. That’s how long she was on screen, dancing her giddy, silly bee dance, in a music video for a lesser-known rock group called Blind Melon.

The Bee Girl, as she came to be known by just about everyone, rubbed elbows with Madonna and brought down the house at the MTV Video Music Awards. She traded jokes with Jay Leno, filmed interviews with “Inside Edition,” and quickly became far more popular than Blind Melon itself.

But that was a long time ago. These days, the Bee Girl goes by her real name, Heather DeLoach. She’s 26 years old, a bartender and aspiring actress with dog named Hemi and a condo in Laguna Niguel.

And, in recent years, she’s come to understand something very important about her alter ego.

The world needed a Bee Girl.

The Bee Girl wore dark-rimmed glasses, crooked antennae and a black-and-yellow tutu that didn’t quite fit right. She tap-danced, she waved her arms, she spun around — and, in her first moments of fame, she got laughed offstage.

That’s how the video to Blind Melon’s sleepy hit, “No Rain,” begins. The rest of the video follows the Bee Girl as she skips across the grimy streets of Los Angeles, doing her dance for the perplexed strangers she meets along the way.

It ends with her pushing open a gate and discovering a green field crowded with happy, dancing bee people just like her.

Heather DeLoach was 9 years old when she landed the gig, mostly because she looked like the drummer’s nerdy sister. She didn’t know much about dancing, so she just shimmied from side to side and let her arms go wild.

She still has those thick glasses in a keepsake chest in her bedroom, along with those crooked bee antennae. The Bee Girl, she says, “is a part of me now. I am her… I love it.”

She wrote on her MySpace page: “Some people call me ‘Bummble Bee’ (and) if you know me then you know why.” And that’s how she began to realize just what the Bee Girl had meant to so many people.

The letters come from short people and fat people, people who have been laughed at and hurt _ people who didn’t fit in. They have seen Heather’s name in a news story, and found her on MySpace… was she really the Bee Girl?

One man wrote about how badly he was teased growing up — and how he took comfort in the idea that even a little girl dressed like a bee could find a place to belong. It was the same for a woman who wrote about how other kids always made fun of her for being short; she, too, found inspiration in the Bee Girl.

Heather gets a few letters like those every week. “Have you ever felt like your heart is smiling?” she said. “It makes me feel like a good person.” She does her best to answer them all.

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