How ‘Orange Is The New Black’s Danielle Brooks Learned To Love Her Body

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If you, like us, can’t wait for Netflix’s ‘Orange Is The New Black’ to return to our on-demand devices, you’re probably trying to get your fix wherever you can by watching re-runs, keeping up do date with new cast news, and no doubt you’ve watched the Season 3 trailer a gazillion times!

One of the show’s boldest and most badass characters Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson, played by Danielle Brooks, is formidable on screen, and off screen she is just as fierce, which is why she is one of our faves. She has been outspoken about how the show has single-handedly redefined the way we perceive “beauty” on mainstream television, and sparked a trend for many other shows to follow suit.

And her own perspective on beauty is one of the reasons she is proud of what OITNB is doing. In an essay for Glamour magazine, Danielle talks about her own journey to body acceptance and why diversity in society is a huge part of that.

“I struggled every day tricking myself into appearing confident. After reading over old journal entries, I realized some days were less successful than others. I came across one that took me aback. In this entry, I had written about how insecure I was about my weight. I wasn’t able to wear the flared jeans and cute tops the other girls wore—they didn’t come in my size. On top of that, I was dark-skinned and had natural hair. By the standard definition of beauty I had absorbed from the world around me, I had three strikes against me: I was too dark, too curly, and too fat,” she begins.

Like every girl who has ever written a diary as a teen can identify with, Danielle is definitely not alone in feeling like she was an outsider because of her appearance. But it had some pretty dark effects on her.

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“The truth of the matter was I wasn’t happy in my skin; I laughed to hide my pain, and cared deeply what my peers thought of my appearance—to the point that I even was having suicidal thoughts. But you wouldn’t have known it.”

She once told a magazine that her mother used to make her go for a walk around the neighborhood as exercise, but she would hide behind the house because she didn’t want the boys on her street to “laugh at the fat girl walking around the cul-de-sac”.

There are numerous studies which try to examine where the root of body insecurities stem from. And it seems with the release of each one, the startling fact is that the average age is younger and younger. Just recently, a UC Davis study found that the influence of social media and harmful trends like “thinspiration” or “fitspo” have played a huge role in how young women view their own bodies. And a new UK study found that girls as young as 6 are dieting and reporting dissatisfaction with their body image. It is shocking!

Danielle says she didn’t used to feel negative about her body until middle school, when a woman from her church chastised her for having stretch marks on her arm as a young girl. That’s where it all started for her, and as she grew up and dreamed of being an actress yet saw no one on TV that remotely resembled her appearance, it made her even more determined to change the status quo.

“I took acting classes, where I felt free and accepted. Free to let out the biggest screams, to roll around the floor like a cat, and to cry sloppy tears without being judged. Accepted by this tribe of fellow performers, unique individuals who valued me for my talent and my boldness and not for what I looked like (or didn’t look like). In acting I found my confidence, my joy, my safe place,” she said.

Of course once she started getting the fame she dreamed of, Danielle was bombarded with a whole new round of insecurities.

“Being in the public eye magnifies my “imperfection” to an insane degree. Attending the Golden Globes for the first time, I was aware that the majority of the other actresses in the audience didn’t look like me. But you see, the average woman is a size 12 to 14. Those actresses don’t look like most women. I’m not saying those actresses should gain 30 pounds, but I am posing the question, that if art is supposed to reflect life then why don’t the red carpets and magazines reflect reality?”

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Great question! It is something we and many other female advocates have been scratching our heads trying to figure out for a long time.

Danielle says she wants the media to be representative of all body shapes skin tones and backgrounds.

“Now that I am blessed to be that reflection I was once looking for, I’m making a promise to speak out for that little girl that I used to be. I might not have the power to change what media puts out there, or to single-handedly convince young girls like me that they should love themselves. But what I can do is start with me: living each day, embracing who I am.”

She tells readers that she will no longer be hiding her stretch marks, legs or arms in fear of making someone else uncomfortable, and mentions that whenever you see an image of her baring her midriff, she wants you to know it is her reminder to herself and the world that she knows she is beautiful.

Essentially it is her way of sticking her middle finger up in the air to all the haters and putting critics on notice that if they dare to dis her appearance, it’s not going to affect her anymore!

That attitude of confidence within is something which sounds easier in theory than often in practice. We often need motivation and encouragement from those around us to remember who we are and that true confidence does not come from external sources like fashion.

A new campaign out of Australia called ‘Don’t Dis My Appearance’ created by the Butterfly Foundation which tackles eating disorders in youth is literally giving the middle finger to negative body image.

“Painting your middle finger is a cheeky and symbolic way of saying: ‘I am more than my appearance, and no-one has a right to judge me based on how I look’,” said Christine Morgan, CEO of the Butterfly Foundation to Huffpost.

“We live in a society where, whilst it’s politically correct and most of us can say: ‘Hey it’s who we are and not what we look like that counts’, scratch the surface and there is a great deal of emphasis put on what we look like,” she went on to say about the controversial yet cheeky campaign.

The idea that we are valued for our looks above all else is a dangerous one that our society perpetuates from all angles. We see it in how women are judged in politics, the way they are portrayed in advertising, and even the way women’s bodies are discussed in everyday conversations. We need to change this and with celebrities like Danielle Brooks and many others speaking up about this culture we have created, a subtle shift is being created and we love it!

At the end of her essay she shared a beautiful quote by Marian Williamson: “As we shine our light, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence liberates others.”

To Danielle we say bravo for speaking out and influencing a generation of girls who need to also know that they are beautiful, just as you figured out. And to all the people out there suffering under the weight of negative body image, take a leaf out of the Butterfly Foundation’s awesome campaign and give the middle finger to body shaming!

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One Comment

  1. Pingback: How Ebony Mag Brought Intersectionality Into The Body Image Convo With These 4 Cover Girls - GirlTalkHQ

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