Anyone who follows Danielle Brooks on Instagram knows that the “Orange is the New Black” and “The Color Purple” star is more than comfortable with her gorgeous size 16 body. But she didn’t always feel that way.
On Tuesday (September 27)—in an interview with Refinery 29 that served as a kickoff for plus-size positivity campaign The 67% Project—the Tony Award-nominated actress talked about her journey to self expectance, how being Black impacts how she views her body and how she really felt about that Ebony cover.
Here are some key takeaways from the interview, which you can read in full here:
On how her roles have influenced her body image:
Right when I graduated college, that was the struggle. For me it was like, “Should my hair be curly, should it be straight? I definitely can’t change my skin color so that’s gonna have to stay the same (laughter). With my body, do I get smaller or do I get bigger? Do I really play into that funny girl who’s overweight?” So that was my struggle: figuring out which box am I gonna put…which box am I gonna allow other people to put me in.
Then I booked “Orange Is The New Black,” which I was also terrified of. I was like “Oh, gosh,” because at the time I didn’t get the full script. So I was like, “Am I about to play a stereotype?” All I had was one page of sides. I didn’t know who else was in this script. I’m thinking, “I’m gonna be that girl, right? The funny Black girl, the funny big Black girl.” Then I come to set and I see all these women that are different shapes and sizes, some of which are very similar to mine. I see that I’m not the only Black girl in the room, I’m not the only person of color, I’m not the only plus-size woman. That was eye-opening to me. That’s when I realized, “Oh, I can be myself in this business. There’s a place for me.”
On the intersectionality of body positivity:
It’s interesting because I think, in our community, it’s more accepted to be bigger. People don’t really look at it as a size thing. It’s more about curves—do you got a big butt, do you got nice hips, big hips? People are trying to have that Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian type of look…. Growing up, you wanted to look like the video girls because they had the small waist and the big butts. I grew up in South Carolina where most of us was eating cornbread and chicken, and we all was thick [laughter]. So it was ok, but to a certain extent. It was ok in the family, but when it came to like dating, or say, looking for a prom dress, it wasn’t okay. But I think it’s more of a pressure for African American women to have a certain type of body shape. I think it’s deemed ok to be plus-size if it’s in the right places.
On why her industry needs to do better:
So, if what we do is art, it’s supposed to reflect the world that we live in. And we’re totally not doing that. I do think we, as plus-size women, have a long way to go when it comes to TV. But then you do have my girl Gabby—Gabourey Sidibe—who’s doing her thing, but she’s been out here for a while. And there’s Amber Riley; there’s a few of us sprinkled out there, but that again leaves me feeling like we’re the two percent. And I don’t want to feel that way in this industry, nah. That’s just not the school I come from. Some people are comfortable being that one or two percent because they’re like, ‘This is my lane.’ But I want to see us all shine. I want to see us all to be out here getting this money and getting these awesome roles. That’s what I want to see. When I win, you win. When I see Ashley Graham killing it, that’s a plus for me. That’s our stars rising together. That’s how I feel about it. So I damn sure want to see more of us.
On how her view of her body has shifted:
In surprising ways actually. For instance, the Ebony magazine cover. I was so excited about getting to be on the cover with three other women that were curvy. Then I ran into the editor-in-chief of Ebony magazine at an event and she showed me the cover, and I was like, “Are you freaking kidding me? They put my size on there; it says I’m a size 16! No! No one is gonna know how big I am!” (Laughter) I was terrified, I was really nervous, saying, “This is not the best angle!” I was freaking out because I was still dealing with my own issues. [Now] I can step into a room and feel comfortable. It’s really important to me. What I’ve learned in school, in college, and from my mom, is to be fearless. To challenge yourself. A part of that is challenging myself to love myself, putting myself out there. I really do feel healed by seeing that magazine, and it was very moving for myself to relax and say, “No Dani. You are beautiful. So fucking what you’re a size 16.”