Danielle Brooks, who play Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson on Orange Is the New Black, reveals her struggles with her weight, feeling judged in Hollywood, and considering suicide in a personal essay for Glamour.
Brooks, 25, describes herself as a happy and confident kid who had no problems with her body. Then, during middle school, a woman at her church pointed out her stretch marks, and everything changed:
As I walked home from Bible study one Wednesday night, she stopped me and exclaimed, “Danielle you’ve got stretch marks on your arms!” and proceeded to take her pointer finger and identify the four or five tiny lines that were starting to form. She continued, “You’re too young to be getting stretch marks,” though she was covered in them herself. And that’s when the cycle of judging myself began.
Brooks spent the next several years feeling deeply unhappy. She describes feeling embarrassed that the clothes other girls wore at school didn't even come in her size, and that she often used laughter as a way to mask her pain. She writes, "I had three strikes against me: I was too dark, too curly, and too fat."
Eventually, Brooks took solace in acting classes:
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.
Today, Brooks still feels insecure sometimes; she describes her first appearance at the Golden Globes, where she knew going in that the majority of the other actresses in attendance would be smaller than her. But she now feels comfortable enough in her own skin to know that most women look nothing like Hollywood stars, and poses the question, "if art is supposed to reflect life then why don’t the red carpets and magazines reflect reality?"
Her message of learning to love and accept herself, flaws and all ought to encourage us to feel empowered no matter our size. We can’t wait to see her on the third season of the Orange is the New Black, set to premiere in June.