We talked to the Orange Is the New Black actress about why seeing plus-size women in lingerie is so important.
During last night's Emmy Awards, Lane Bryant's newest "I'm No Angel" commercial debuted, featuring three faces well-known in the plus-size modeling and body-pos worlds: Candice Huffine, who's shutting down archaic "runner's body" stereotypes, Denise Bidot, who is on a mission to make stretch marks beautiful, and Ashley Graham, who hardly needs an introduction at all anymore.
The fourth model rocking Lane Bryant's Cacique line of lingerie: Actress and body-positive activist Danielle Brooks, who, although most famous for playing Taystee on Orange Is the New Black, has also made a name for herself in the fashion world. Last year, Brooks walked the runway at the Christian Siriano for Lane Bryant show, and was featured in the brand's #ThisBody campaign. She also just added designer to her résumé, announcing last week on Instagram that she's collaborating with Universal Standard on a size-inclusive collection. And it's all part of her mission to let curvy women know they're just as deserving of feeling sexy—in both clothes and lingerie.
We talked to Brooks about what it's like to pose in your lingerie for a national campaign (#bloat is real), the workout that makes her feel badass, and how she's learned to love her love handles.
On getting over bloat insecurity during her shoot:
"I've done these kinds of shoots before, and most of the time I freak out a little bit when the picture comes out. I'm like, Oh my God this is the one they chose? And then I come back to really loving the picture. But this time, the challenge for me was actually during the shoot because I was feeling so bloated, and it was making me feel uncomfortable. I was worried about how I was looking in the lingerie. Then at one point, I put a picture on my Instagram of me just lifting my shirt up and I was like, you know what? Why am I even caring about this? This is my body, this is where it is today, and I've gotta roll with it. I've gotta love it. And that's what I did. I love the shots now and I hope that other women find the strength to love their body at whatever stage it's at—even when they're feeling their most bloated."
Why seeing plus-size women in lingerie is so important:
"For me it's important to be the representation that I wanted when I was a young girl. When I first saw this Lane Bryant campaign, before I had been a part of it, I saw the buses go by with these beautiful women that looked like me, being confident in their skin and not hiding their beauty. And I just remember being so excited every time I would walk down 42nd street and see a bus or go down the subway and see that campaign and feel that boost of confidence. So when it came time and I was asked to be a part of 'I'm No Angel 2.0,' I was overjoyed. For a lot of plus-size women, you don't see advertisements for yourself. That's why that representation really matters. When this commercial comes out people are going to be really excited because they're going to say, Oh, I can actually get that and I know where to shop for that. I know that it's going to fit my body that way. I see it on Danielle or I see it on Denise."
On finding her life's passion like her Orange Is the New Black character:
"In season 5, Taystee is at the forefront of fighting for justice and dealing with the loss of her friend. I feel that we all have missions and purposes in life. Part of mine is allowing women to feel beautiful in whatever they put on—or don't put on. So yes, it's important for me in my mission to continuously talk about it, to continuously challenge high-fashion designers to design for and dress women that are bigger, even though I'm not necessarily considered a model first. To continuously say: I want to see myself on screen, I want to see myself reflected on runways, I want to see myself reflected in magazines. It's not just some fantasy. We are here and we need to be seen. Our presence should be made."
THE DAY HAS COMEI’m designing @universalstandard's new Tria Collection! Beyond excited about this collaboration with this amazing brand! You'll soon be able to shop this look and a few others. Can't wait to show you more. For now, stay tuned! If you don’t already follow them on IG - do! #USxDB #Tria4US #nowyoucan #voiceofthecurves Check out link in bio.
Why she added clothing designer to her résumé:
"Designing wasn't something that I was always into, but I wasn't able to find clothes that I wanted to wear. I wanted to be able to walk into any store and have an idea of what I want and go and get it. And that hasn't been an option, so it only made sense to step into that position, because why not? Why not give that a chance? I wanted to create pieces that I want and also share that with every woman who has felt the same way. Clothing is so much a part of who we are, that's our way of expressing ourselves. So I think it's just great that we're finally starting to have options, whether it's with clothing or with Cacique, who I think is definitely leading the charge when it comes to intimates."
She continues to work out shirtless—and doesn't compare herself to anyone else:
"When I first made that Instagram video [about working out shirtless] I discovered that my challenge isn't to be like anyone else. My challenge is to be better than I was the day before. We have to remember that we can't look at the person beside us and say, oh I want what they have. That's sort of the norm of our society thanks to Instagram and Twitter and all of that, right? But that mindset is unhealthy. To compare yourself with anyone else is unrealistic. We're all made differently and we have to start to see the beauty within ourselves. So for me, I will continue to go to the gym with my shirt off. And it's not just for me but it's also for that woman who is struggling with confidence. And it's not just plus-size women. There are women who are size 0's and 2's that also are having moments of struggle to love their bodies. So I think that if I can walk confidently in my skin, then hopefully that will give someone else the confidence to do the same and not only stop judging themselves but to also stop judging others. I try to find the love within myself first and then hopefully that'll have a ripple effect on other people. That's my whole MO."
Why obsessed with sweating:
"I have a wonderful trainer who's actually plus-size named Morit Sommers, who has worked with Ashley Graham in the past. She's amazing. Normally we work out three times a week together doing strength-training and I really like weightlifting, but lately I've been obsessed with the stair-stepper. The stair-stepper has been my jam. I know people hate it but I love it. It's such a full-body workout. You work out all your muscles and then there's the cardio of it all. I can do that for 10 minutes and I'm sweating buckets! My normal cardio circuit when I'm on my own: 20 minutes on the stair-stepper, a mile on the treadmill, which takes me roughly 15 minutes, and then 10 minutes on the rower. I'll just do that and then I feel set for the day. If I can't do that, then I at least do 20 minutes of the stair-stepper. It's a good boost for me to start my day off and to wake up and to get a good solid sweat."
On ditching the scale—and the pressure—in the gym:
"As women, so much of our goal with working out is to lose weight, and sometimes in that desire to lose weight, we forget to take care of our spirit. We become so consumed with the scale. We forget that our bodies, more so than men, are so in flux all the time. Our hormones are changing constantly. I think sometimes we need to really give ourselves a break and say, You know what today I'm not going to focus on the scale. Today I'm going to focus on loving myself and getting to this gym and getting a good workout. That's all I'm going to focus on. I'm not going to worry about how many calories I burn. I'm not going to worry about whether I beat my running time. Today I'm just going to get in here and show myself love. That's been really helpful for me lately, because there are pressures of standing in your lingerie and exposing yourself like that—people are always ready to be cyberbullies. It's important for me to just get rid of all of that pressure."
The body insecurity she's finally getting over:
"I'm learning to love my love handles. For the longest time I hated them because I felt I couldn't wear certain outfits, and because I definitely did not see women in magazines showing them. But as time went on and I started to see women embracing their 'love handles' in commercials for brands like Lane Bryant, I realized it's normal and okay to own a pair myself."