Actress Danielle Brooks has had a very good year. From being named one of People magazine’s Most Beautiful Women of 2017 to having nabbed a role in the new Lane Bryant #ImNoAngel campaign, which celebrates women with curves through the brand’s Cacique Intimates line, the Orange Is the New Black star is at the top of her game. And she wants to help lift other women up too.
“I just want people to understand the power of when you see yourself for the first time,” Brooks tells Yahoo Lifestyle about her part in the new ad campaign, recalling her reaction when she first saw an #ImNoAngel billboard with models including Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine last year. She says she loved seeing that the women were as curvy as she was, and felt like she was finally being represented.
Now she’s got her own billboard, part of a new campaign that focuses on a game of truth or dare in which Brooks and three other models — Graham, Huffine, and Denise Bidot — share their own and then challenge other women to do the same.
Brooks’s truth is this: “I have stretch marks. I have always had stretch marks.” And her dare? “Start loving you. Because you’re helping someone else love herself.”
For someone like Brooks, who exudes body confidence, it’s hard to imagine her any other way. But her journey there has been “ever-shifting, ever-changing. There are days that I have to act my way into that confidence, act my way into loving my body or loving my stretch marks and all of those things.” She adds that sometimes people seem to get confused with the act of taking off your clothes as being body positive, noting through laughter, “The reason I’m taking off my clothes is because we are selling lingerie! We’re selling actual bra and panties! You know we’re not selling a lamp. I’m not selling body lotion. I think body positivity … starts within yourself and how you love yourself and treat your body.”
For Brooks, her move towards self-love got a major boost when she was named one of People‘s Most Beautiful Women, becoming only the second dark-skinned woman, after Lupita Nyong’o, to make the list. So to be seen “as beautiful in a world that deems the ‘European look’ as the only definition of beauty,” she says, “I was floored, and just a whole window of opportunities in my mind had opened up to what I can do.”
But that doesn’t mean she didn’t have some self-doubt to overcome before actually going through with the photo shoot. The actress in fact tried to back out because of the story’s no-makeup clause, though she soon asked herself, “Why are you judging your beauty and defining yourself as not beautiful enough to be photographed with no makeup?” she admits. “And I had to check myself.”
Her role in the Lane Bryant campaign has been more of a natural, as Brooks has plenty of first-hand experience as the very consumer the ads are targeting, finding frustration over the years when searching for stylish clothing that’s flattering to her figure.
Often, she explains, “things can look boxy or they just completely don’t fit,” adding that there’s also not as much for her to choose from. “The item that I love so much in a 2, I should be able to find in a 14.” She adds, “Why can’t I go into a store and try on the size that I want versus having to just look at it [online] and guess if this is going to fit my hips or not,” says Brooks. “It’s unfair.”
Although she has found some success. In Brooks’s search for lingerie, Cacique had become her golden ticket. “Having the proper undergarments for an outfit is crucial,” says the Netflix star. “Cacique has always come through for me. … I can always find a bra that works.“
Still, because plus-size fashion is an area that still needs a lot of work, Brooks is taking her involvement one step further, getting set to launch her own clothing collection with plus-size label Universal Standard. In preparation, through her work with Lane Bryant, she’s gathering knowledge about the fashion industry and about who sets the standards for plus-size fashion, questioning whether it is mainly CEOs and other executives who control the brands, or if it is “really an issue of material and the cost of materials.” Either way, the OITNB star is on a mission to find out.
In the meantime, Brooks would like to effect change when it comes to the language we use to refer to women like Brooks, Graham, Huffine, and Bidot. While she has moments when she wants to “claim the word fat and take it back and … wear it proudly,” there are other days when she feels completely disgusted by the term. Ultimately, women need a new descriptor — beyond plus-size, curvy, and fat — that isn’t overused, she says. “Can we just come up with a new funky word to describe who we are?”
Although she doesn’t have the answer yet, she does know that it’s time for bigger women to become normalized in the fashion community. “We don’t want it to be plus-size fashion,” she exclaims. “We just want it to be fashion!”
Read More from Yahoo Lifestyle:
• Lane Bryant aired Victoria’s Secret takedown during the Emmys
• What ‘plus size’ means to Nia Jax, Christian Siriano, Leslie Jones, others
• Popular plus size mall brand Torrid showed at Fashion Week with all curvy models