So, I’m in love with Danielle Brooks. And I find it hard not feeling like we’re star-crossed baes and/or BFFs.
We’re the same age. We both grew up in the Carolinas (me North, her South). We both went to a magnet boarding school for our last two years of high school, even though I’ll concede that hers was probably far cooler than mine. Where as she was going to school for the arts, I was going to a math and science nerd haven whose mascot was a unicorn and whose fight song included reciting calculus equations and pi to the fifth decimal place. Forgive me Danielle, the founders of my school knew not what they were doing, and I didn’t know any better.
But more than parallel constellations of adolescence, I see myself in Danielle’s body positivity posts and campaigns. Almost two weeks ago, she launched the #LoveYourShape campaign with People StyleWatch to empower women to honor their bodies, whatever size and shape they come in. The announcement was met with post after post on instagram showcasing women taking the lens into our own hands, defying the gaze that would dictate whether we can wear bikinis, show ourselves in our underwear or exercise clothing, or even the shadow-hued silhouette of our naked bodies.
On Wednesday, Danielle was also willing to let us all know that even in the intentional pursuit of honoring ourselves, we aren’t immune to moments of doubt and shame. Standing eye to eye with herself in the mirror, hand to hip, smile quipped and iPhone ready, Danielle let us in on a special moment — the first time she allowed herself to go to the gym without a shirt on.
Unlearning the selves we have been told to be in order to be the selves we are on our terms is, without a doubt, beautiful. But it’s also a brave exercise in agency against a world more interested in figuring out ways for us to hate rather than worship the specific bodies we carry in all of their unique glory.
How often have we been told that we have to get a bikini body instead of getting a bikini to put our bodies in? How often have our bodies been shamed from breaking convention?
For black women, we’ve seen this as far back as the spectacle made of Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, in London in the early 19th century and its echoes in Caroline Wozniacki’s impersonation of Serena Williams on the tennis court in 2012. We saw this when Rush Limbaugh had the audacity of shaming First Lady Michelle Obama for not “project[ing] the image of women that you see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated” as if that isn’t already predetermined by radicalized ideas of beauty. Not to mention the New York Times article trying to question Serena’s gender presentation because of her muscular build, despite being one of the greatest athletes of our time.
We are constantly told no and pressured to internalize a pathological desire to deny ourselves.
Danielle’s latest selfie reminds us that it’s okay to stop this. It reminds us breaking the habit is not necessarily for the faint of heart, but that even when weary, it’s okay to look ourselves in the eye with unwavering and unconditional compassion because there is no better moment to say yes to ourselves than right now.
So yes, Danielle!
And yes to everyone out there on this road to recognizing their right to grant themselves their own affirmation.
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