Danielle Brooks has never been one to shy away from challenging material. As the Orange Is The New Black star explained in a 2016 interview with Vanity Fair, “I’m proud to be a part of the show that is not just entertaining but really educating people on the issues that are going on—the Say Her Name, Black Lives Matter, the I Can’t Breathe movements; trans issues; immigration issues; prison reform. We’re telling a lot of stories that are really important, and they’re really true to the world that we live in.” Meanwhile, in her Tony-nominated role in The Color Purple, she explored the collision of racial oppression and family dynamics in the 1930s South — a storyline that feels even more relevant today.
Offscreen, Brooks has been just as ambitious, positioning herself as an outspoken leader in the body positivity movement with her hashtag, #voiceofthecurves, a Lane Bryant modeling gig, and her role as a spokesperson for Refinery29's 67% Project, which focuses on representation of plus-size women in mainstream media. Now, just in time for Take Back The Beach, Refinery29's annual celebration of beach bodies of all sizes, Brooks is sharing some advice she wish she'd been given as a teenager. Do yourself a favor, and read on. Most of these life lessons — even the bit about cheerleading uniforms — are surprisingly applicable over a decade after prom.
Dear 15-year-old Danie,
I must say, you are one fearless chick! A lot of blessings and disappointments will come your way this year, and in the years to come, but I want you to continue to practice patience. Let God write your story. It will always be brighter than you could ever dream of — so trust her.
Because creating lists is so much a part of your DNA, here’s a list of things to remember as you go through the next 10 to 15 years of your life.
1. Keep journaling. You don't know this yet, but one day you will write a book. The writing will be so much easier because you took a little extra time out of your day to journal. And when you get older, you’ll laugh at how boy-crazy you were and how many times you threatened to run away from home.
2. Mom isn’t always right, but she was right about one thing: You do not have to wear your shorts so short.
3. You really quit cheerleading because of how you felt you looked in your skirt? Okay! Never quit anything again because you're scared of what others might think of you — unless you become a stripper, only exception. But even then, quit because you want to.
4. I know sometimes we think youthfulness will last forever, but girl, it doesn’t. Stretch. A lot. And trade that orange soda in for water. Trust me, it’ll keep those arms and thighs remaining as flawless as ever, honey. Also, adult acne is real. With all the makeup you’ll have to wear, it’s just bound to happen. So, invest in your moneymaker. One day you’ll meet an amazing dermatologist, and he’ll get you on the right track.
5. Love your stretch marks Danie. They are the roadmap of your strength.
6. Spoiler alert: You won't be asked out to the prom. One day that boy you had a crush on, you’ll run into him at the grocery store and discover he has three baby mamas and works at Verizon. Not even as a manager. And the other dude, you’ll realize he doesn’t even have enough courage to pursue his dreams. How would he ever be able to handle yours? Again, be patient. One day you will bring all the boys to the yard. They will be sliding in those DMs girl. That phrase will make more sense in 2017.
Stretch marks are the roadmaps of your strength.
7. Shopping gets better, I promise. I know you’re starting to develop and trendy clothes are hard to find. I mean the only places that carry your jean size are Walmart and Catos, for God’s-sake. But trust, it gets better. One day you will shock yourself by how many women you inspire through your fashion and your willingness to be open about your journey with your body. Continue to show people how to live unapologetically in their magic.
8. You are different, Danielle. You are not an ordinary 15 year old, and that is okay. That doesn’t make you better or less than anyone. But what you must not do is dim your light. You have a lot of love to give and believe it or not, it is not as easily accessible for others to give the same. People have a lot of hang ups that will make them guarded, but continue to operate out of love. It will always win.
9. This year will emotionally take a toll on you. But just breathe and cry as much as you want. Your grandmother and godmother will both turn into your angels that will protect you, give you wisdom, and remind you to love as purely as you can.
10. Keep up with your family. Pick up the phone as much as you can. Reach out as much as you can. They will be the only people that will consistently love you and be there through the good and the bad. Never stop praying for them.
11. One last thing, follow this mantra until your final year:
Stay fearless and keep swimming.
And never forget your inside joke with your best friend who you’ll meet in two years and nickname Bernie Mac, “I’m living (deep breath) I’m breathing (another deep breath).”
I love you Sunshine,