Danielle Brooks Gets Real About Sizeism in Fashion

The first time Danielle Brooks saw herself on a billboard was an emotional experience. “This was baby Dani’s biggest dream come true and I was so elated that I got to be myself,” says Brooks of last year’s towering Times Square image bearing her body in all its natural beauty. “I didn’t have to lose 60 pounds or change. I got to take the time to embrace and love everything that the world had deemed imperfect.” The sight of Brooks on a billboard is no longer rare—she’s appeared several times in Lane Bryant’s campaigns, the latest of which launched earlier this month—but her trajectory is unprecedented. Since stepping into the spotlight with her role as Taystee on Netflix phenomenon Orange Is the New Black, the actress has been vocal about her love of fashion and the difficulties faced by those in Hollywood who are not a sample size. “When I first started, I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be so inclusive with my style and it was really hard,” says Brooks who found many labels unwilling to collaborate with her during awards season in spite of her accomplishments. “I haven’t been given an opportunity to wear these big-name designers, it has never been an option whether I had a stylist or didn’t. A lot of people won’t design for me, no matter how many SAG awards, Tony nominations, Grammy wins; it doesn’t matter.”

Given her profile and visibility on social media—2.2 million followers on Instagram and two hit television shows—Brooks’s experience of the fashion world has everything to do with the industry’s fraught relationship with size. Body diversity may have served as one of 2017’s key talking points, but the movement has yet to gain real traction on the runway, something Brooks finds telling. “I don’t know if fashion has made a wholehearted effort,” says Brooks. “It’s more like, ‘Oh this is a trend, let’s get on it.’ Then they bring in Ashley Graham, who is amazing, but isn’t the only plus-size model ever to exist. What about Marquita [Pring], Denise [Bidot], Philomena [Kwao], Tess Holliday? When I look at the ads I don’t see faces like mine, I see skinny white women.”

The actress hasn’t been shy about asking designers why they aren’t providing clothing in larger sizes either. The cagey responses she’s gotten, however, have been a source of frustration. “I think they’re trying, but they can go harder and we should not be easy on them,” she says. “I don’t think we should pat anybody on the back for [doing] something they should’ve done 30 years ago.” That said, Brooks applauds those designers in the industry who are helping to promote change—Christian Siriano, Chromat’s Becca McCharen, and Universal Standard’s Alexandra Waldman and Polina Veksler among them. And it certainly hasn’t dampened her fervor for fashion; you can hear the enthusiasm in her voice when she talks about runway trends or her shopping prizes—the latest, a pair of velvet ankle boots in millennial pink. She recently stepped into the role of designer with a newly launched Universal Standard collection, creating the pieces she always dreamed of wearing but could never find. “I remember my first SAG Awards I wore this dark blue dress by Christian Siriano and a girl recreated that entire look for her prom,” says Brooks. “I thought, Yes! It matters. I want women in huge numbers to feel motivated and feel like they are beautiful, but even if it’s just one [person], then my job is done.”

[“Source-vogue”]