Black British, faith filled, curvy actress with a love for food, great music, good movies, life changing literature and awkward moments.
Black British, faith filled, curvy actress with a love for food, great music, good movies, life changing literature and awkward moments.
If there’s one thing that helps me on my journey as an actress its being able to hear about the testimonies and celebrate fellow actresses. Part of my journey to learning to love myself is to love others and seeing others succeed is a sure way to fill me with joy, plus who doesn’t want to hear about women in any industry slaying and conquering?
There was a time where certain things weren’t discussed and the lack of representation across industries was one of them. There was a norm and we stuck to that norm because the status quo was held with more regard than the ushering in of progress, which for most of us could not have been more detrimental to a lot of us as as we grew up, but things are changing.
Now we seem to be much more comfortable opening up and having honest dialogues about where we are at and who we are and trying to debunk and undo years of unhealthy brainwashing. I love that we are using the arts to help change and challenge perspectives so that the audiences being reached are as diverse as the people telling the stories.
Those changes are paving the way for novices like me who are still green and grafting. These women are challenging what it means to be woman in the industry. We are being seen and heard, we are no longer just poor stereotypes, but we are getting to represent three dimensional women that we know in our everyday. Beautiful, funny, talented, complicated, kind and generous women.
One of the things that I am grateful for is that not only are these women getting to share the narrative of being a plus body, but they are also making it so that soon it wont matter what is in front of you, it will be inclusive, it will be loved and lovable and it will be a true representation of the world we live in.
That makes for a pretty exciting future!
So in no particular order, because how on earth could I compare these incredibly unique, extremely talented and outstandingly gorgeous women to each other, here’s the list of my favourite seven plus size actresses.
Danielle Brooks – Well known for portraying the role of “Tastyee” on OITNB Danielle is not only an incredible young actress but she is now an important voice in the body positive movement and in the plus size community. It’s her journey to become more visible from the acclaimed Netflix show that pushed Danielle to start exploring her own body positive journey and speaking out about her struggles and her triumphs!
Image courtesy of Glamour
Jolene Purdy – Another OITNB cast member, (can you tell I’m a fan of the show), but Jolene has been around for a long time, and if you think back you will definitely remember her from some of your favourite tv shows and movies! For example Jolene breakthrough came in indie film Donnie Darko as character Cherita Chen. Yes that’s her! The beginning of her career Jolene has gone on to be in some other really fantastic shows. Unapologetic, hilarious and with a wicked sense of style, she is also representing the under-represented Asian community. I can’t wait to see what Jolene moves onto next.
Adrienne C. Moore – Okay so you can tell I’m mildly obsessed with the cast from OITNB, but to be fair can you blame me? I’m in a candy store with the amount of fierce, plus sized, racially diverse incredible actresses. How could I not put them on the list, considering the release of the new series! Adrienne makes the list because she is perfection; known for her part of “Black Cindy” in the show, Adrienne is a force to be reckoned with. Her ability to guide us through such a colourful emotional journey at any given time shows that her ability to be versatile is not only incredible, but still untapped. She is another actress and body positive activist that will remain on my radar and continue to inspire me!
Octavia Spencer – Now Ms Spencer has been working for years, and as a kid I grow up knowing her as one of the few black and plus sized women that would appear in tv shows and films as a secondary character, but regardless she had been doing something that is tough for any act and that’s working consistently. It wasn’t until the 2011 film adaption of the book “The Help” that Ms Spencer became a household name and Oscar winner for her performance as a 1960s African American maid during the civil rights movement. We all know that now iconic line “Eat my s***” which catapulted Ms Spencer, now in her 40s, into a completely other place in her career. She is a living example of being incredible and consistent and being rewarded for that. She is an inspiration to us all, never changing or molding herself to fit into the hollywood “standards” of what is beautiful in order to get the acclaim she deserves.
Sharon D Clarke – I’d argue that Ms Clarke is most definitely a black british counterpart to Ms Spencer. Ms Clarke has been a role model of mine since I was a child. Now if it was hard to see a plus size African American body on the screen, it was even harder to see a black British one, and Ms Clarke became just that for me. Her career spans TV, film and theatre and she is undoubtedly someone that I look up to and admire. I recently had the privilege of seeing her at the Southwark playhouse in a musical called “The Life” and if it wasn’t a matinee and I wasn’t too scared of embarrassing myself, I would have yelled even louder than my inappropriate but formal yelling would allow. She has and will always be a force to be reckoned with. She has a presence that is unmistakable and more importantly she is representing the hundreds of young black British and plus sized actresses like myself. She paved the way for us and for that I could not be more grateful. Thank you Queen D.
Dascha Polanco – Guys, don’t berate me this way, this is the last OITNB actress I’ll talk about I SWEAR, but believe me Dascha deserves a mention. Nurse turned actress and now body positive and Latina activist, she is not only an inspiration, but an example of how its never too late to achieve your dream. I’m sure if you told her ten – no, five – years ago that she would be where she is now, she wouldn’t have believed you, but her she is being a voice for those who don’t have one. She represents the plus size and Latina communities beautifully and I can’t think of a better and more talented ambassador. OITNB is just the beginning of this gorgeous women’s career and I’m excited to see what the future holds for her!
Image courtesy of ET Online
Sharon Rooney – Glaswegian Goddess, Rooney is well known for her phenomenal portrayal of Rae in E4’s My Mad Fat Diary. A look into the world of a fat teen with mental health issues, and a troubled home life. For the first time it was like a light was being shone on the issues that most of us have faced or are facing as young people in Britain. How many of us watched the often heartbreaking but also inspiring journey of Rae as she navigated loving herself, her family and friends while battling with anxiety, eating disorders and body image? Seeing some of her own stories played out in front of us was a gift that kept on giving, but also a responsibility that Rooney herself did not take for granted. A body positive babe herself, as an actor what greater gift can you be given than to tell an important story, a unique story, and a story that could change and sometimes save someones life? And that’s why we do what we do.
So there’s my list, I hope you hung in there with me, I hope you will go and look up these ladies yourself, and watch some of their work, but more importantly I hope knowing that they are out there encourages you! I hope knowing that we have champions in our community fighting to tell our stories gives you hope, and reassures you that your story is just as worthy as anyone else.
There’s something I’ve been thinking in the last week or so… What is confidence? How do we get it and how do we keep it?
How can we be confident in ourselves, but also in our bodies?
Body confidence as a movement is sweeping the world; reaching across genders, races, cultures, and backgrounds. We are reaching a point in a society that not only are we rebelliously trying to love all that we are, but we are fighting against the oppressive standards that have been holding us back for hundreds of years.
Every day we are dismantling stereotypes about body image and mental health. We are making moves in exploring intersectionality and breaking down the barriers that have kept us from being unified.
The actual definition of confidence is this:
“the feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something.”
I have been raised to know that faith is the substance of things hoped for with the evidence of things not seen. Therefore, there’s no right way to be confident and the manifestation of it in everyone will be different. But it’s important to know that you are worthy of living your best life, and living it in the fullest way.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there will be days where you won’t feel so confident. It can take years to find personal and practical ways to build up a strong foundation of confidence, and even when you have the strongest of roots, because we are all human, you will of course have times when it feels like your confidence is not at its strongest.
I know I can be real with you guys and admit that I have been feeling similarly myself. I have my moments where I second guess myself, over analyse, question every single decision I’ve made, feel terrified at the unknown nature of my future, and feel this weird little gremlin running around.
The thing is – gremlin or not – I need, and we all need, to be able to keep learning and growing.
So what are some ways to do this? Here are some of the things I like to do!
There is no wrong way to help build confidence in yourself, unless it involves tearing other people down, in which case you’re not building any real or lasting confidence. So build up yourself, build up others and have faith in yourself.
You are so worth believing in.
Summer is about to be all the way here and, quite frankly, I don’t think any of us could be more excited! Enter vitamin D and twerking in the park to bad girl RiRi tracks stage right. Some of us are at a place where we cannot wait to slip on that sexy two piece or smoulder in an elaborately designed one piece; big arms, big tummy, thick thighs out for the whole world to see. Some of us are still inching towards the finish line, and want to feel cute, but are still a little afraid to reveal all this greatness to the world.
That is totally fine, regardless of where you’re at on your body journey there is something for you and that’s what counts because we couldn’t have said that 10 years ago. When a lot of us were growing up there weren’t options to feel sexy or cute or practical and our age. Every body, female or male, has felt the dread of summer and beach holidays or swimming pools. We would sit in class and try to figure out which drawer we’d buried that oversized t-shirt in, which would inevitably become our summer armour. As much as it pains me to think of that little kid who was too afraid to let their skin breathe and their body exist in whichever form it wanted, we can end that cycle. We can be the ones that pull on the thread of that t-shirt until it unravels, reveals our most public and private glories and proudly stand up as examples to those looking up to us.
At the end of the day it’s true what they say: being beach body ready is simple if you let your body go to the beach, but we know that the journey to get there is probably not as cut and dry as that.
So what are some tips for getting beach body ready?
If you’re not ready to make your glittery entrance on a beach that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you can’t still have an experience, even if it’s slightly more private. Get your swimsuit, get your beach towel and pick a closer location. Whether that’s your bedroom, back garden, your car or the park, find a space that’s safe and build up your strength from there.
Make a list
Lists are an essential part of life, but also a low key indulgence of mine. They have a way of bringing me peace by exposing and pinpointing my fears, I think when getting beach body ready that’s something that has to be done. Lists are a great way to exercise some of your fears. Confessing and acknowledging fears can often take a lot of the mystique away. Debunk some of these myths so you can be on your way!
Find the one
Finding the right swimsuit for you will be imperative. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sexy two piece or a cute all in one. What matters is that you feel confident and comfortable. It is super important to make sure you can feel like your inner light is reflecting!
Ditch the ideal
Our bodies are perfectly imperfect and that’s what makes us so darn beautiful. There may always be a part of our bodies that we aren’t completely in love with, and there might always be someone that we can compare ourselves to and feel lesser than. Instead, see yourself as the ideal. Just by being you the world’s already winning.
Hair today, gone tomorrow
Hair is a part of the human body. We all have it regardless. When getting ready for the beach or the pool we usually hit up the beauty salon, or grapple with uncomfortable positions in the shower, to make sure we’re all squared away in the hair department. But in reality: it doesn’t matter. If you’re cool with having hair, or you’re determined to be sleek as a seal, all of it works.
You know how we were talking about the years of covering up with t-shirts? Those were probably also the years of dodging group photos and refusing to have self portraits. We didn’t want any evidence of the traumatic experience of existing. That’s got to change. So document the life out of your beach body slay. Keep every shot. Flattering or not. As a reminder that you are alive and you are taking up space that you deserve to have.
This post mentions a wide array of mental health issues and has the potential to be triggering to some readers.
The words you can see above are just some of the phrases we’ve all let fall from our lips and that we have had spoken to us and inevitably digested to help fuel the unhealthy idea that there is a problem with mental health.
Mental health issues affect us all in varying degrees. Perhaps you don’t have a name for it, maybe it manifests differently than some of the stories you’ve heard or read about, but be it stress, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, anger management, panic attacks, disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, obsessive compulsive, phobias, hyper manias, post traumatic stress, psychosis, sleeping problems … every person you know will have suffered with their mental health at some stage of their lives.
It can be a little intimidating to realise that, statistically, you are likely to suffer a blip in your mental health, but the stigma surrounding mental health issues needs to be eliminated for that intimidation not to become fear and exacerbate any potential issues you may have.
Working in the arts mental health is something affects me daily. In a report done by the Victoria University in Australia it was found that people in the performing arts are ten times more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety than the average population. Ten times. The report goes on to say that symptoms of depression are five times higher and statistics suggests they can be linked to issues such as financial instability and poor working conditions – which, of course, are proven catalysts for ill mental health in themselves.
I can put my hands up and say I’ve experienced that anxiety. Sure, I get to do what I love, and its a given that your life will be in flux. But the strain of living your day to day with no idea where you’ll be in a couple of months with little financial support, and sometimes poor living, working and travelling conditions, whilst having your very best demanded from you daily is exhausting.
The same goes for all of us, really. Every single day our responsibilities, our relationships, our jobs, and everything in between demands everything from us, and we often do our best to give everything that we have. But sometimes that drive to perfection or that desire to do our best leads us to the ends of our tethers – which can often be our weakest point.
The only way to really tackle these issues head on is to be completely open and honest about them, in order to remove the stigma and get us all talking. Mental health problems are always going to be there, so the priority needs to be making them easier to cope with. So here are some of my top tips for helping yourself, and your friends and family, deal with mental health awareness.
Everyone’s self care when it comes to mental health will differ, but we are all united in the fact that we must look after ourselves, our mental health and each other. None of us our perfect, we all have the things that we’re battling, but what’s important is that we fight together!
You’re not alone. You are enough. We will do this.
National Suicide Prevention
0800 273 8255
In the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot and wishing, as I do with most complicated things in life, that there was an instruction manual to help me figure things out. How do I reconcile my body, my journey to body positivity, and my blackness in a climate that is predominantly the antithesis of who I am? My body and my blackness cannot always be defined. They don’t always fit into the visuals we see for body positivity and they’re not always acceptable or easily understood. I know that I can easily make a list of body positive babes who are setting incredible examples of bopo glory, but it’s true that the list for bopo people of colour, especially here in the UK, is a lot smaller.
There are even less within my own industry which is still so trapped within a Caucasian, middle class, and petite business model for leads, love interests and everyday people. We’re in desperate need for the narratives being told to be diverse and representative of the world we live in so we can better understand each others struggles and spectrums. Every black girl has a seemingly individual journey when it comes to their bodies. Historically we are working with hundreds of years of oppression, discrimination and stereotype. The insecurities, fears and doubts that we are faced with aren’t just the things we develop in our own hearts and minds, or just societal pressures, but systematic and institutionalised racism.
There is a movement that has been picking up speed bit by painful bit, so that Black women across the world are on a journey not only to accept their bodies but to claim it back from everything and everyone else. We’re having vastly different experiences and have some vastly different perspectives. Our body positivity is wrapped so tightly in our blackness, our pasts and our ancestors. Understanding it for ourselves is a beast of its own let alone explaining it to others. Heritage, discolouration, accent, wigs and weaves, education, friends, love, sexuality, satin scarves, music, gender, pop culture, predictive text corrections, lotions, politics and the list goes on for things where our blackness and our bodies merge into one volcanic eruption.
So how do we have our voices be part of the movement and do our own healing? How do I find my way when I feel like I’m maybe working in the dark? Find a light of course.
Here are some lights.
Photographer and entrepreneurial goddess. In an industry that is predominantly white and male, Jade is taking strides to make her mark. I stumbled on her work on a couple of weeks ago and it’s bringing me nothing but hope, joy, and the fire to keep pushing and smash ceilings. The work she presents is heartfelt, diverse, and a celebration of our differences.
Plus size style and lifestyle blogger, Stephanie, is honest, open, fierce, and fabulous. Unafraid to tackle some of the toughest and most personal issues, Stephanie’s lion heart for an unapologetic way of living is the kind of example we needed as little black girls.
Dennetta is a Curve model and fashion and lifestyle blogger. Her blog Livin’ Phat – Livin’ Large is one incredible slay, she represents everything important and special about needing diverse black bodies in the plus size community.
Writer, blogger, and all around vintage vixen. There is something so special about both her style and her work. If you told me she was the reincarnation of every MGM black Hollywood starlet I would scream yes! Isha is true to herself and her loves in every way, and an honest to goodness example that we are more than one thing. That our blackness and our experiences are varied and special.
Social media manager and lifestyle blogger. If you’re not obsessed with Chloe, you need to be. This nubian queen is everything fierce and fabulous, and I honestly can’t look at her posts without having a big old smile on my face. Her blog posts are bold, full of melanin, and adventure!
To shape or not to shape. That is the question.
Let’s be real. If you’re a bigger girl in theatre it’s most likely that at some point you will be thrown some kind of shape wear and you want to know the truth?
That is, of course, my humble opinion. It also does not suck. There’s two sides to every coin. For me its very much part of my everyday work life. Costume design is a fine art in itself. There is a history and integrity to it and so it’s important that you’re able to adapt to the importance of whatever part costumes play in a production.
Most designers and their supervisors are very particular on how something should look and sit. No offence to them, and it’s very much to do with the fact that it’s the more ‘socially accepted’ idea of a body, but most designers work with a very slim and petite figure.
It’s seen as the ideal figure to work with in order for their masterpieces to look just right. So they’re definitely not going to be imagining a body that might be all sorts of wonderful lumps and curves and shapes. That’s when the shape wear comes at you like a ton of bricks.
The first time I was handed shape wear I looked at it with some amount of confusion. The item up until then was somewhat foreign to me. I’d seen it in stores, I’d laughed about it watching Bridget Jones and I’d maybe even seen some old shape wear in my mum’s closet, but truthfully? I had never owned any myself. So here I was, 26 years old and I was suddenly being handed this article of clothing that said, ‘listen you’ve got an existing shape, but it needs some help being a different shape’.
Despite my initial feelings of “I don’t think so!”, I pushed back any objections, doubts and confusion and slipped it on. In this case, I was and needed to be professional. Being body positive and seeing no need for shape wear in my everyday life / seeing no need for it on plus size women at all, there was obviously an amount of reconciling that needed to be done between my own ideas of my body and the overall task that was placed in front of me.
Also when I say slipped it on, I actually mean wildly grappled with it as if I was wrestling a 6 foot long crocodile. I wobbled and sweated and cursed under my breath. How the hell did women put this thing on everyday let alone wear it all day? Once on, I looked down at myself and blinked. Wait….what? I still looked the same! I thought this must magically transform me into a unicorn for the amount of effort it was to get on.
Thankfully, I was still the same fabulous me! However, now I had to learn how to move around in this added piece of show underwear. So instead of thinking about it as this thing that was ultimately meant to change my body into something other than it already was, I looked at it as just another piece of the costume.
It wasn’t about projecting my own opinion about my body or my hitherto lack of knowledge about shape wear into the situation. It was about embracing this opportunity to venture into the unknown and make it known, whilst owning who I am and still loving myself unconditionally.
Whether you’re for shape wear or against it, at some point you may encounter it, but it doesn’t mean you have to embrace it. Unless like me, it’s for your job and you have no choice…
There seems to be a mysterious black hole between the half hour call and the act 1 beginner’s. It’s as if time itself folds over to conspire against you or maybe you’re actually in a theatre style Bermuda triangle.
Either way it means your make up will not be done, you will not have your wig on and you will not have done that extra vocal warm up you swore to start doing in the new year.
Instead you’ll probably just be sat in your underwear eating cookies and watching star trek on Netflix or better yet playing scenario with your fellow cast members, ‘Steven Spielberg phones you up and says honey I want you to feature in my new film but you’ll be playing a beetle. Do you take it or turn him down?’
When I was a little girl my parents took me to see my first West end show. The Lion King. I’d been massive fan when the animated cartoon was released. Sitting in the dark cinema sobbing my old soul out, knowing beyond my time that Simba was perhaps a slightly more charismatic Hamlet.
The sobbing scene was repeated when we sat in the lyceum theatre that fateful Friday night. As the overture began I felt my lungs compress, my throat constrict and the tears begin.
Eventually my crying became less than discreet and my dad turned to me, ‘don’t you like it? We’ll have to leave if you can’t stop crying.’
I turned to my dad and with as much composure as an 8 year old can muster said, ‘no daddy. I love it. I’m crying because I love it. ‘
The rest they say is history.
Now I know there’s quite a few of my peers that would read that and roll their eyes. She’s stagey. Yes, yes I am. I have absolutely no problem admitting it.
I love an 11 O’clock number. I love a Fosse hip roll. I love a strong belted note. I love a tricky harmony. I can likely pas da bourree until the cow jumps over the moon. See I couldnt help myself. Sneaky musical theatre reference that all the Rent fans are salivating over.
So yes excuse me whilst I live my dreams and love every second of it. Sure I’m sacrificing many things to be here and kissing goodbye to a particular way of living, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Yet there are realities to living your dream.
From training, to showcases, to finding an agent, getting auditions and booking a job, you find yourself tested no just as a performer but also as a person.
What does it actually take?
Nothing provides more of a reality check than when you step into an audition space and a small room zooms out in slow motion to become a scene from the shining.
You think to yourself, don’t panic, smile, give eye contact. Not that much the panel will think you’re on speed. Don’t start sweating like you’re guilty, you’re not actually on speed. Calm down. Take some deep breaths. They are just people. so what if they’re the sole decision makers on whether you get a job. Imagine them naked. Mistake. Mistake. Mistake. Put their clothes back on. You don’t need that kind of imagery in your life.
A nondescript middle aged white man asks you what you’ll be singing. Good bloody question. You give a nervous smile and look down at your rep book, sweat dripping down your nose and hitting the cover. Just so you know, a rep book, also known as your repertoire, is a folder full of songs that should be cut and suitable for auditions.
I digress. They’re expecting an answer. What will you be singing today? Why is your mind suddenly blank? Didn’t you plan for this? Train for this ?
Can I tell you a secret?
Sometimes no matter how much you prepare you actually still don’t always have the answer. Everyday is an adventure and every opportunity a chance to learn.
So what am I singing ?
What would you like to hear?