There are no red carpets in fictional Litchfield Penitentiary but, in real life, Orange Is the New Black actress Dascha Polanco walks them all the time. On many occasions, she’s been frustrated by the high fashion industry’s refusal to dress her body type, and she’s turned the challenge into an opportunity to speak out on body differences.

Designer disappointment

Despite being on a hit show, Polanco says she’s been ignored or turned down by many designers who say they can’t provide a dress in her size. Rather than dealing with the issue quietly, she says she felt it was important to call them out, in part because she has many colleagues with similar experiences.

“To me, it’s simple: if you’re lending out your sample sizes as a designer, why don’t you have one in every size rather than just zero to size four? This action makes people feel unaccepted, and I think it’s wrong.”

A positive approach

Long before Hollywood events were an issue, Polanco worried that her curvy figure would be a barrier for making it and let the fear stand in her way. When she looks back now, she says two realizations spurred her to follow her passion: “I was tired of not being happy in my other job, and I was not going to let time beat me to my dreams. It was now or never.” 

“I tell my kids daily how beautiful they are, how imperfections make us unique, and how we need to use them to our advantage.”

Even though she still feels pressure to be a certain size, she says she’s much more focused on her health than being someone else’s idea of beautiful. It’s an approach she says applies to anyone concerned about their appearance. “I’m working on making healthier choices, disconnecting myself from social media or anything negative, and staying focused by surrounding myself with family and close friends who support me.”

At home, Polanco tries to impart those same values to her children. “I tell my kids daily how beautiful they are, how imperfections make us unique, and how we need to use them to our advantage.”