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'Orange is the New Black' actress Dascha Polanco on why she loves her thighs

You know her as Dayanara Diaz on "Orange Is the New Black," but star Dascha Polanco has also become a leader in the body-positive movement.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

In honor of "Love Your Body" week, we're sharing Dascha Polanco's wise words. The actress, who plays Dayanara Diaz on Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black," made a big splash at New York Fashion Week in 2016 by wearing a thigh-baring, skin-tight bodysuit.

To tell you the truth, when I first arrived at New York Fashion Week wearing a tight bodysuit that completely revealed my thighs, I was a little nervous. I kept on covering myself up with my jacket and I just didn't feel ready. There was no pool there, no beach ... so shouldn't I cover up?

But my stylist and publicist both made me see things differently. They told me to let go. And I thought to myself, "You know what? I'm here. I did it. Let me take the risk."

That's when I decided to own it. For me, it was this realization that I'm not getting any younger. Sure, I'm working on stuff. Sure, I'm a work in progress. But this is who I am right now, and I want to be free.

Just let go.

That's something so many of us can relate to. There's a lot of insecurity within every person — woman or man. But the only one in charge of changing that is you. It's all in your way of thinking.

I'm not a sample size. I'm an 8 or a 10 or even a 12. I fluctuate between those sizes — sizes many designers just don't have. But when I started in the industry, I had no idea. I thought "sample size" meant "a little bit of everything." Kind of like when you go to a bakery, and they give you a little sample of every type of dessert.

Nope, not in the fashion world. They've got one size available, and you have to fit it ... or else. That was shocking for me. So for the most part, I'm kind of over finding people who want to dress me. The moment will come when I get to choose who wants to dress me.

Growing up, my mom would make clothes for me. So why not make my own stuff? Why not start a movement of catering to women who can connect with me and relate to the idea that being an 8 or a 10 doesn't necessarily mean you're big? That those sizes can be just as healthy and just as beautiful as any other.

If I had the opportunity to go back in time, I'd tell myself: Screw everybody else and just focus on loving yourself. Love can't be found in others. It starts with you. You exude it, and then you receive it.

When I was younger, I had so many insecurities. I would compare myself to others all the time. I'd notice that I didn't have light eyes or fit into an A-line skirt. I had a "Z-line" skirt, you know? Shorter in the back, longer in the front.

I used to be made fun of for having a big butt (a "watermelon ass," they'd call it!) and big legs. But it was something my mom always loved about me. She loved my legs, and I could never see why. Now I reflect on it and I realize my butt matches my legs. They look good together.

This is mass. This is volume. This is strength. This is what makes me Dascha and what makes me unique from anyone else.

So work at your legs, if you want to make them firmer. But if they don't affect your health, then don't make that your ultimate goal.

I used to try to fit into everything. Now, I realize that there's no point on focusing on something that might not fit. Instead, why not change what's not fitting as opposed to what's not fitting into it?

My advice to you is to always compare yourself to your best self, and only that. Your goal, ideally, should be to love and see the positive things even in what you don't like.

As told to TODAY's Rebekah Lowin.


This article was originally published on Oct. 17, 2016 on