My size has always been “a thing.”
In the sixth grade, I acted in my very first play. It was a bootleg version of Aladdin. The character of Jafar had an evil sister, Halima. In hindsight, the entire production was racially problematic. Casting included “Arabian” characters who were played mostly by Jewish children from Bergen County, NJ.
In the sixth grade, I came to truly understand the term: anxiety. I was forced to be in the production against my will. I never liked putting myself out there. I was a shy-chubby girl, whose friends consisted of the differently abled and those on the spectrum. I was raised by a Jamaican grandmother who constantly would scent my Newport News clothing with Eucalyptus and who would lotion my dry skin with an entire Aloe Vera root in the mornings before school. I never had a chance to be cool. A normal school lunch would consist of Chicken foot soup: talons sold separately. If I were old enough for Lexapro, I would have happily taken 20mg in the mornings to survive the shit-show known as The Bus. But anyway, I digress.
Aladdin was all hands on deck. The parents had to help with hair, makeup and wardrobe. My mother, being the thrifter that she is, went to Burlington Coat Factory with newspaper coupons to purchase my “harem girl costume.” Burlington was the only place I truly could shop because they carried “adult sizes for children.” The costume, was very riské. A sliver of my belly would be showing and my chunky little legs. My very-Christian mother and grandmother did not approve of this “nakedness” so they made me wear a leotard and jet black Walgreens church stockings underneath to cover up my chubby pre-teen body.
There have been many people in my career thus far who have tried to cover me up. I’ve been told:
Danielle, you are only a character actor.
You will never be a lead.
You should focus on theatre.
You are too big for TV.
L.A. is a really big place, don’t expect much.
You are a specific type.
At some point the negativity sticks. Y’all I can’t even lie…I have never gone to an audition without wearing SPANX (knowing damn well SPANX will do nothing for my jawline). Wearing them is second nature.
Being in L.A. has exposed any and all insecurities I may have about myself. So many actors in L.A. go to extreme lengths to maintain or improve their image on camera.
In 2017, I have done more diets than ever ranging from: Weight Watchers, a 30-day Vegan Cleanse, Juicing Every Other Day, Starvation, “Religious” Fasting and more. I am constantly projecting what people may be thinking of me and my obsession with the scale has become chronic. I even went to the doctors office considering Gastric Bypass/Sleeve options…chile. For anyone who wants to chime in and say: it’s all in moderation, join our FitBit challenge, try portion-control, it’s a journey, or just work out…silence yourselves now.
Truly loving yourself sometimes can be a chore. I realized the rough path I was on and decided to seek therapy. How L.A. of me, right? My therapist, Dr. Rhonda, is one of the most incredible human beings ever, but I also can’t stand her. She raises the mirror to me and forces me to confront the issues of my past. Recently, I met with her and a licensed nutritionist and they both told me I have Binge Eating Disorder.
As a teenager, I used to think Eating Disorders were for white women and models. All the books they would show us in health class about eating disorders had pictures of white women. When I would overeat as a child, or hide extra food in bookshelves due to stress at home, I was just called greedy. The only reason I am sharing my story, is because I need you to understand this affects people of color as well. So many things in the black community are hushed that people are literally walking traumas.
Now, before you start blowing up my phone with the calls, texts with Jesus on the cross and prayers, just know I am handling this all with professional instruction. It’s been a journey and sometimes embarrassing. I wrote a play called: Body/Courage, but never had the courage to hold up the mirror to my darkest self.
Rather than doing another quick-fix diet, I’ve decided to work with a nutritionist, Dr. LeeAnn Weintraub and a personal trainer, September Parker. This is the slowest process ever. Usually, I’m used to losing about 3-4 pounds a week on a quick-fix diet. Y’all I’ve been losing like 0.3 pounds a week and it feels like nails scratching a chalk board. My trainer, therapist and nutritionist have also politely asked me to throw my scale in the trash.
I turn 30 next year, and we are trying to have some babies soon. I do not want to pass this curse of negative body image on to my kids. With that being said, I need you to hold me accountable. Don’t count my calories or tell me about the new Vegan spot that just opened on La Brea. Don’t tell about the new informercial that has folks using a thousand pieces of Tupperware to portion meals with a shot of Beyoncé lemonade.
Make sure that I am feeding my body with positivity. If I need to go on a walk to exercise my body and I invite you, don’t make it “a thing.” Make sure that I am meditating and constantly affirming myself and I will do the same for you. I am grateful for my body. We have accomplished many incredible things this year and even more to do next year.
I love you all with my whole heart and I will see you in the new year.
No “new year, new me” bull.
Same old me, shedding the shame, to be a better me.