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Danielle Brooks explains the story behind her inspirational shirtless gym selfie

Her fans were not only grateful: they sent her shirtless photos of their own.


Marisa Kabas


Posted on Jan 28, 2016   Updated on May 27, 2021, 7:30 am CDT

Danielle Brooks is one of the stars of the Netflix mega-hit Orange is the New Black, and she can now add “Broadway star” to her resume as part of the cast of The Color Purple. But when she posted a gym selfie a few months back, she became a star to plus-size women all over. 

Brooks shared the inspirational backstory about her selfie heard ’round-the-lockerrooms on her appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday.

The 26-year-old Juilliard grad posted the selfie below back in July, which shows her at the gym wearing just a sports bra and Spandex. In her caption, Brooks wrote that she “woke up feeling beautiful and motivated to love myself and take care of the ONE body that I’ve been given.”

As she explained to Colbert, she never expected the selfie to become such a big deal (although in the current body-positive climate, it should not have come as a surprise!). “I just did this for myself. Just to show self-love. It was something that I’d never done, was take my shirt off at a gym,” Brooks explained. She knew it was a somewhat bold move, but she didn’t anticipate how much it would mean to her followers. “And so I did it, and I did not realize that I was giving permission to thousands of plus-size, big women to go to the gym and take their shirts off because it became a thing! I was getting all of these pictures.”

Brooks penned a personal essay for Glamour in May 2015 about her struggles to accept her body. She writes about being judged for her weight as a young girl in South Carolina and gaining some confidence when she started getting work as an actor. But, she admitted, the struggle lives on:

“Being in the public eye magnifies my ‘imperfection’ to an insane degree. Attending the Golden Globes for the first time, I was aware that the majority of the other actresses in the audience didn’t look like me. But you see, the average woman is a size 12 to 14. Those actresses don’t look like most women. I’m not saying those actresses should gain 30 pounds, but I am posing the question, that if art is supposed to reflect life then why don’t the red carpets and magazines reflect reality?”

That’s why she’s doing her part to reflect reality. And her fans thank her for it.

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*First Published: Jan 28, 2016, 3:14 pm CST