You’d never know that Dascha Polanco, star of Netflix’s hit series Orange Is the New Black and, more recently, a recurring character in FX’s miniseries American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, almost didn’t become an actress because she lacked confidence in her body type. “Growing up,” she tells The Glow Up, “the beauty of Afro-Latina women was rarely, if ever, depicted at all on-screen as beautiful.”
Now she’s fighting back against the stereotype and winning. Polanco’s Afro-Latina beauty plays loud and proud, as she’s now partnered with legacy brand Dove on the company’s self-esteem-education workshops.
According to the company’s website, since founding the initiative in 2004, Dove has become the largest provider of self-esteem education in the world, reaching more young people than any nongovernmental organization, educational institution or government at 20 million and counting. The Glow Up had the pleasure of talking with boundary-breaking actress Polanco at Dove’s latest workshop for teens.
The Glow Up: You’ve always been outspoken about beauty inequality. Why did you partner with Dove?
Dascha Polanco: I’m being very honest with you: I remember when Dove first came out with that billboard—all the women wearing full briefs. I’m a full-brief kind of girl, you know what I mean? When I saw Dove embrace real women and real bodies, I was like, “That’s where brands need to be headed.”
When I learned that they’ve partnered with Shonda Rhimes on self-esteem-education workshops and that they’ve helped over 20 million young girls to have a positive relationship with themselves and self-esteem and body confidence, it was something that I wanted to be part of.
TGU: What’s the goal?
DP: Allowing this new generation to enter positions of power with open minds. We are teaching them to be willing to look beyond what we’ve been conditioned to think is right or what’s beautiful.
TGU: Can you share ways that you lift your own self-esteem?
DP: It’s very important to have gender equality in my household [so] that things are done across the board—not because you’re a boy, not because you’re a girl—but because you’re both equally valuable. You both have the capacity, the ability, to go far farther than me, beyond me—your opportunities are limitless. Whenever I feel like I have a positive impact, I can bring my daughter to the Dove self-esteem workshops and she can learn from these resources.
TGU: Do people have to go in person to the workshop?
DP: Dove has the resources on the website. They also have parenting courses about how self-esteem starts in the home. When you look at studies of bullying in school, depression and suicidal behaviors have gone up because of not paying attention to the real issues affecting the youth. It’s because we don’t really have the time to have these conversations with our young ones.
Having that hour that you spend with them, if we start now, becomes a good cycle that will last a lifetime and regenerate itself. It will evolve into something so crucial. Especially in the times that we’re living now, for our voices to be heard.
TGU: What action items can you leave the readers with?
DP: Practice positive affirmations with your kids. Stand in front of the mirror and say “I am powerful,” “I am beautiful,” “I am smart,” “I can do anything.” Make mood boards. I tell my kids: “Write a list of everything you want to do. What do you want to be when you grow up? How do you see yourself in the next couple years? What are a couple of goals within the next month to get you there?”
And I do that with my daughter. I’m in [a] constant battle with my daughter Dasany, who doesn’t leave the house without her eyebrows painted on. She has eyebrows, but they’re light eyebrows and I’m like, “Girl!” I try to emphasize that with her beautiful skin right now, she doesn’t need anything. I do whatever I can to make a positive impact, like bringing my daughter to this workshop with me.
It’s all about words and what they hear; words penetrate your children so much. Sometimes, to compensate for the time that we don’t get to spend with them, we’re like, “Let’s go shopping,” or some other materialistic thing. [But] you’ll be surprised how much spending an hour talking with your kids changes them.
TGU: And the conversation we have with ourselves?
DP: We are focused ourselves on what is negative without truly having taken the moment to acknowledge our own external differences—wanting to be approved of, wanting to be accepted. It has to start from within. That’s power.