Dascha Polanco attends “Refinery29’s 29Rooms: Turn it Into Art,” on July 25, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois.
Photo: Jeff Schear (Getty Images for Refinery29)

Dascha Polanco isn’t the first person who comes to mind when we think “body issues”—after all, this is a woman who once went pants-free to New York Fashion Week. But in a revealing new “as told to” feature in the September issue of Women’s Health, the Orange Is the New Black star shares that she hasn’t always embraced her show-stopping curves.

“People tell me all the time that they love my confidence,” she says. “It’s kind of ironic, because it’s something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember.”

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Dascha Polanco attends Lexus Lounge at Milk Studios on September 11, 2016 in New York City.
Photo: Ilya S. Savenok (Getty Images for Lexus)

While Polanco credits social media with helping so many create and maintain the illusion of unconditional self-love, she admits her own body issues stem back to childhood:

I remember looking at myself as a kid and knowing I was different than the other girls—I was chubby and curvier and had rolls and thick thighs. My school uniform skirt never fit right—it was longer in the front and too short in the back. In reality my body type was the norm, but I was always looking at it negatively and comparing myself to the super-slim “cool girls.” I questioned my body—why couldn’t it be like theirs? I just wanted to look like those girls.

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For many of us (*raises hand*) it’s a very relatable moment; but Polanco reveals that the insecurities were sometimes so intense that she hated her body, wishing she could to alter it to fit into mainstream beauty norms.

“I got to a point where I wished I could cut off my rolls with scissors,” she says. “I would grab at my thighs and say, ‘Ugh, I hate you, you’re ugly, I don’t like you! Oh my God, I just want to get rid of this!’”

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But as those of us who have struggled with body positivity know all too well, negative self-talk is rarely if ever the route to self-acceptance. For Polanco, it was becoming mother that catalyzed a breakthrough.

“I wanted to instill in my kids self-acceptance and a sense of self-love. ... I wanted them to be confident, and I knew I had to model that.”

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For the Women’s Health “Naked Truth” issue, Dascha models her body confidence in a gorgeous nude shot, accessorized with only a gorgeous smile. It’s the face of a woman who looks comfortable in her skin, though Polanco admits she still has “Ugh, these legs!” days when she succumbs to self-criticism—an occupational hazard for one who spends her career in front of cameras.

But these days, it’s self-care and focusing on the positive that she says helps her manage her insecurities—including realizing her childhood dream of becoming an actress well after the age of the typical ingenue.

[W]anting to eat a burger doesn’t impact my acting or my ability to help people. Neither does getting older—reaching new decades and going through physical changes is something we should celebrate, not fear. When I realized that, it helped me let go of the little things that bugged me and respect my body for what it allows me to do. I wanted to care for it.

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Most of all, Polanco just keeps it all in perspective. “Dascha, when you die this body goes back to Earth, so shine through and you’ll be a light that will live forever.”

Dascha Polanco poses during Airbnb’s New York City Experiences Launch Event on September 26, 2017 in Brooklyn, New York.
Photo: Michael Loccisano (Getty Images for Airbnb)