"To show beauty in a different way really lights me up inside."

So, Orange Is the New Black is a show that I like, even despite its problems, for a few reasons, the primary one being that THERE ARE SO MANY WOMEN. I didn't particularly like the plot or central characters in the very first episode, but I kept watching because I was held in rapt thrall by the sheer number of women in the show! (And, as the show went on, the focus stretched to include more of them more meaningfully.) There were just all these incredible women! All of them talking! To each other! And they didn't all look alike!

After a lifetime of television, with some notable exceptions, in which shows "about women" often tend to have a single, white, straight, cis, thin, able-bodied woman at their center, who is surrounded by men and maybe one other female character whose only purpose is to be a foil or a lesser contrast to the female star (the Murphy Brown model), to see a show "about women" actually be about an abundance of diverse women was pretty amazing.

And there's been a lot of digital ink spilled about the diversity of the show: The racial diversity, the prominence of lesbian and bi characters, the trans character who is played a trans actress.

Less has been written about the incredible body diversity of the cast, so I am majorly appreciative of this month's issue of Essence, which is their annual "body issue," featuring six of the black cast members from OITNB in all their stunning body diversity. (Although it's not lost on me that the fat girls are in the back, ahem.)

the cover of the July 2015 issue of Essence, featuring Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Laverne Cox, Vicky Jeudy, Adrienne C. Moore, and Samira Wiley, all black women, all of different sizes, all wearing different shades of the color orange
Clockwise from top left: Danielle Brooks (Tasha/Taystee), Adrienne C. Moore (Cindy), Uzo Aduba (Suzanne/Crazy Eyes), Vicky Jeudy (Janae), Laverne Cox (Sophia), and Samira Wiley (Poussey).

In the issue, the actresses discuss not only their body shape/size, but also their unique physical features—and learning to love and appreciate oneself:
Two-time ESSENCE cover star Laverne Cox describes her ritual of learning to love herself, no matter what: "This is intense, and it's hard. What I've been doing is looking in the mirror and listing all the things I have an issue with and then saying, 'This is beautiful.' I just go down the list and tell myself, 'You have to accept that this is you today.' I make time to do this."

"Being [my size] in this industry is so rare," says 25-year-old stunner, Danielle Brooks, "but regular people look more like me than runway models. To show beauty in a different way really lights me up inside. That's so cheesy, but it does."

Emmy-winner Uzo Aduba admits it took her time to fully embrace her signature smile. "For the majority of my first 18 years, I hated my gap. My mom would tell me that in Nigeria, it's a sign of beauty. I was like, 'We're in Massachusetts.'" She continues, "Today there's not a selfie or personal photo I take where I'm not smiling wide. It sometimes feels as if I'm making up for lost smiles."

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