The star of the Netflix drama opens up about dealing with Hollywood standards

By Julie Mazziotta
Updated November 18, 2015 08:40 AM
Credit: Stephania Stanley/MIMI

Samira Wiley got a small shock to her body image recently, and the incident made her more determined to be a confident role model to her fans.

“I was at a photo shoot and one of the people who was helping me try on different clothes – I had an outfit on – and she goes, ‘Oh don’t worry, so-and-so is a whiz with Photoshop.’ She was referencing some part of my body and I couldn’t believe it!” the Orange is the New Black actress, 28, tells MIMI.

“It just made me more aware of Hollywood – Oh my God, how are these girls supposed to love themselves? How are they supposed to feel any pride or feel like they can even achieve anything that is put in front of them?” she says. “I think that what comes along with my visibility is a responsibility, and I don’t take that lightly.”

“I want to make sure that any young person or anyone really who is looking up to me – who sees a glimpse of who I am as a person – that they see no shame, that they see pride, and that I’m truly unabashed about the person that I am.”

As Poussey Washington in Orange is the New Black, Wiley plays a woman struggling with her sexuality, and how to just be friends with the straight Taystee Jefferson, played by Danielle Brooks, while hiding her romantic feelings for her.

But Wiley has all of the confidence that Poussey is still trying to find – she says she prefers not to classify herself as a “lesbian” or with any other kind of label.

“I don’t really have a word for myself, or a category that I put myself in,” Wiley explains. “I don’t think about it too much, I just wear what feels good. If I can look in the mirror with whatever I have on, if it makes me stand a certain way, if it makes me smile, then I don’t care whether it’s from this end of the spectrum or the other end.”

But for Wiley, who is currently dating Lauren Morelli, one of the writers on the show, living without labels is something she’s developed into over time.

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“Growing up and learning more about myself, I feel like life is all about finding the middle, so I have gone back and forth to different styles, from girly to dressing completely like – as we would say in society and for lack of better words – like a ‘boy.’ ”