"Growing up, I didn't see many examples of myself," the actress says amid tears

By Tim Nudd and Abby Stern
Updated October 05, 2016 06:19 PM
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Credit: Theo Wargo/WireImage

As a curvy woman, Danielle Brooks has always struggled with society’s standards of beauty – she even wrote a whole essay about it recently for Glamour. And now that the Orange Is the New Black star is a role model for women like her – well, it’s clearly an overwhelming blessing.

The actress, 25, who plays Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson on the Netflix show, broke down in tears talking about the topic Wednesday at an Academy of Television Arts and Sciences “For Your Consideration” screening of the show in West Hollywood.

“Being a woman of curves, I really find that it’s very important to talk about loving your body where you are,” she said during a panel discussion. “People’s beauty standards [are] something I’ve definitely struggled with in my life. And I’m just so grateful to be on a show where people love me, Taystee, for who she is – and they’ve come to love Danielle for who I am, and it’s not because I’m a size 2 and it’s not because I’m light-skinned with long hair.”

While admitting it is “a little scary to be a voice” in her culture and not just an actress on TV, Brooks is embracing the role.

“Growing up, I didn’t see many examples of myself [on TV],” she said as she began to cry. “And to be that girl that I wanted to see, I’m grateful for that.”

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Her comments were met with rousing applause from the audience. “I’m trying,” she said of being a role model. “I’m the youngest one up here.”

Talking to PEOPLE at the event, Brooks also said how tight-knit the OITNB actresses are.

“It’s amazing. We just click,” she said. “We get along off and on screen, and I think we have such a trust with each other, which is important when you’re shooting. You need to trust your cast mates, and I feel like everyone does beautiful work, and I love working with my girls. I do!”

“We went through a journey together in stepping into this new fame,” she added. “So, we can talk to each other, like, ‘Girl, did this happen to you?’ And ‘I’m struggling with this.’ It’s nice to have that bond, that family.”