It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.
Yvette Nicole Brown made headlines in 2014 when outlets started to cover her weight loss as she began to appear publicly in a smaller body. Despite the attention that it garnered, the actress maintains that the change was never about her appearance.
"I am not a vain person, I never have been. So my weight loss was really about health," she tells Yahoo Life. "It was interesting when I would get on the red carpet and people would go, 'Well, how much have you lost?' And I would go, 'I don't know how much I lost. But I know my A1C numbers are amazing,'" she says, referring to numbers that measure diabetes, something Brown has openly battled. "Because that's what it's about."
At 51 years old, the actress says she's "such a fan of my body now," acknowledging that that wasn't always the case. Instead of blaming herself, however, she credits her negative body image to the image-obsessed society that we live in.
"Society has dictated what they think we should look like, what they think we should do, how we should use our bodies, right? I think most of our lives, especially as women, is deprogramming and [asking], who says?" she explains.
And while the beauty standard has always been unrealistic, Brown embraces the idea that she might feel relatable to audiences by the way she appears on screen.
"I’ve always loved that I kind of look like everybody. I'm from East Cleveland, I got a big ol' applehead and I kind of love that my body was a typical size," she says. "I've been every size imaginable, but I kind of feel myself and the most sturdy when I'm about 14, 16, which is what America looks like. I don't have an issue with that, I don't have an issue if I'm 22, I don't have an issue if I'm an 8."
This outlook is in part due to her evolution into a smaller figure, which wasn't sparked by a desire to be a certain weight or pant size. What she was aiming for was a healthy body and mind after her diabetes diagnosis.
"It was important for me to talk about it because I went to my doctor and found that I was pre diabetic and then diabetic, and started figuring out how do I get better? How do I get healthy? And part of that was losing weight," she says. "That was part of the things that we decided I needed to do for my health. And then I was thinking to myself, why would I not share what I've learned about it?"
In many instances, she also felt that being transparent about her diagnosis was a necessary way to respond to the comments she received about her changing body.
That part. I lost weight because I was diagnosed w/diabetes. I was literally SICK and changing everything so I could LIVE and people were like: What’s your diet tips, skinny?
I don’t know, don’t eat yourself to diabetes so you have to watch everything you eat? That’s a start. https://t.co/ZXj92ncYjy
— yvette nicole brown (@YNB) May 6, 2020
"I know that I'm in an industry that focuses on the waist size and pant size and whatever, but I don't have to participate. And I've chosen not to participate," Brown says. "I think that it's important that we reframe the way we talk to people and allow people to talk to us about our bodies. We are more than the shell."
Her personal journey also inspired her to start working with Novo Nordisk's It's Bigger Than Me campaign, working to tackle the conversation and stigma surrounding obesity. "I want people to understand that it is a disease," she explains. "If someone tells you that you have diabetes, you know you need to go to a doctor, right? So if I tell you that obesity is a disease, your first thought should be, 'Well then let me talk to my doctor and find a holistic way to deal with the disease that I'm living with.' And I think that it removes the stigma that is attached to it," Brown explains. "It helps people speak more kindly to themselves. And hopefully, if you're not living with obesity, it'll help you be kinder to those that are. And that's really the goal, for everybody to be able to move through life in the body they've been given and find their way towards help without people on their back about it."
Ultimately, she hopes that more people can relate to her perspective on weight and health.
"The greatest thing is that my diabetes numbers are good. So every time I prick my finger, and I'm normal or my diabetes is under control, it's a win. It's a better win than fitting into any size jeans ever could be," she says. "It's not about a certain number on a scale and it's not about what someone else thinks of how you look. Because you know you're feeling good, you know that your heart is pumping good and that your numbers are good. There's something about health no matter your size that is just golden. Being healthy is what gives you a long life, not thin thighs."
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