Gina Mei
April 16, 2015 12:26 pm

Laverne Cox — the endlessly talented actress behind Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black — has had an incredible year.

In 2014, she won the GLAAD Stephen F. Kolzak Award and became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award; and just today, it was announced that she made TIME‘s 2015 list of The 100 Most Influential People. It’s easy to see why. Cox is an extremely vocal spokeswoman and advocate for trans rights, and just an all-around role model for people everywhere. And now, the actress has posed nude for this month’s issue of Allure — and her reason why is unbelievably inspiring.

“Going through life, you try to cover and hide, but it doesn’t really work,” Cox told Allure. “I said no initially, thought about it, and said no again.”

“But I’m a black transgender woman,” she continued. “I felt this could be really powerful for the communities that I represent. Black women are not often told that we’re beautiful unless we align with certain standards. Trans women certainly are not told we’re beautiful. Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about herself might be inspiring to some other folks.”

Cox looks absolutely beautiful in the photo: strong, elegant, lovely. But more than that, the photo is empowering. Cox gives us a much-needed reminder that all women — particularly Black women, trans women, and trans women of color — are beautiful as we are, and that loving your body is a personal choice.

There’s beauty in the things we think are imperfect,” Cox said. “That sounds very cliché, but it’s true.”

Trans representation has never been more important — trans women of color, in particular, are more likely to be victims of violence, sexual assault, and homicide, and we desperately need to address and change this. According to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), 67% of anti-LGBTQ+ homicide victims in 2013 were transgender women of color, and transgender people of color were nearly two times more likely to experience hate violence in shelters. (This is extremely significant. The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that one in five transgender people will be homeless at some point in their lives.) The report points out that our society’s lack of trans visibility feeds into a culture of violence against trans women of color — but by creating diverse representation in the media we can start to spark awareness and change. While Cox’s Allure photo may seem like a small step in the scheme of things, the difference it might make is more than we could possibly imagine — even if, and especially if, it changes just one young trans woman’s life.

“As a transgender child, I was always looking around for someone like me, because I thought I was the only one. It’s hard to feel like that,” Jazz Jennings wrote for Cox’s TIME profile. “But having support from my family changed everything. They helped me love myself and embrace who I am. Not all trans kids are so lucky. And for them, having someone as visible and strong as Laverne Cox to look up to is inspiring.”

We couldn’t be more inspired by how incredible Cox continues to be — and as if the photo itself weren’t enough, when discussing it with Allure, Cox left us with the most important life lesson of all.

I honestly just want to make myself happy most, and if other people like it, then that’s great,” Cox said. “If they don’t, then I’m still happy.”

Those are some words to live by.

(Image via Allure.)

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