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Arts & Culture

'Don't limit yourself': Dascha Polanco encourages body positivity, mental health at Lehigh Valley Women's Summit

Micaela Hood
Actress Dascha Polanco onstage with moderator Elizabeth Ortiz and the Lehigh Valley Women's Summit on June 6, 2024.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Nearly 800 Lehigh Valley women were encouraged to "Live limitless and free," by "Orange is the New Black" actress Dascha Polanco.

Polanco, most known for her role as Dayanara "Daya" Diaz on Netflix's hit series inspired an attentive audience inside the Wind Creek Event Center to also practice body positivity, among others on Thursday.

"I came across this video of [fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg] saying how much time and age is put upon us and it's not the age, right?" Polanco said. "It's how much have you lived. Starting living where you're at."

The Latina starlet was among the guest speakers at the Lehigh Valley Women's Summit 2024 on Thursday, June 6.

Actress Dascha Polanco at Lehigh Valley Women's Summit 2024

The summit, organized by the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, also featured keynote conversations with Pa. Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton and Laura McHugh, vice president of marketing and communications at United Way of Greater Lehigh Valley.

It was co-chaired by Marta Countess, president of Countess Communications and Marci Martinez-Howey, associate vice president of diversity and inclusion, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, or UWGLV.

Setting the 'standard high'

Before her inspirational speech, the 41-year-old joined in a meet-and-greet to pose for selfies with fans, while some commented on Polanco's friendly demeanor.

"I set that standard high, they're not all like that," Polanco joked later on about celebrities.

It wasn't her star power that dazzled the crowd, but her relatability on topics like mental health and body positivity — issues she advocates for through charitable endeavors.

The Dominican-born artist, who will launch a podcast this year, didn't shy away from speaking about her struggles with depression and grief.

"Therapy should be part of our health coverage on a regular basis, just like gynecological visits,"
Dasha Polanco, "Orange is the New Black" actress

Therapy helped Polanco cope with the loss of her mother, Janet, two decades ago, and more recently the death of her fiancé, Dominican music producer Xtassy Beats in 2022.

"Therapy should be part of our health coverage on a regular basis, just like gynecological visits," she said as the audience cheered and clapped.

Micaela Hood
Actress Dascha Polanco takes a bow after speaking at the Lehigh Valley Women's Summit 2024 on June 6, 2024.

Make five friends

Before Polanco came onstage, McHugh asked attendees to share what they took from the day-long summit that featured workshops on topics like entrepreneurialism, how to build a small business and stress management.

A handful of women seated took the microphone to remark on the gratitude they felt that day.

Lindsay Watson, co-founder of FIA NOW Employment Services based in Allentown, talked about the importance of networking.

"Five years ago, I knew no one and I've been here eleven and a half years, but I didn't invest in myself and invest in building community," she said. "I'm surrounded by so many friends now and a lot of that happened when I started attending this event.

"So I want to encourage you. If it's your first time [here] make at least five and friends before you leave because this community is amazing and it will support you."