If you ask Orange is the New Black star Jackie Cruz what the theme of her summer is, she’d tell you it’s all about feelin’ herself. As she prepares to finish up her time with her character, Flaca, as the final season of her Netflix show premieres July 26, the star is moving onto new projects, and one of those is a partnership with Schick’s Hydro Silk for a new campaign called “Feelin’ Myself Island.” When she talked exclusively with In Touch, she explained that confidence is major for her — and it took her a long time to find it.

“It’s taken me 15 years to feel this good,” she admitted to In Touch. Playing Marisol “Flaca” Gonzales was a big part of her learning process. “[She] helped me come out of my shell,” Jackie, 32, said. “I wasn’t confident like [her].” But pretending to be in the role showed her that it was possible to be so positive about yourself — even at your lowest points. “That showed me, ‘I need to do that, too.’ I started to believe in myself more and my vision and the me that I want to be, and that comes with confidence.”

And as she owned the role, pursuing her passion, people saw just how strong she was. “When I first started Orange, it was my big break, so I didn’t know what [the writers] wanted. … Learning to just be you and be OK with that, that’s what made people fall in love with me and Flaca. … [The team] saw that and they started to write more for me.” Once she stopped trying to fit into someone else’s mold and started to be more comfortable being herself, she shined.

But playing someone confident wasn’t the only thing that made her confident. When Jackie was a teenager, she was involved in a terrible car accident and had to shave her head so that she could undergo brain surgery. At the time, she wasn’t sure how to cope. “I had my beauty taken away from me, or what I thought was beautiful, which was my hair,” she said. She had to learn how to feel beautiful on her own — and now that she’s older, she’s taken ownership of that move, chopping all her hair off once again. “I didn’t have a choice [to lose my hair] when I was a teenager. … But this time I did have a choice. … I had to make that choice for me because I felt good and I felt beautiful with no hair or [with] little hair.”

You can hear the actress sing a little about her teenage experience on her song “Melly 16,” as she learned to “get used to the new [her].” And soon, you’ll be able to hear even more from her. “My album is coming out, Hija de Chavez,” shared the songstress, whose legal last name is Chavez. “I’m just excited for people to find out who I am.” First, she needs to close the book on Flaca, and that’s something she’s ready to do.

“I’m just excited for what is to come after Orange,” the star said. “I’m gonna take myself to Europe again and I’m gonna just do things in my life that I always dreamed of doing.” And she knows the perfect way to spend time alone, something she practiced while filming the Feelin’ Myself Island campaign, and an opportunity she wants to give fans, who can enter to win their own stay on a private island. “It’s really important to love yourself and to take yourself out and celebrate you,” she said. “I know it sounds boring, but [it’s not]. You could read a book … You could relax, meditate, yoga, just feel good. And after that, the whole world is your oyster.”

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