Issa Rae: Inclusivity In The Beauty Industry Isn't Just About Skin Tone

Photo: Getty Images.
My stance on pretty much everything, whether it be sports, music, or movies, is identical to Issa Rae's: Without a doubt, I'm rooting for everybody Black. So when CoverGirl announced that the writer and director would star in its new I Am What I Makeup campaign, you can bet that I made space on my overcrowded vanity for any products Rae will be pushing.
But despite fronting a campaign for one of the biggest cosmetics companies in the world, Rae is somewhat of a beauty newbie herself. "I didn't wear any makeup growing up!" she told me during a refreshingly candid interview at Coty's headquarters in the Empire State Building this week. "I had to grow into this. This CoverGirl opportunity came at a time when I was just starting to experiment, when I started putting myself in front of the camera."
Advertisement
With two seasons of Insecure, a web series, a novel, and a poppin' red carpet season under her belt (among many other wins), we'd say that choice is paying off, big time. Ahead, Rae dishes on the importance of inclusivity in the beauty industry, her most awkward makeup moment, and what Black Girl Magic really means to her.
On Becoming A CoverGirl
"I've always identified as awkward and an introvert and things like that, so to be the face of a beauty campaign that really uplifts other women... especially this campaign, where you have Massy Arias [a personal trainer and mom] who I love and who I've been following for years and Maye Musk [a 69-year-old nutritionist and model], who's older and beautiful and killing it. The variety of women just feels special. This is something that I never expected. I'm excited and honored to even be thought of, given how I've learned over the years to love and appreciate myself."

A post shared by Issa Rae (@issarae) on

Photo: Via @issarae.
Why She's Fighting For A More Inclusive Industry
"To see who's making some of the decisions behind-the-scenes is part of what drew me to this. When you see Black women and women of color [working on the campaign] and you're having conversations with them, knowing 'Okay, you get it' — that matters. And it's something that I'm preaching in my own industry, too. You want the people around you to relate and be on the same page, and come from a place where they can speak with authority. I think that CoverGirl is very much about practicing what they preach.
Advertisement
"Given the types of women and the variety of women that are into beauty, [everyone] is looking to be included in some way. That's what this campaign does a good job of, including so many types of women with different backgrounds. For me, it's great as long as someone can look and feel like, 'Oh, that's me!' in look, in personality, and in style. If you can feel like you can choose a product because you feel like someone's representing you, that's the smartest thing brands can do."
The Beauty Icons That Inspire Her
"My 'past' beauty icon is Denise Huxtable, because she's effortlessly beautiful. My current one is always the cliché: Rihanna. She's so dope. She's everything in personality and confidence and give-no-fucks-ness. I want every part of her. And yes, sometimes I screenshot her Instagram... really just to admire her.
"[The model] Duckie Thot, I love her, too. She's so beautiful in terms of her skin tone and the makeup that she wears. Her look is so effortless. Her lip colors really accentuate a lot of her features, and she has a beautiful smile."

A post shared by COVERGIRL (@covergirl) on

Photo: Via @covergirl.
What's Currently In Her Makeup Bag
"[There's a] narrative that Black girls can't wear bold lips. That's a lie, cuz we look great. So [I like being] able to experiment in trying on different lip colors. I feel like I'm kind of defining myself, and that's fun to me.
"I also use CoverGirl's Vitalist Healthy Elixir Foundation. I love that they have it in my shade. Foundation is always vital to me because it gives me an even richness. I feel like I don't have to do too much. And just today, I fell in love with the Tru Naked eyeshadow palette in Roses. We used the brow kit today too, which has a pomade. That's another part of my evolution, loving my brows. Brows and a nice lash can make you feel like, Oh, I don't even have to do anything."
Advertisement
Insecure Issa vs. IRL Issa
"With my beauty, I think I'm further down the line than Issa from Insecure is. Fundamentally, we're the same in our basic-ness. I have more opportunities, and — if I'm being real — more financial ability than her, currently. I'm able to buy more products and experiment more. I feel like she's just taking what she can get. At core, though, we're regular basic girls. CoverGirl is good for her, though, because it's drugstore. She can go and get these products for sure. You might see 'em on the show!
"I've definitely had awkward beauty moments, too. The lipstick on my teeth thing is just the worst. Sometimes you don't know until later. I remember meeting with someone — an entire meeting with a person that I love — and I had lipstick on my teeth. Now I never want to face them again. But it's also like... you should have told me. And I have big teeth, too, so you can't pretend not to see it."
What Black Girl Magic Means To Her
"My personal definition of Black Girl Magic definitely comes in the support we have for one another. That's BGM to me. The uplifting, the love, the loyalty. That's pure, and that is magical."
How She Taps Into Her Confidence
"Without makeup, my confidence comes from being able to do what I love and feeling confident in my purpose. No one can take that away from me. I'm doing what I feel like I'm supposed to be doing."
Advertisement
Read these stories next: