Issa Rae Gets Real About Black Girl Magic in the Beauty Industry

Black is beautiful, and Covergirl’s newest brand ambassador Issa Rae couldn’t agree more


(Photo: Getty Images)

Can we keep it real? Black women are tastemakers.

We all know who rocked “mini buns” (AKA bantu knots), “boxer braids” (those would be cornrows) and coffin nails first, right? It’s sorta like the whole thick lip, thick thigh, thick everything life. Even our slang has become a sensation… but when it becomes a vibe, where is the credit? Case in point: white beauty gurus using “tea and snatched wigs” or Kayla Lewis’ “eyebrows on fleek” in their videos—which they bank serious $$$ from—but giving literally zero recognition or gratitude in return. Ouch. Black-owned streetwear brand Spkng In Tongue nails it on the head with their “Ghetto Is” tee, which says, “ghetto is nothing but creativity that hasn’t been stolen yet.”

That’s why when Issa Rae, the modern day renaissance woman behind HBO’s Insecure and the new face of Covergirl, sat down with me at the Empire State Building in New York, I had to ask her how she felt about Black women finally getting the recognition, support and love they deserve.

Because when Covergirl offered Rae the opportunity to work together, it was a total win for Black women everywhere. Over the years Covergirl has become one of the only major beauty brands in the world to genuinely give a F about appealing to a more diverse audience. We’ve seen them do it with LGTBQ community, from working with Ellen DeGeneres to making James Charles their first CoverBoy. And when it comes to racial diversity, the brand has featured Sofia Vergara, Rihanna, Zendaya, Janelle Monae and Queen Latifah as brand ambassadors. Plus their newest Senior Vice President Ukonwa Ojo? She’s a Black woman, too. Talk about a brand recognizing (and addressing) the significance of representing the underrepresented.

When Covergirl, or any other brand, pushes for the promotion of inclusivity, that equals change. Offering us more shade ranges, more products that won’t make us look ashy, more nude lipsticks that work for darker skin—that all speaks to brands finally recognizing that Black women have value, not only consumers, but as women. We love to beat our faces to the gods too, y’all. It’s just facts.

We talked to Rae about all that, and she gave FLARE the (v. honest,) 411 on her own challenges as a WOC, why representation in the beauty industry matters and how young girls should approach makeup for the  first time. Oh, and we also talked Black girl magic, OF COURSE.

On making it as a woman of colour

“I have been doing this for 10 years, I was trying to break into the industry since 2007 and even before that. The challenge I faced as a woman of colour was being told that I didn’t have an audience and that my work wasn’t going to be accepted, wasn’t profitable and wasn’t marketable during a time when I felt like it was. Being told ‘no’ made me more frustrated and determined to prove them wrong.

Now I’m in good company and always proud to be a Black woman just in terms of us supporting one another. We are trendsetters in so many ways, so I feel like people are just catching on to us. It makes me feel an immense amount of pride to be a part of that and to be recognized from a brand that I admire.”

Why Covergirl was a natural fit

“I think that’s the smartest thing they could do. As a buyer of products, I’m always looking at whether or not a company is speaking to me directly, whether I am a priority. My first Covergirl memory was seeing Queen Latifah. When she was chosen as brand ambassador in 2002, I just remember loving her so much. I just felt like, Oh! She’s my type of girl. It was a different type of representation. My next was with Janelle Monae; seeing that she’s my actual skin tone, seeing her being beautiful and killing it and just feeling like, Okay, I need to step my own game up.

So, I think that Covergirl choosing people like me, people like Massy Arias, people like Maye Musk—who is older and who isn’t necessarily the standard of beauty—is smart because people are looking at that. They’re like, ‘That brand cares about me.’ And in return, I feel like I want to support their products because they are always going to keep me in mind. As someone who creates and targets the underrepresented, I think it’s the best thing a company can do. Sincerely.”

Using makeup to build characters on Insecure 

“We’re trying to portray an everyday—but specific—Black girl. Given who she is, where she works and her age, she’s not a Real Housewife that’s going to look fly and glammed up all the time. She matches me, in her basic regularity. I think we really nailed who she was in the first episode with our lipstick montage. Just wanting to be these different types of herself by trying on different lipsticks.

Issa is about Carmex and Vaseline at the end of the day. That shows where she is starting, then we are going to see her go on a journey and become confident in her insecurities and we will see where that will take her beauty-wise.”

Why Mom is ALWAYS right

“I only got into makeup, within the last five years. I didn’t wear makeup in high school. I was very resistant towards my mother’s advice. Just because I was a tomboy and I was like, ‘You’re a mom, what do you know about being beautiful?’ I was terrible. I didn’t take her seriously until I was at college and realized, ‘Oh wow, you’re actually fly.’ So for me, the craziest thing I did was just not listen to her because she clearly knew what she was talking about.”

That’s why, when she found out I was a Covergirl, she specifically referenced my graduation pictures. [Imitating her mother’s voice] ‘Remember those high school senior pictures? Who would have thought that you—that that girl—would be the Covergirl!’ I was like…thanks Mom.”

Advice for young girls beginning to experiment with makeup

Take your time, there’s no rush. Make sure it’s for you. And I am a big promoter of just experimenting with friends. If they are good friends they’ll be honest with you. Figure out what you like for yourself, then show it off to the people that you love and they will be like, “Mmm that doesn’t work,” or “That looks great girl!” My friends have been a huge part of my journey to confidence.

What #BLACKGIRLMAGIC means to her

“Black girl magic to me is just support, community; it’s love and it’s just uplifting. It’s necessary, especially in this time.”

See the Fenty Beauty Galaxy Eyeshadow Palette Swatched on Four Skin Tones
The 10 Biggest Beauty Trends From The SS18 Runways—like Square-Tipped Nails?!
These Multi-Tasking Beauty Prods Our Editors Swear By Will Shave Minutes Off Your Mornings