The actress and Insecure creator defines beauty on her own terms...
How did you feel about your looks when you were younger? I felt I was not represented by the beautiful black women I saw on my TV screen. I think I internalized that from an early age without realizing it. My mom, who is light-skinned, always told my sister and me how beautiful dark-skinned black women are. I would say, “Mom, you don’t know because you don’t look like us.” She understood and would try to convince us otherwise, but in the ’90s, Aaliyah was popping, and fair-skinned women were the beauty standard.
When did you begin to accept yourself? Probably not until college, around the time I got my braces off. I was tired of sitting around like, “Woe is me.” I was no longer interested in having those conversations.
I was wondering if you were born with those perfect teeth! No, girl. I was not. In fact, I used to have a gap that made me very self-conscious. It wasn’t that big, but when you have siblings, they amplify everything. My brother and sister would say, “Fall into Jo-Issa’s gap.” That was so disrespectful [laughs]. So I got braces, and I had them on for way too long.
Have you always worn your hair natural? I have, but I resisted it. When I was in middle school, I begged my mom to get a relaxer, and my hair fell out. So I was forced to be natural, and I was ashamed. I would wear a hoodie or a scarf to hide my hair. It wasn’t until college that I saw a lot of confident, self-affirming black girls wearing their hair natural on campus, and it was beautiful. I thought to myself, “Why am I ashamed of the hair growing out of my head?”
It’s liberating to no longer feel bound to the opinions of others. It is. Why should I want to change myself for someone else? You get to a point in life where you’re like, “I am not changing. I am who I am.”
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How does it feel to be the face of a beauty brand like CoverGirl? Young girls can see themselves represented in you. It’s funny—I don’t think of myself like that in terms of beauty standards. I’m not even trying to be self-deprecating. I have so many other things going on. I’m smart. I’m the shit. My declaration of being the shit didn’t come from my appearance, but it came from what I’m about. In that way, beauty is the last thing on my mind, but I am flattered as fuck. To think young girls might feel that way is flattering. Being represented is cool, but I just hope they want more than that.
For more stories like this, pick up the July issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download June 8.