Splitting Hairs is our monthlong exploration of hair based on a survey of women across America. It’s like you brought a photo to the salon — we’re giving you exactly what you want.
If landing on your signature hairstyle and color is a journey, the transition to natural hair is an adventure of epic proportions.
It’s seeking out the right products to slick edges, reduce shrinkage, and make those curls pop. It’s wrapping hair at night, knotting it up in bantu knots for the perfect twist out, avoiding so much as a light mist from the ocean after you’ve gotten a fresh press.
It’s finding a style that works one day, and maybe throwing in a weave or some clip-ins for a different vibe the next. It’s a lot. But, as Issa Rae, creator and star of HBO’s Insecure, and her costar and onscreen best friend Yvonne Orji can attest — it’s worth it.
InStyle caught up with the pair ahead of their third season premiere (Sunday, August 12) at the first-ever Insecure Fest in Los Angeles, an invite-only, one-day event that transformed Banc of California Stadium into a carnivalesque scene complete with rides, games, and open bars — and a mini 2 Chainz concert. Lucky Insecure fans and industry insiders mingled with the cast, and got a sneak peek at the premiere. But us? We wanted to talk about hair.
Rae, who had hers up in a high braided ponytail for the bash, told InStyle that embracing her natural hair “was definitely a process,” and it wasn’t one that came easy. “It took me until college to be comfortable with my natural hair,” she said. “Just because, you know, I was ridiculed for it.”
The pressures to conform to a very specific standard of beauty were real back then. Going natural, she says, “just wasn’t socially acceptable at the time.” And so she hid. “I used to cover it up. I used to wear hoods; I used to wear scarves. But now, thanks to people like [hairstylist] Felicia Leatherwood who taught me different things that I can do with my hair, I’ve experimented with different products that bring it out the best, and give it volume, and help to easily style it. I just try a lot more now.”
Some of Rae’s go-to brands for styling her natural hair include Hair Rules, Natural Splendor, and SheaMoisture, which all have natural hairstyling products for all types of curl patterns. SheaMoisture is a household name in the textured hair community and beyond, and Natural Splendor and Hair Rules are a little more under the radar — but women on their natural hair journey will try it all to find what works for them, and Rae is no different: “I try everything,” she said.
Rae’s on- and offscreen bestie Yvonne Orji agrees when it comes to SheaMoisture: “It smells so good,” she said, also calling out Lush products, and a good edge control, as her go-tos. “Whatever works well with my 4C hair — it’s 4C, make no mistakes of that. You’ve got to get it under control.” Her solution? “24-hour edge, that’ll get your life right. You’re welcome,” she added with a laugh.
As Rae has catapulted into stardom, she hasn’t become known for any one particular hair look — and that’s exactly what’s making her into a hair icon right now. Fans love looking to her for new ideas. Any time the actress-producer hits a red carpet, she shows up with a natural hairstyle that slays, and she wouldn’t have it any other way (and not just because she doesn’t want to bother with relaxing treatments, though that’s part of it). “We’re living in a time where people are like, ‘Fuck that, this is the hair that grows out of my head.’ That’s bomb as hell. I can do so much with it, and now, I won’t wear anything else. I’ll still experiment, but I love my hair.”
Orji, who pulled her hair back into a low-ponytail-bun hybrid style for the event, told us that when it comes to hairstyles, she’s tried it all, too — including going fully bald. “I’m from Nigeria,” she said. “My mom would always say, ‘Hair is a woman’s beauty.’ I cut my hair all off. I was completely bald, and that was, like, what in the world? My mom was like, ‘What happened?’ She had so many questions,” Orji said with a laugh.
On the show, Orji plays high-powered attorney Molly, who tends toward sleek, modern styles, that err on the side of understated, in keeping with her character’s buttoned-up, corporate-ladder climbing M.O. That couldn't be farther from her real-life hair philosophy. “I’ve grown it out, then I’ve gone natural, then I’ve had it permed.”
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“The thing about black women and black hair is that you just have to experiment,” she continued. “You get to be a different person with a different hair style — and that’s just so much fun — and, like, unashamed, unafraid, living our best lives.”
And though her best life, right now, includes a star on the rise thanks to Insecure, Orji hasn’t felt pressured to style her hair a certain way in Hollywood — “not at all,” she said. “I like ease, and I like something that makes sense for me. Sometimes I’ll have 22 inches [of hair], and you’ll be like, 'Well, you know what? You look amazing.' And sometimes I’ll have it like an afro — I’ll still look amazing.”
Don’t miss Rae and Orji back together again when Insecure premieres August 12 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.