Yvonne Orji Teams with T.J. Maxx to Help Women Live Authentically – and Shares Her Own Self-Confidence Journey

The Insecure actress and comedian opens up to PEOPLE about self-image as she teams up with T.J. Maxx to empower women to live authentically

yvonne orji
Photo: Erik Carter

Self confidence has always been a work-in-progress for Yvonne Orji, and after learning to feel good in her own skin, she's ready to share some tips with others.

The 38-year-old actress and comedian is teaming up with T.J. Maxx and the company's Find Your Maxx program to empower women to be their authentic and unapologetic selves. As part of the partnership, Orji will also serve as a personal mentor to one woman who enters online between Aug. 4 and Aug. 26.

For the initiative, the Insecure star spoke to PEOPLE about dealing with bullying growing up, and the long road that ultimately let her to able to prioritize herself over others.

"All pandemic, that was the work that I was doing – getting to the part where I was most comfortable with me and with what I was doing and where I was going," she tells PEOPLE. "Especially after something like Insecure ends, it's that thing of like, 'Okay, who am I without the show?' and just asking myself these questions and going to therapy. So I was doing the work, making sure that I was the me that I wanted to be, the best version of myself."

Orji continues, "I think with COVID, everybody was kind of forced to go inwards because we couldn't go outwards," she says. "So you were stuck with you."

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yvonne orji
Erik Carter

Orji, who emigrated to the United States from Nigeria at age six, recalls being teased for years about her thick accent, which she says led her to being a people pleaser in order to get by.

"I was bullied as a kid and I took to people pleasing, as a lot of us do," she explains. "And it was always that thing of like, making sure other people were okay, trying to figure out how to be for others. And then it was like, well, how do I want to be for me?"

"I was really going through trying to figure out how to undo perfectionism," she adds. "Because it's so culturally ingrained in me as a Black woman, especially as a Nigerian woman. Everything has to be the best."

The turning point for Orji was when she watched a sermon by T.D. Jakes titled "I Didn't Know I Was Me," which she says made her realize she'd always been "searching for" herself. Though she teases that it "sounds crazy" to do, Orji says it's important for her to constantly ask herself who she is in order to step away from focusing on how others might perceive her and what makes others more comfortable.

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However, she admits that she didn't start to change her perspective until she received advice from a close friend who told her, "Your goal is to be proud, not to be perfect."

"Can you look at your work and be proud of it and not look for it to be perfect," the actress explains. "That really helps me. And just talking nicely to yourself. A lot of times, I'll just say I'm really proud of you. I self talk all the time."

"Like when I wake up, drool on the side of my mouth, it doesn't matter, I tell myself 'Girl look at you, looking sexy. You look cute.' And that makes me feel good so that I'm not so starved for it from someone else. Someone can say that to me and it's like oh baby, I've already said this to myself," she says with a laugh. "You can't out talk me."

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Orji says that while she occasionally has some "fear and internal guilt" of not possibly being accepted while being her authentic self, the journey with self image, whether private or in the public eye, "is just essential."

She adds that her career has also shaped her journey with self image because "as a comic, you are a storyteller but the best stories come from truths." Orji notes that her latest HBO comedy special was the most vulnerable she's been because she candidly discusses the process of discovering herself over the past two years.

"I think that liberty and that freedom to not present as perfect, because nobody is, I think is what allows the growth and evolution to not feel so jarring," she says.

yvonne orji
Erik Carter

Orji calls it a blessing to be able to share her growth with others in real time while getting the reassurance from fans that she's not the only one going through this journey, which is why the star wants to help other women "break down the barriers to self-prioritization" with the T.J. Maxx campaign.

The Bamboozled by Jesus author tells PEOPLE that she hopes women like herself are able to get a taste of that authenticity and level of self confidence.

"Nothing tastes better than freedom. It just feels so good to be your freest," Orji says. "When you can just show up as the you you were always supposed to be, it is the sexiest thing. That freedom to just be able to show up as the best version of you, it's sexy. It's the best."

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