'Insecure' Star Issa Rae Says Being Famous Feels Like Being 'Popular In High School'

Rae opens up about why empowering women is so important to her

How has life changed for Issa Rae since she made the transition from YouTube star (of her web series Awkward Black Girl) to creator, writer, actressand household name in HBO’s hit Insecure?

Not much, she tells PEOPLE. Except just a few more people want to say hello.

“I tell people it just feels like I’m popular in high school,” she said before speaking at the Create & Cultivate conference in partnership with Microsoft, Sorel, Express, and The Mine in Seattle on Sept. 9. “Nothing drastically changed other than people just wanting to say hi all the time. I’m never mad at that”

Of course, with all these new friends coming up to greet Rae (who was just announced as a new face of CoverGirl on Tuesday), there are times where she can get a little nervous; in particular, when she’s sitting down to a meal.

“I’m a big eater, so if I’m eating, I’m always self-conscious,” she said.

Becki Smith of Smith House Photography

But there are more perks to fame than just the constant parade of hellos: Rae now has more of a platform to focus on the issues that matter to her, like empowering women. Having her own show really made Rae realize that she has the power to do something to shake up the industry standards and give people the opportunities they deserve.

“I’ve been influenced by strong women doing what they’re supposed to do and living in their truths,” she said. “I think being in the industry and seeing a dearth of those women made me feel like, ‘I can do something. I get to actually hire people, and dictate who I work with and who I can put a spotlight on.’ It just made sense for me as someone who is constantly inspired by powerful women to give them a platform to be able to do the same.”

It’s part of why she wanted to speak at Create & Cultivate — a conference focusing on female entrepreneurship and intersectionality.

“I jump at the chance to meet and be in the company of women empowering one another and doing things to elevate each other,” she said.

Turkan Naja Photography

Closest to Rae’s heart, though, is empowering women of color.

“Everything that I do kind of goes back to that,” she said.

Her hope? That as more diverse voices join the entertainment industry, others will use their new opportunities to give back to and empower others trying for their big breaks.

“We’re always trying to create a pipeline for people to rise and hopefully empower others,” she said

It’s something Rae herself gets to see firsthand in her own writers room, where she gets much of her inspiration from the women who works on Insecure, seeing them grow and excel.

“I feel strongest when I’m working with my team,” she said. “Seeing them deliver, take the reins and lead, and when we’re all able to unite towards the common goal, I just feel like there’s nothing more powerful than building something from the ground up and executing that.”

She credits them for her own success, too: “I wouldn’t be anywhere without the women that I work with.”

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