A year ago, I was frustrated.
As an avid magazine and blog reader, I wasn’t finding the kind of intelligent, informed beauty writing I hungered for. As a writer, I was hard pressed to find a magazine or website that would provide a platform for expression for someone like me. As a black woman with pride in her natural hair, I wasn’t seeing myself represented in any mainstream depictions of beauty. I was sick of the negativity and emptiness and repetition I was seeing online. I wanted to get my name out there as a writer, but I wasn’t sure how, and I was sick of rejection.
I dreamed up the concept of Afrobella over a bottle of Asti with my husband and our good friend E-Fresh, who was deep into blogging at the time. His openness and honesty inspired me. We tossed around a couple of names. Cocoabella sounded interesting, but turned out to be the name of a chocolate company. Trini bella didn’t have the vibe I wanted it to. I wanted the word to encapsulate hair and beauty and a sense of self all at once. My husband suggested Afrobella, and that was that. We registered the domain name, downloaded a free template, and set up a blog. It was all really whimsical. It’s amazing that something done in such a spontaneous fashion would transform my life the way it has.
My first post reads like a children’s fairy tale, and shows how far back my natural hair issues go. I realize that hair isn’t such a “political” statement for some — more on that later — but the process of going natural did wonders for my self esteem. It means more to me than just hair. It’s part of my identity. I think many of my most regular readers feel the same way, and I try to stay true to that aesthetic. But I want this site to be inclusive and warm and inviting to a variety of people. Just because I feel strongly about my own beauty doesn’t mean that I need to tear down someone else’s. That has never been my intention, and if I’ve ever pissed you off with my anti-relaxer beliefs, please understand that it wasn’t my goal to offend. Some of the proudest moments I’ve had have come from reading comments sent by ladies with relaxed hair, or from readers of different ethnic backgrounds. I love getting letters from different countries, and I’ve had all kinds of women, black, white, Latin, Asian, and Middle Eastern — people from Poland and Kuwait and Korea and Germany — write to tell me they love what I’m doing, and to keep up the good work. Afrobella truly is about embracing all shades of beautiful, and I love knowing that the message has reached so far and wide.
I first envisioned Afrobella as a site about beauty products and hair issues for women of color. But over time, my varied interests have woven their way into the fabric. There are weeks where I’m more than aware that the balance has shifted completely from beauty to music, to controversy. Sometimes I worry when I do controversial posts, especially those about hair or weight or race. It takes me longer to get around to those posts, because I want to make absolutely sure that I’m not just reacting to a hot-button topic, I’m considering as many angles as possible when I state my opinion. But judging from the reaction of my fellow bellas – all of you who read and comment and help to make this site so rich and vibrant — those controversial posts are good. Even when there is anger and dissent, we’re talking about something real and important, something we care about that perhaps isn’t being discussed in the same way elsewhere. I have learned so much from the perspectives of others.
A lot has changed in my life since I started this site. Last year, I was an assistant. Now I’m an editor. I’ve got a much more hectic work load to juggle, and there are weeks where I drop the ball. I used to feel a real pressure to post something every day on the site, but I have to remember that I’m just one person, I’m not a super woman, and I always want my words to be considered and intelligent. And so the frequency of my posts has slowed somewhat. But there are great things in store for Afrobella’s future. I’ve got some exciting new initiatives and so much more to say. My dreams have blossomed, too.
Before, I wanted to freelance for mainstream women’s magazines but I wasn’t sure how. Or wasn’t sure I had the drive to continually face the rejection and pressure of that industry. Now I have a platform of my own, and many of the magazines I once wanted to write for are flailing or have failed — more on THAT later. In the past year I’ve found a voice for myself I didn’t know I had. I’ve made friends and fans all over the world, and realized the weight of my words. I’ve been interviewed on the radio. I’ve had lots of fresh, new bloggers e mail me within the last year, to tell me that my journey has inspired them to start a site of their own. That really makes me happy. And proud. And there is so much more in store!
The photo at the top of the post was taken last Friday, when we were en route from Las Vegas to Lake Tahoe. It’s an eight hour drive through desolate desert, abandoned towns, and incredible mountains. We parked by the banks of a river in the mountains of California. My husband wanted to climb down a steep, rocky embankment to the water below. I didn’t. I said “I can’t.” But he climbed on down like a billy goat, and left me on the side of the road. “Come on,” he called up to me. “You can do it.” I was scared, but I tried. Slowly I made my way down the rocks, to the steep and shifting sand, down to the river with him. He took that photo of me as I climbed back up. I did it! I didn’t think I could, and I did! YAY!!! And that’s totally how it’s been with this site.
So often we limit ourselves by thinking we can’t. Sometimes all it takes is that first burst of courage, that push to try, to make you realize that you really can do anything you put your mind to. If a scaredy-cat like me can do it, so can you — whether your goal is to go natural or be fit or find a better job or take better care of yourself or do something new that you’ve been afraid to try. My goal in the next year is to keep on trying new things, to be the best Afrobella I can be, and to keep on writing from my heart.
So on this first anniversary, I have to say thank you to my family — to my husband for always supporting me, my parents for offering their wisdom and insight, and my sister and brothers for reading and commenting and always making helpful suggestions. Thanks to my friends E-Fresh and Lauren for always being supportive sounding boards. Thanks to all of my blog friends — Angel and Fresh and Motown Girl and Nichelle and so many others. You’ve helped me to make this site better. Thanks to Anita Grant for being the first person to advertise with me. And thank you all for reading and writing in and making my life so full. The best is yet to come, bellas!