I read a lovely Twitter thread recently from @PulpLibrarian that so beautifully encapsulated what it felt like to go online back in the day. If I had to look back and choose a year that I first went on the internet, I think it was probably 1993. I was 14.
I so vividly remember the anticipation – waiting for my parents to fall asleep, the modem making weird modem sounds, then the galaxy of Netscape Navigator opening up before me. And then what? That was to be determined. It really felt like an adventure, ~ surfing the internet ~. I’d click on the categories listed on Yahoo, looking for new places to visit. I might have wound up on Angelfire, reading about somebody’s favorite television shows or bands. I even built my mom a rudimentary Angelfire site for her consulting work back in the late 90’s before I migrated to Miami for college. I became a regular on a site called The Chathouse and got into conversations I was definitely too young to be part of. I don’t even remember my regular online favorites, but I do remember that sense of exploration and discovery and what’s next.
Back in those online browsing days, there were no social media watering holes like there are now. There were online forums like Fotki and the Naturally Curly messageboards, but they tended to be focused on one specific topic. It isn’t like now, where social media puts you in the world’s biggest conference room and everything’s being discussed simultaneously. I’ve often compared it to the difference between shopping in a small town where there are boutiques and unique, quirky shops, versus a Target, Walmart, or Amazon experience where everything’s there at your fingertips. Boutique shopping in the sense that you might not find exactly what you’re looking for, but there was always something new and different to discover.
16 years ago, I joined this online world and created my own little online corner, Afrobella.com. That’s right. Sixteen years ago. In August of 2006. A bygone era. My earliest commenters discovered me through natural hair forums and blogrolls from other blogs.
If you’ve been a regular reader of Afrobella.com in years past, you probably noticed that I got quiet. Maybe for the past 5 or 6 years, it’s been sporadic bursts of I’m still here, followed by a sponsored post, followed by silence and then months of nothing.
Health issues affected my family on both sides. Everything shifted right around the same time, and those experiences shifted how I felt about my work. Writing about beauty, style, and hair felt trivial. I felt burned out and uninspired. I stopped wanting to travel for conferences or speak on panels. Every time I had to get on a plane to leave my home, I’d have a panic attack and throw up before leaving for the airport. Every time. My husband was like, what is going on and why are you doing this to yourself? I couldn’t explain. I can look at photos of myself in 2015 and see enthusiasm and I’m probably wearing leopard because personal branding. In photos from 2018 and onward, I can’t miss the visible anxiety that had settled into my spirit.
In the cacophony of social media, I couldn’t keep up with the changes I was supposed to. And admittedly, I lost sight of the reasons why I first started Afrobella to begin with — to remind myself and others of inspirations of the past and celebrate those making the future of Black beauty, the natural hair industry, style, and beyond. To uplift small businesses that I believed in. To share what I was reading, to big up the products and people that I thought deserved more attention.
I quit my day job in 2009. When my blog became full time work, I had to figure out ways to keep paying the bills. Eventually that led to excessive advertorial content and half-completed projects that I’d only started because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. I didn’t set out to turn myself into a brand, but over time I felt stuck in a virtual persona of my own making, complete with an aesthetic that began to feel like a costume. There was a recent NY Times article on this topic, Burned Out on Your Personal Brand — I found that incredibly relatable: “…with personal branding, the line between who people are and what they do disappears. Everything is content; every like, follow and comment is a professional boost.” Yes. That’s how I started to feel. And it became exhausting to my spirit.
So why am I planning to focus on writing for myself again? Primarily because I think a voice like mine is still necessary. Voices like ours. We’ve come a long way since 2006, but in many other ways it feels like two steps forward, and two steps back. So much still needs to change.
The media world is crumbling before our eyes like a sandcastle being eroded by relentless tides. Look at what’s happened at Gannett. Look at Dotdash Meredith – layoffs and an immediate stop to print publication at several magazines. Look at Conde Nast, whose CEO is quoted as saying they’re “no longer a magazine company.” Look at Twitter. They aren’t the only social media company facing huge layoffs. There’s a pattern here. Look at this harrowing list and ask yourself – who’s next?
I dreamed my whole life of Becoming a Writer, writing for publications that once seemed permanent. I grew up loving the feel of pages between my fingers. I pored over magazines with the fold out perfume samples and rubbed them on my wrists. There were publications that I thought would be around forever, like the mountains. I believed that journalism and the media industry were essential and unwavering, and I don’t know that anymore.
I pivoted back into freelancing during the pandemic and it is something I plan to continue. But even in my short time back in the mainstream media game, so much has changed. Magazines that I thought would be around forever have just quietly shuffled off the store racks and gone digital only. Articles I wrote just a year ago for well-known publications have quietly disappeared, the entire section moved exclusively to print. Editors I loved creating content for have informed me that their publications are focusing on the kinds of listicles that lead to online affiliate sales. I can’t help but wonder – if that’s the new rule for mainstream media sites, what happens to small businesses that aren’t yet on Share-a-Sale? What about the independent chef, designer or haircare brand that hasn’t made enough impact to be on an affiliate platform yet? Where do we learn about them – on a social media platform owned by an erratic billionaire investor who can choose to throttle or twist the algorithm, so they have to pay to be seen? Doesn’t seem right.
Remember blogrolls – the list at the side of a blog that showcased our colleagues, the other sites we loved visiting and supporting? I clicked through an old blogroll recently and it was beyond depressing. For every blog that ended with a heartfelt farewell received with outpourings of affection, there are so many others that just take you to a 404 page or nothing at all. So many of my peers have just quietly faded away. Maybe they left to focus on work or family. Maybe they felt under-read and underappreciated. Maybe they just got tired of trying to do and be everything. After years and years of creating content, you can feel so completely wrung out.
A peek at one of my old blogrolls felt like visiting the annals of history, and it was just a little over a decade ago. 10 years doesn’t sound that long ago, right? But in this world, 10 years might as well be 20 or 30 or 50. This is a world that moves and moves on so quickly. This is a world that forgets our forebears and celebrates the next thing, too often without giving originators their flowers. And this just isn’t in the blog world, I’ve seen it in mainstream media, in hair, in makeup, in music – all the creative industries where artists must balance craft with commerce to make a living.
When I look at the landscape of Black-owned, Black-focused media that covers stories and offers original interviews, there are fewer of us at the table than in years past. This really came to light recently when I was trying to help friends with a cultural event get the publicity they deserved. One by one I realized my old media contacts had moved on. The few who did get back to me weren’t interested, weren’t responsive, or didn’t have the bandwidth to do the work. It was a discouraging insight into how the sausage gets made these days. There are fewer places to be seen and heard if you don’t have a famous name attached to your project, or if you don’t already have an online presence or the right connections. Or if your connections all moved on to the next thing.
It seems like the sands might be shifting away from the social media platforms where so many of us spend our time and have built our communities. So, here’s why I’ve been planning to be more consistent in my content here: I believe now, more than ever, it’s time for us to return to creating and supporting our own unique platforms. We have so much to say, and there is so much that needs to be said.
Within the last few years, I thought if I just closed shop nobody would notice, and the world would keep spinning. And that still may be true, but those thoughts came from imposter syndrome, compounded by loss, grief, and despair at the overall state of the world. I’ve come to a different place now. Sitting back to watch the world spin has helped to sharpen my perspective. Now, in these unpredictable times, I know I need to hold my corner.
I still have so many ideas to share, products to review that you should know about, small businesses to big up, beauty brand histories to explore, and essays about culture to write. I started this site in 2006 when I was 27 or 28? A whole lifetime ago. I’ve grown and changed and the whole world has changed too. I’m interested in writing about new things here as well. Food, drinks, lifestyle content – stuff I was less into when I was in my 20’s, 40-something Patrice is super into. So you’ll be seeing more of that. My skincare routine has changed, my haircare routine and understanding of my hair has changed, my personal style has changed. I’ve had some health issues and learned a lot about that along the way. So expect to read different things as I continue evolving.
I want to continue to be a voice for the independent entrepreneurs making amazing products, who are seeking exposure without the pockets to purchase it. Not every business is going to get into affiliate marketing right away. I have seen that honest reviews from reputable sources can help independent brands and entrepreneurs gain customers, attention, maybe even retail space and funding from the powers that be. I know for sure that I can help small businesses grow — I’ve done it before and that’s writing that gives me joy.
I plan to be the only person creating content here, sorry to all aspiring SEO folks who fill up my inbox every day, I’m not looking for contributors anytime soon. I have things to say myself and I’m ready to get back to saying them. Hopefully some of you will still be here to read them.
The plan is to write here regularly, and you can also find my new articles for others on Muckrack. And for now, you can still find me on most social platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, I’m working things out with YouTube so watch this space. Currently I’m just a lurker on TikTok – video content has never really been my thing so I’m not sure what to do over there other than watch (open to your suggestions if you have any). My main goal going forward is to face my front and focus on creating content I can be proud of, here and around the web – but mostly here. To quote Mariah Carey, I’m gonna do the best I can with what I’ve got.
Several years ago, author Mandy Hale sent me a copy of her book along with a teeshirt that says “When nothing is certain, anything is possible.” I wear it often, and lately the phrase has been circling around my mind. This is now. Nothing is certain. Anything is possible. We’re still here.