I’ve said this quite a bit when asked about what it’s like to be who I am and do what I do – my job is an ever evolving, always exciting exercise in perpetually rising to the occasion. That’s the most appropriate explanation for last Thursday’s experience. I was flown to New York City, where I was the official first guest at the brand new Viceroy Hotel, and then the next morning I participated in a celebrity panel discussion that kicked off the first ever Essence Magazine #EssencePreview Upfront event.

Beaty Panel FZ2A7610

 (Photo credit: Michael Rowe/ESSENCE)

The whole concept of the Essence Upfront event is to share information that uplifts. Over 200 advertisers and partners attend the event, and it’s a presentation of ideas, of statistics, and of information that clues the audience in regarding Essence Magazine’s future plans and the direction of black women in terms of beauty, fashion and style. This year, in addition to our panel there was a special performance by Grammy-nominated singer Marsha Ambrosius, and appearances by Oscar-nominated actress Viola Davis and actress Danai Gurira. I briefly met Danai backstage and she is just GORGEOUS. Viola and Marsha came later in the day. I got to spend my morning with Gabrielle Union, Bethann Hardison, Mikki Taylor, and Iman. Yes. This happened.


Here’s a brief FAQ, based on what everyone’s been asking me.

Whaaaaaaat? Wow! How did this happen?

I was asked by Essence if I could participate, and I said yes immediately. Because, OBVIOUSLY.

What’s Gabrielle Union like in person?

Super smart, friendly, funny, and cool – I really enjoyed chatting with her. I love when a celebrity is true to themselves and has character and complexity. Gabrielle is an amazing woman. Honored to have met her.

How did you not faint/freak out standing next to IMAN?

By the grace of God. Iman is strikingly beautiful and definitely has a strong presence but she was friendly and warmed up as we got to know each other. Sitting next to her on stage, she made me feel comfortable and that encouraged me to speak up more.


The questions Mikki asked spoke to the message that has always been at the core of Afrobella – it was all about the beauty of black women, the confidence we exude despite the mixed messages of society, and the need for inclusion of a wider spectrum of our beauty. I was there to speak to and for women with natural hair, and plus sized women who deserve more than the industry is giving us at present.

The discussion on stage was vigorous and I really enjoyed that we didn’t all share the same opinions. Bethann and I disagreed on a few topics, but it was all in a spirit of love and learning from each other. And backstage we were able to share that with each other. Bethann Hardison is such an amazing, remarkable woman. I’m so honored to know her, and she is so free in sharing her warmth and wisdom.

Mikki Taylor is a phenomenal woman and she is always gracious, upbeat, and welcoming. I love her spirit and I was so honored to be part of this event with her.


What did I want to convey during this panel?

I wanted to represent for those of us who are still underrepresented.

I believe that plus sized women deserve more respect and attention from the fashion industry. We are style doyennes and tastemakers against the odds, despite the fact that often we have to look harder to find fashionable clothes. I want to see designers include plus sized options in everything they do. I want to see mainstream retailers include plus sizes in their collaborations and special collections. I want inclusion, not just specialty exclusion in an online only capacity.

I believe that women of color should be able to wear their hair as they choose to any kind of school or corporate job. I don’t believe locs or loose natural hair should be a deterrent to your success in the workplace and discrimination against natural hairstyles should be a thing of the past. Even though I work from home in a creative capacity, I believe any woman should be able to strut into a corporate workplace with her head held high and be respected for her intellect and capabilities regardless of how she wears her hair.

I believe that things are getting better in terms of marketing and advertising including the spectrum of our beauty, but we still have a ways to go. It’s not a question of needing validation from anyone, it’s a matter of deserving recognition and respect.

It was  such an honor and such a surreal experience to share my opinions on this panel. I hope what I said was just as eloquent as what I typed above, but if it wasn’t – please forgive me. This is basically how I felt inside the whole time.


(Photo courtesy @InHerShoesBlog)

There were a few moments where I felt like I was hovering somewhere above, looking down at myself sitting with Iman, Bethann and Gabrielle! The experience of looking into the audience and seeing SO many of my blogger friends in the audience was so beautiful. Thank you In Her Shoes, The Glamazons, Love Brown Sugar, Lipstick Fashion Mascara, Fashion Style Beauty, Miss Julee of Huffington Post, Divas and Dorks for love! So great seeing you all!

And you can follow ALL of the amazing panelists on social media. Via Twitter – @ItsGabrielleU @The_Real_Iman  @BethannHardison and @IAmMikkiTaylor.

Thank you to Essence Magazine (@EssenceMag) for this opportunity. I hope I rose to your occasion!

For more about the Essence Upfront Panel, check out these posts!

A Day In The Life – Essence Upfronts, via The Glamazons

Mikki Taylor on the Secrets to Success via HuffPo

Out And About: Essence Upfront Session via Lipstick Fashion Mascara

Gabrielle Union Addresses Critics of Her Blonde Hair via Karen Civil

Black Beauty! Via The Jasmine Brand

Event Fab via The YBF.

Additional photos via The Glamazons, The Jasmine Brand, and In Her Shoes Blog


Crystal-Eyez says:
October 15, 2013, 9:42 am
Looooove it! Congrats Bella!! You are amazing...so well deserved!
Elle says:
October 15, 2013, 9:54 am
You look great! Congrats!!
@Ms_Andrews of @GlamazonsBlog says:
October 15, 2013, 12:38 pm
When I got the Essence upfront invite, I was thrilled to see your name next to Iman, Bethann, Mikki and Gabrielle. When you sat down at the panel, I was cheering like we were outside at a football game, lol. How awesome to see a black blogger take her (rightful) seat next to legendary style pioneers. But I was most proud when you started speaking: your intelligence, wisdom and passion for black beauty in all its forms was evident. And your beautiful spirit just shined through. As a friend, I continue to be so amazed by your journey. As a brown blogger, I'm grateful for the doors you've opened for all of us. Continued success xoxoxoxo Jess
MsXpat says:
October 16, 2013, 6:12 am
What an amazing opportunity! Well done Bella :0)
pets says:
October 16, 2013, 10:31 am
As ever you do us proud! So happy about this event and your part in it. Also wonderful that you go to be first official guest Viceroy NYC and it is posted on their FB page alongside a picture of you and their 2 top executives! Waiting for even more blow your mind news! Love and keep doing well and giving back to all women.
Brown Eyed Girl says:
October 16, 2013, 2:08 pm
Thank you for always intelligently and beautifully representing - and speaking up for - plus-sized, natural-haired women of color!
Maha says:
October 18, 2013, 1:35 am
Wow, congratulations! What a great opportunity. I love to see uplifting and support between women.
Natty Girl says:
October 20, 2013, 4:08 am
WOW! Congrats! Such and AMAZING opportunity and you looked stunning :-)