Bella Wants It All
An interview with the multi-faceted Nigerian-based blogger, baker and visual storyteller, Bella of iambrownie.com
All photos via iambrownie.com
Q: When did you start putting yourself out on various platforms?
Bella: I started putting myself out there [about] two years ago. Seems much longer to be honest! But I started taking my online presence seriously last year.
Q: What came first for you - the makeup, baking, blogging, or fashion? And if you could do one of those things forever, what would it be?
Bella: Unofficially, the baking - officially, the makeup. If I could do one of these things forever, it would probably be the baking. I feel like [baking] would be the most long-lasting thing.
Q: Do you see yourself carrying on with all of these aspects for a long time?
Bella: Definitely! As cheesy as it sounds, I’ll have to accept that this is my first job! It has also given me so many opportunities I would definitely not have had without the internet.
Q: When and how did you start baking? How did [baking] go from a hobby into The Brownie Cakerie?
Bella: To be honest, I’ve baked on and off for years but I started investing love and affection into it all when I came back to Nigeria. I was dealing with a lot of anxiety issues at the time and baking was therapeutic for me. It still is! It turned into The Brownie Cakerie when I realised that I needed to give out the cakes or I wouldn’t have any space in my house and why not get paid to fill people’s bellies? I love how excited people get when they receive their orders, I literally feel like I’m giving people presents every time I make a delivery. I [just] started advertising [my baking] this year. I said ‘ you know what? What’s the worst that can happen?’
Q: I find it fascinating that you have a hand in all of these different aspects, especially because it seems everybody wants to be defined by one aspect that is their "brand". Would you encourage more people to try their hand at pursuing multiple passions?
Bella: I would definitely say that it's not fun to be put in a box, unless that box is you. If I were to have something I would want to be known for - it would be for being myself and all these things are different pieces of me - much like you have a hand or a leg, they all serve different functions. They're all different things I like to do, but on the other hand I would suggest that somebody has something to specialize in because sometimes when you end up being a lot of things, you never know what you're actually truly amazing at because you're putting the same amount of effort into everything, [you could] become a jack of all trades and a master of none.
Q: Is it hard balancing your interests?
Bella: It’s tasking definitely. Sometimes, you need to bake but you have a review to finish up, or a post to shoot for, I just [try] to remind myself that I can let go of any of them whenever I want to, so none of them feel like a chore.
Q: Are you ever worried you’ll be pigeonholed due to preconceived notions based on your social media presence?
Bella: I am concerned with being pigeonholed for the wrong thing, if that makes sense. I’d consider myself a "Brownie" and what I define a Brownie as is a well rounded individual. I try to mix it up as much as I can on social media while being myself so that no one ever mistakes me for being one thing and not the other. In the earlier years, I was deemed a makeup artist and I rolled with it up until I realised and accepted that I wasn’t a makeup artist, I was a regular girl navigating makeup streets. If I could be called one thing forever and I couldn't choose Brownie, it would probably be ‘lifestyle blogger’ because in some ways, that encompasses everything, right? That’s a good ONE thing.
Q: Were you ever afraid to put yourself out there and how did you overcome that? What advice can you give to someone who was afraid to put their work out there?
Bella: I was, and sometimes I still am! I just ask myself "what’s the worst that can possibly happen?" I’ve had very few hate comments, but that’s basically the worst so far. [In terms of putting yourself out there] Like Nike said - "just do it!"
Q: You posted a while ago about “claiming who you want to be perceived as”, how important has that been in developing your creative interests or general life?
Bella: I’ve found that claiming what you want is a sure banker way of letting yourself adjust to the idea of being that thing and letting others adjust to it as well. I was really hesitant about calling myself a blogger until I realised that If I didn't call myself that, I couldn’t possibly expect someone else to.
Q: How do you feel you have grown in terms of where you were when you started and now?
Bella: I honestly just think my make up game and [sense of style] is better. I’ve come to love myself exactly as I am by documenting and reviewing where I’ve been. It's nostalgic and therapeutic .
Q: You started putting up videos and photos while you were in London, and then you came back to Nigeria - what have been the major changes for you in terms of how you approached your fashion and makeup choices when you first came back? Do you ever feel restricted by the Nigerian society?
Bella: Funny enough, at the time I was coming back to Nigeria, I experienced a rebirth in every part of my life. I remember thinking, "I can’t wear shorts out anymore!" and then getting here and realising not wearing shorts as much didn't make any difference in my life. One thing I would say is that people LOVE to stare so if you don’t want to get stared at, you conform. I love getting stared at every once in a while, though. Honestly, I currently don’t [feel restricted]. As conservative as Nigeria is, It’s a growing nation and there is always room for something new. You just have to learn to work around some things, as you would in any place you go to.
Q: Your video “Nigeria vs Vaginas” was hilarious, honest and important. Personally, I'm not a fan of the level of sexism in Nigeria and I feel like [Nigeria] needs more vocal woman within the country. Do you identity as a feminist, womanist or any kind of "-ist"?
Bella: I identify as a humanist in many ways, mostly because a lot of feminists have lost the plot and confused their cause and turned it into a genocide of males everywhere. I’m very much a believer that women are not as represented or as respected as we deserve BUT what I can not stand for is the respect of women that has the opportunity cost as the respect of men, you know? And I do believe Nigeria needs more women willing to speak up in their feelings and I’m hoping my generation bridges that gap and soon.I believe that the importance of human beings should be valued not just individually but collectively as well and that should be our goal.
Q: On your blog you wrote that being connected to your culture is important to you – where in Nigeria are you from, how important is it that you know your roots, how does the culture influence you in your various outlets?
Bella: I’m Nigerian from Edo State, even though I feel pretty connected to all the cultures I’ve experienced so far being a Nigerian. I get to wear an iro and bubba, adorn myself with coral beads, slap on lots of henna because I’m Nigerian. I will say that I favour Edo/Delta because of primordial attachments and to me, it feels like home. Sporting my culture reminds me that I’m not some ‘beast of no nation’, reminds me that I belong somewhere, you know? It’s very uplifting. I feel complete knowing where I come from
Q: On your site there is a recurring motto “be better” – where did that come from, how what is the significance of that statement?
Bella: Like a lot of people, I’ve been through several phases in my life, and aside from God, I’ve found that my driving force is the thirst to be better than I was yesterday. Progression is necessary for anyone that wants to have a purpose filled life. I believe that if there is one thing that any one remembers at the end of my posts, it’s my call to action asking them to not just think but BE better. It kind of asks you to physically BE.
Q: You call your supporters Brownies, which I find very adorable – to me that reads pride in your melanin or blackness – was that the intention behind it?
Bella: To be honest, it started out that way, glorifying the black woman and the skin she’s in, but it’s much more now. When I first thought of being a "Brownie", it was funny that the first thing that came to my mind was "A brownie is always prepared" from [the] Girl Scout and Brownie days! So for me, a Brownie is a well rounded woman. It now officially transcends your colour and goes into what you do. A brownie lives a purpose driven life that delves into EVERYTHING they desire. A brownie isn’t restricted to just being smart, or pretty or stylish. She can have it all! But because a lot of people assume being a Brownie is literally only for brown girls, I shout out my LIGHTIES and my DARKIES as well in every video I make.
Q: In terms of fashion – did you start out following trends, or you more or less just wore what you liked?
Bella: I’ve always loved dressing up and once I learnt that there was a way to document my style, I jumped at it for the fun of it. I loved the fact that I felt my demographic, style wise, was not mainstream and I could be like a pioneer or something. I started out looking for things that I considered sexy or flashy but eventually, I found my own comfort zone and, dare I say, I don’t need to be trendy to look like me.
Q: How have you honed your beauty skills over the years? Has there ever been an attempted beauty moment you regret? What’s a beauty tip you think is essential to get the "Bella" Effect?
Bella: I’m not sure if I can ever really hone in on my skills, but I’ve definitely grown a lot and learnt a lot. The beauty game is ever changing and [in regards to that], I’d like to admit that I definitely fall for some trends. Girl, back in the day, I never used to fill in my brows and it was something. I’m not sure why I thought I could get away with it. I try to burn every picture I see till now. That’s the most cringe worthy moment so far. I think if I had to pick one "Bella" tip, it would be the dots under my eyes. They make any girl feel like a doll and they suit my bohemian feels perfectly!
Q: Advice for anyone trying to run abroad to develop their skills?
Bella: There’s no place like home! Where is home for you? Go there and damn the consequences. Home is Nigeria for me!
Q: You're currently a student - what are you studying, and is that a fallback something you plan to pursue in the future?
Bella: I’m studying Political Science and International Relations because deep down, I’m a brewing activist. I do plan to work with my degree to some degree as I’m very very passionate about Nigeria and It’s people and I hope to genuinely make a difference starting from now!
Q: Who is your biggest inspiration? Work-wise, style wise and just as a human being? What is the best thing you’ve learned from them?
Bella: I get asked this question a lot. And unfortunately, my answer is always so Cliche! My mother has to be hands down my biggest inspiration, but I must tell you that our looks are about the only thing we have in common. She’s a strong widow with a zeal for God and a zeal for life. I want both of those. I’m hungry for it all