I remember sitting in the school library at the age of seven and encountering magical fairytale books that portrayed rags-to-riches stories about how dreams came true. However, those dreams were limited to one-dimensional protagonists whose skin was light and hair was…well…blonde. At the time, I idealized those damsels in distress, but every time I looked into the mirror, I didn’t see a damsel nor a princess; rather, I saw a girl whose skin was not light and whose hair was not blonde. Finally, we have a book with a protagonist who looks like me and my children: “Beautifully Me” by author, designer, entrepreneur and influencer Nabela Noor, and illustrated by Nabi H. Ali.
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The light-hearted and cheerful character of Zubi looks around her to see that the people she is surrounded by on a daily basis, struggle with self-image. As a result, she soon begins to question her own self-image and wonders whether or not there is something wrong with how she looks. “Beautifully Me” exhibits how attentive children are to their surroundings, to the conversations of the people around them and to themselves or their personal contemplations. Also, how can we, as adults, become role models for our children? Find the answer in “Beautifully Me,” beautifully.
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Noor identifies herself as a Bangladeshi-American and is not only a published author but also an entrepreneur and an advocate for self-love. She treats her millions of followers like close friends by sharing her thoughts and emotions as well as inviting us into her home, introducing us to her family and sharing her Bengali culture. Throughout it all, she empowers us to believe in ourselves and be comfortable in our own skin. Even during the interview process, Noor’s words radiate happiness, gravitas and fortitude.
Congratulations on your pregnancy and the publication of your book! This book is inspiring and the fact that you have written a dedication to your future baby is beautiful. How and when was “Beautifully Me” born?
This book is the book of my dreams, the book that younger Nabela needed. I never saw children’s books with characters who resembled me, with families who looked like mine. I wonder how my self-image would have been impacted if I had felt seen and represented as a young girl. I’ve also spent my entire career focusing on helping young adults and adults unlearn harmful beauty standards and redefine beauty for themselves. At a certain point in my career, I wondered — what if I went straight to the trunk of the tree? What if I spoke to children directly and helped them learn how to define beauty for themselves so that they don’t have to unlearn or re-condition in the future? What if they could learn about healthy self-love journeys the right way, the first time? And that is how “Beautifully Me” came to be.
When writing every word, I thought of my future child and how I wanted to create this story for them. For them to feel seen, loved, understood, represented and encouraged. In my heart, I thought, “One day, I will read this book to my future daughter.” Little did I know that by the time the book was published and hit store shelves, I would be pregnant with my daughter. My rainbow baby, who will always have a dedication in the book that served as my prayer for her.
I understand that each reader can take something different from “Beautifully me.” For example, when I was reading “Beautifully Me,” I was thinking back to my childhood and just the concept of being “brown” growing up, how Bengalis and non-Bengalis alike were treating me based on my skin color. Comments weren’t always nice, but my parents always told me I was beautiful and in that way I could also relate to “Beautifully Me.” Who is your target audience and what do you wish for them to take from the book?
I believe the audience for this book is anyone who has ever felt othered, as my goal when writing this book was to not only offer representation for my own community who is wildly underrepresented, but also to uplift those who have ever struggled with their insecurities and their individual self-love journeys. Self-love is universal. The need for it to thrive as individuals is universal. I hope that we can all agree that the world would be a better place if we all had a healthier sense of self and healthy self-esteem. This book is for anyone who wants to equip themselves and their loved ones with a little encouragement as they navigate their self-love journeys.
Culturally, I wanted this book to offer visibility and representation to my Bangladeshi heritage and offer a glimpse into a South Asian home, Bengali foods, clothing, traditions and language. These are things I didn’t see celebrated in media, TV, entertainment and books, growing up. I never saw a main character who looked like me. A family that resembled mine. I wanted to be a part of changing that for future generations. I wanted brown kids to discover this book and see imagery and read familiar words that made them feel celebrated. The response to “Beautifully Me” so far has made me feel like my goal was accomplished and that is the most gratifying feeling.
You mentioned, in the book, that your nieces and nephews “make Zubi who she is.” Would you like to share more about this?
A little bit of each of my nieces and nephews lives within Zubi’s character. From her curiosity, her compassion, her kindness to her bubbly spirit — all of her traits pulled inspiration from them as well as a younger Nabela. There’s so much Noor living in Zubi.
The illustrations are stunningly vibrant! How closely did you work with illustrator, Nabi H. Ali, on the creation of “Beautifully Me?”
When searching for the artist to work with to bring “Beautifully Me” to life, I was extremely particular. The moment I laid eyes on Nabi’s work, I knew he was the artist for this book. It is so amazing that two South Asian creatives came together to bring this book to life and it’s so apparent that Nabi just gets it from the cover to the very last page.
The lengthiest part was finalizing Zubi because I had such a specific vision in mind for her down to her hair clips, buttons, hairstyle, facial features and more. And Nabi was so gracious and collaborative when perfecting Zubi. Once we got Zubi completely nailed down, Nabi was able to bring Zubi’s vibrant world to life in ways that were so much bigger and more magnificent than I could have ever imagined, alone. The touches, details and features he added to each page and each character felt so right and so real. I couldn’t be more thankful to have had the opportunity to work with him in bringing the book of my dreams to life.
Growing up, I needed a book like “Beautifully Me.” As a grown-up, I still need it. As a mother, I am grateful my children have it. “Beautifully Me” is a tribute to the color of every kind in all of its vibrant images and its vibrant message: be beautifully YOU.