Nabela is a first-generation Bangladeshi-American creator, activist, and entrepreneur who uses her platform to empower her millions of followers to love the skin they’re in!
In this episode, you can hear about Nabela Noor’s journey from aspiring lawyer to digital creator and entrepreneur, and how those paths lead to her ultimately doing the activism work that she dreamt of doing in school.
Nabella talks about why representation matters and how it inspires her to build brands that center around inclusivity and diversity, and that gives space to uplift underrepresented stories and characters.
Puno and Nabela also talk about how to know when they need moments of self-care while building their empires, and how their partners support their efforts.
Nabela Noor’s Journey to Self-Love
I really struggled with self-love and that’s why it became so important to me to share it when I discovered it. I grew up in a really small, predominantly white, conservative town that I still live in today, just wishing that I would wake up in the morning with blonde hair and blue eyes and my name would be Rebecca. All I wanted was to just fit in because I stuck out so much.
There weren’t many people like me with my background in school and I just didn’t feel seen at all. So therefore, I didn’t think that I was beautiful. I didn’t think that I could be because I didn’t see it represented around.
So I did struggle with self-love for the majority of the time growing up and then finally got to the point where I decided that I wasn’t going to hate myself anymore and that I wasn’t going to wait to love who I was and love my reflection.
It actually was social media that helped me discover that being different is beautiful.
Nabela Noor on Why Representation Matters
When I would watch TV there wasn’t a brown girl that was the main character, right?
There wasn’t a girl specifically Bangladeshi, South Asian, and Muslim. I didn’t see those stories celebrated around me and so that did influence what I thought was normal and beautiful. So when you pick up magazines and they’re all blonde or brunette or white, you start to think that’s the standard of beauty. Even when I would crush on a boy when I was younger, I’d never thought that I would end being with that boy because that boy obviously would have to be with a white girl.
That was just like my processing. It was like, of course I can’t have that thing. Even if I was dreaming of becoming a big star day one day, when I was younger in my mind there was a voice that said that’s not for you. You’re not Lizzie McGuire.
So that just shaped my understanding of the world.
For me, I started to feel like I could possibly be beautiful, and it wasn’t even through seeing someone with the same background as me, it was watching That’s So Raven.
Raven was like the first curvy girl of color I saw on TV. I watched the Disney channel all day and didn’t see anything that remotely resembles me and then Raven shows up and I am like wait a second – can I be the main character of my own story? That was a really big deal for me.
Even to this day, there aren’t enough South Asian stories celebrated in the mainstream and I hope that I can be a part of changing that because it matters.
Nabela Noor on Her Journey to Building Her Own Brand
I grew up in a South Asian home with immigrant parents as a first-generation American, so I had pretty much a formula laid out in front of me for what I should be and who I should become. So naturally, my options were to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, right? That’s the pool that I can pick from.
So I was going to school to be a lawyer and I wanted to work for the UN one day – that was the pre-determined dream I selected for myself.
I was very passionate about what I wanted to do, something to do with the world of giving back and helping others and that’s why I really wanted to work for the UN. So anyway, I’m in college, I’m getting ready to take my LSATs and preparing to enter law school and I told my mom I’m just going to make these videos for fun. And I did.
I started making YouTube videos for fun while I was in college and they kind of blew up and took on a life of their own. This was my creative side of me that was just bursting and ready to come out. And so I was just enjoying what my mom calls a “hobby”. Every time I had a creative urge my whole life my mom was like, “Yeah it can exist in your life… but as a hobby!”
So YouTube was my hobby and then it just started to blow up more and more and more. It got time for me to really take the law school thing seriously and I just looked at my mom. I remember saying like, just give me some time.
I graduated and I had my Bachelor’s and I did work in behavioural health and social work for a little bit before, and then after graduating I took the full leap. I felt like I needed to try full time, so I did. I started working with brands and developing my brand and I haven’t turned back.
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How Nabela Noor’s Youtube Channel Made Her UN Dreams Come True
It’s funny how things work out, because I got into American University, got into their honors program, and I was so excited. I’m going to live my United Nations dream. But I was so crushed when I couldn’t afford to attend.
I got a lot of scholarships and lots of grants, but there was a difference that I had to come up with and I thought, okay I won’t be able to work for the UN.
I picked out a different university, graduated, and thought that the UN dream was closed. And then obviously after I graduated I did YouTube and fell in love with YouTube. Then I’m sitting in the UN offices because I have a platform and they want me to speak.
That to me embodies what “Girlboss-ing” is.
I didn’t realize when I jumped into the YouTube thing that it would open a door that I thought once closed. But I think I had enough faith in myself to just keep going and being like okay I’m going to keep pushing. Then somehow I landed in the UN office and then I am on the floor talking about things that matter. Talking about refugee migration, Islamophobia, and the importance of the immigrant story.
I told this person at the UN that I wanted to work here and it was my dream and I’ll never forget her saying to me “Nabela, you might be able to make more of an impact now with how you’ll be working with the UN then you would have had you worked for the UN.”
That was so important for me to hear that maybe my destiny was working with me in this capacity and maybe that I could make a bigger impact. I needed to know that things might not always work out the way you hope for them to because something bigger is coming.
Using her platform to lift up other voices
I have always thought that I can’t just have this platform and it’s all about me. That’s not what I felt called to do. If my platform could help lift others up in some capacity, especially the communities that I belong in and represent, then I’m doing something that I could be proud of 10 years from now.
That’s why my non-profit means so much to me as well because if I have people’s eyes right now, let’s talk about things that matter. Let’s talk about stories that need to be told. Let’s talk about issues that need to be addressed. I feel the most fulfilled when I can allow myself to be a platform rather than just be a spotlight.
How Quarantine Changed Nabela Noor’s Life — Forever
Quarantine actually changed my life.
I started posting on the first day that it was announced that it was a pandemic. I remember I was bored. I didn’t know what to do and I was scared because they sayidit’s two weeks that we’re going to be at home, but I don’t know, some people are saying it might be longer.
What are we going to do while stuck at home? Are we going to die? Like it was just so many thoughts!
So what I did was just documented what I did that day and filmed it. I posted it on TikTok and on my Instagram and it went viral. And then I did it every single day.
It was actually to help my own anxiety and help me cope but it ended up helping other people with their anxiety and to cope, because they just saw me do random everyday things like doing my dishes, making a meal, and how I just got through the day. I used to call it, “quarantine routine”.
It built such a strong community. So many people started to look forward to it every single day and then it became a movement. Then quarantine wasn’t really a thing anymore and it was more like a social distancing thing, so I switched the “Quarantine Routine” to what has become “Pockets of Peace”.
Every day, or on most days, I document the moments throughout the day that brought me peace and the little moments of stillness that I wanted to celebrate. It’s truly the most everyday things like cooking a meal for my husband, cleaning, and writing in my gratitude journal. I just share it in video form and people have really felt inspired to find those moments every single day in their lives that are peaceful and make time for it.
Breaking Down Beauty Standards with Nabela Noor
I think beauty standards exist for many reasons, first and foremost it’s for profit. The idea that bags under our eyes are bad, is so that we can sell products to get rid of them. The idea that your weight is something that needs to be perfected, is there so that we can sell diet pills and skinny teas. That’s really one of the biggest reasons for why these standards are continually perpetuated.
We also can’t deny the fact that you know European standards of beauty have dictated us throughout history.
Back home in Bangladesh, people use skin whitening creams to look fairer to look more like the European beauty standard. This stuff is rooted not just in profit but also in history.
It’s also rooted in fact that hate sells but self-love is liberating. Once you understand that your insecurity is designed for profit, you can start to be like I am no longer going to to fall for it.
When I became free of that and decided not to wait till I was thinner to be happy, that’s when my life changed and began to really change for the better.
The Evolution of Nabela Noor’s Relationship with Makeup
There was a time in my life where I wouldn’t leave the house without makeup because it was crutch for me, and this was before YouTube. So I came into YouTube with a much healthier perspective of myself and my relationship with makeup.
If I feel like I can’t live without it, that’s when I know I have to start to make myself, so that I can uncover what’s going on. Now my relationship with makeup is so cool. It’s fun and it’s not something whereI need it to feel beautiful. Even with my platform I’ve always made it very clear that makeup isn’t a necessity, it’s a beauty accessory.
The Ecosystem of Nabela Noor’s Empire
You would think I’d know when to stop but I genuinely feel so blessed every single day and I’m just like okay so what can I do? How can I give back?
I do have four businesses. I can break them down for you if you like. If you go to loveandnoor.co you can actually see a tree to show the breakdown because I really needed my audience and people who want to work with me to know all that I do.
My last name Noor means light so the company’s name is love and light. That’s my digital media company that is like the parent company to everything else. I’ve created this to help me spread love and noor to the world.
I have my Nabela Noor Home community which is my home making community I have been growing through my Pockets of Peace series.
Zeba is my clothing and lifestyle brand and it’s also a community focused on self-love. So we work on how we can help dismantle this age-old idea of beauty standards and help in redefining beauty through our platform. And that includes offering ethically made and size inclusive clothing that I have designed every piece.
Part of the profits from Zeba supports Noor House which is my nonprofit scholarship program that’s based in Bangladesh that helps provide education and resources to young girls.
The Importance of Size Inclusivity in Her Designs
The average size of a woman in America today is 14/16, I think it might’ve changed to 16/18 by now actually. So naturally if that’s the average size of a woman in America, then that’s your average consumer, and companies are intentionally keeping them out of the conversation. That’s the problem, so I wanted to be part of solving that problem.
I knew that that existed because I can only go to a few stores in person and find my size otherwise I have to shop online and I wanted just to be a part of changing that.
I think the biggest and best businesses are born from filling a need.
The work involved in offering size inclusive clothing
There are so many challenges when you’re designing, especially since I’ve made it a point to not charge more for larger sizes. That’s something that companies do try to do and I’m just like so what we’re punishing people now? No, I’m not doing that. That’s just not who I am. So I make sure that my prices are the same across the board. Also making sure that everything fits beautifully that’s been a challenge that I’m so happy have overcome.
Each product has taken me several months to design. My first product was called “Girl of My Dreams Cardigan” and it took me a little over a year to design because I needed it to be perfect on all sizes and get it to a price point that made sense.
Accessibility matters to me. People want ethical clothing but they don’t want the ethical clothing prices, and that’s an important distinction. The reason why you’re able to get that cheap piece most of the time is because it was made unethically. So because of that, I’ve made it a point make sure that everyone is being fairly paid.
The Team behind the Nabela Noor Empire
I do have an internal team and then I also have my team in LA: my manager, my publicist, my agent, without whom I couldn’t do anything. I love them so much.
My internal team that works for Love and Noor are my producers and people that work with me to manage this entire ecosystem. They help me handle the content creation, the social media management, the day-to-day, and making sure that we are watering every garden. Without them it would be very difficult to juggle. It is a lot of graphs, tables, charts, Monday meetings, and a lot of coordinating but it’s important.
I think a lot of times content creation sounds like you created the content and then go but there’s a lot of planning and a lot of strategy. We have a lot to juggle and so that definitely includes lots of meetings, conversations, and planning days.
Managing the flow of ideas
Lately I’ve been having so many ideas of more things that I want to launch and I’ve had sit back and think, okay how do we perfect our systems now before I introduce more things that are going to need more systems?
I don’t want my creativity to be what ends up hurting me. I want it to be something that keeps the engine going in a good way.
I need to think it through so that people can feel calm. I don’t want people to feel like there she goes again coming up with the new thing because I could do that all day. But I think the lesson for me lately has been how could I do things and do them in a way that is thought out.
Also, a good idea can still be a good idea and be done a little bit later.
A partner in love and business
There was this running meme about the Instagram Husband that really made me sad back in the day. I have friends who are in the same situation and our partners are not just making content with us but they’re a part of integral decisions and almost take on roles of leadership.
Seth and I run our company together. Everything from payroll to HR and logistical. I could not do it without him. It just couldn’t exist and operate as smoothly, if it wasn’t for him. Together we try to work smarter by knowing what our strengths and weaknesses are.
When I’m having our creative meetings like Seth does obviously provide his feedback, but he’s not over there trying to like create a mood board for me, and then also when he’s trying to get stuff done it comes to figuring out the logistics of something, I’m not going in there with a calculator.
So, we compliment each other in that way.
Nabela Noor on Setting Boundaries at Work
I’m going to be really honest, I am struggling daily with this exact thing and it’s important to share that. Even if I talk about self love that doesn’t mean that I’ve got it figured all out.
I’m not best at knowing how to establish boundaries. I am working on this. What I remind myself every single day is that I cannot pour from an empty cup and that’s helped me because I always want to be helpful and generous. But I need to make sure that what I’m doing isn’t doing more harm than good.
When it comes to giving, I make sure that it is healthy and not exhausting me, whether it’s through little mantras like ‘I can’t pour from an empty cup, I have to fill my cup’, or ‘I have to take time for myself’.
I have to know when to say no. No is a beautiful thing. No is a powerful thing. But I have to be honest and admit that I myself am working on this.
Signals that her cup is getting empty
My body has become a big billboard of what’s going on. Sometimes I’ve felt like my body will honestly make me almost sick so that I have to slow down and stop. When I’ll start to feel under weather and so run down to where I need to lay down or even take a day because
I know that that is an indication you’ve been pouring and pouring and pouring but you just need to stop. I don’t encourage anybody to wait until their body tells them because then you’ve gone way too far.
There’s so many warning signs, like you notice that you’re on your phone too much or you haven’t been able to make time for something that you normally do. Like an everyday indicator for me is if I don’t make time for my gratitude journal something’s awry.
If I didn’t make time for that show that I really, really love, what’s going?
Nabela Noor on Her Definition of Success
My whole life, I really thought that success was something you would earn and that it comes like money, status, reputation, or in the world is social media the currency is followers. This would determine success.
What I’ve learned is actually to me success is all of these things not actually influencing your perspective of yourself. That to me is a successful person.
I think a successful person loves themselves unapologetically. They have found joy in things that are not necessarily worldly.
I feel the most successful when I’m with Seth and my dogs and we’re just together, cooking, watching Law & Order. We’re talking and we’re having a deep conversation and feeling genuine joy and it’s not because of anything that was given to us besides each other.
I feel the most successful when I’m wearing something and I look in the mirror and I feel good about it and it wasn’t influenced by anybody else. Loving yourself unapologetically is truly one of best ways to live a successful life. Finding those moments in each day that can be celebrated.
Whether that was just taking time to watch your favorite show or write in your journal and doing that consistently, that’s successful to me.
Thanks for listening
We feel inspired to love ourselves and build an empire after listening to Puno’s empowering chat with Nabela Noor. Make sure to follow Nabela’s journey by visiting her website loveandnoor.co and following her on TikTok and Instagram.
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