When a friend suggested she start a blog and asked what she wanted to write about, it didn't take long for Patrice Elizabeth Grell-Yursik to come up with a theme. Having decided to wear her hair natural years before, she realised the absence of magazines about black women with natural hair. This provided an ideal opportunity for her to speak to that community. On her aptly named blog Afrobella, Grell-Yursik reviews products, hosts give-aways, speaks about the inherent challenges in rocking a natural do; like finding salons that specialise in natural hair, and most importantly, she provides a forum for black women to network and share experiences.
Afrobella went live in 2006 and many consider it an authority on black beauty online. The blog gets thousands of hits everyday. "I used to read a lot of blogs and I used to comment on a lot of blogs. One of them was Concreteloop. She has the most popular black gossip blog in America and she started around same time as me. I told her that she inspired me and she loved my blog and put it on the front page as blog of the week and it stayed there for a while. My hits went from a few to thousands overnight," said Grell-Yursik. Afrobella's popularity recently caught the eyes of the editors at Italian Vogue, who asked Grell-Yursik to write about hair and beauty for a new publication called Vogue Black. "I got an email from them saying they admired my work and they are looking to increase the contributions of black bloggers. It's been interesting, I am enjoying it very much so far," said Grell-Yursik, who also contributes to AOL's Black Voices and American Airlines' Black Atlas Web site.
As has been the luck of some bloggers, Grell-Yursik, 31, was offered a book deal and currently has a proposal in the works for an Afrobella book of beauty. That this former Miami newspaper editor should wind up as an influential voice for black beauty is no surprise. Though she did an undergraduate degree in film and a Masters in creative writing at the University of Miami after leaving Trinidad in 1998, she always loved cosmetics and anything beauty related. Her passion was innate and further fuelled by a job she held at a then popular cosmetic store at the age of eight. "I worked at Fabi's in Westmall. I was working there from the age of eight; that was my Christmas job. My mom used to shop at the store obsessively and the owner realised I had the gift to sell because I would always recommend things to my mother. I think at that age they realised I cared about those things," recalled Grell-Yursik.
Her fixation with natural hair didn't come until later, when she migrated and found the guts to liberate herself from the hair straightening chemicals she loathed. "I hated getting my hair relaxed, I hated the way it smelled. The courage came when I moved abroad. At home people were very judgmental about how you looked, but when I came abroad I realised you can be beautiful the way you are. People weren't talking about me the way they would at home. Also, my husband lets me know I am beautiful no matter how I look. "Last time I relaxed my hair was in 2002. For my wedding, I had short spiky hair with a tiara. I never looked back, it was liberating." Everyone was not on board with her decision, particularly her mother. "We limit ourselves and we don't realise how, in terms of exercising, in terms of swimming in a pool, you can't walk in the rain. My hair expresses my personality," said Grell-Yursik, who said she still gets negative comments about her hair when she visits.
"It disappoints me a little bit because in so many ways we are trendsetters and we embrace every creed and race but to be seen as a beautiful person you have to conform to a narrow view of beauty in terms of hair, skin colour and weight." She said while there are people in the US who do struggle with those perceptions of beauty, there are those who would compliment her hair but say they can't do that because their hair is not like hers. "I am like, how do you know? I didn't know. It took me a long time to figure out how to style it and comb it. "The biggest question I am asked is what products to use, how do I get it to look like yours? That bothers me because your hair is your beauty. There is a mentality that beauty is long hair and it has to have a certain curl but if your hair is very, very coarse and very short nobody should make you feel ugly."
Grell-Yursik, a Bishop alum, hopes to one day spread the gospel of Afrobella locally. These events bring women together to network over drinks while pampering them with gift bags and prizes. And, though she's already busy meeting multiple deadlines as well as maintaining her blog, the Chicago resident sees working in radio, writing a syndicated magazine column and publishing many books in her future. Appearing on Oprah is also in the cards.
You can find Patrice Elizabeth Grell-Yursik on these sites:
Vogue Black (http://www.vogue.it/en/vogue-black)