I don’t ascribe to parenting philosophies, but if I had to I’d describe my approach as a combination of ‘gentle’ and ‘free range’. I don’t hover and I don’t spank. I don’t comb my daughter’s hair everyday because she doesn’t like it. I don’t try not to yell. And I believe that the best way I can get my kids to behave is to model emotional balance and health.

I also affirm my kids — like, a lot. They hear almost every day that they are smart, creative, and have what it takes to get through life.

And it’s not because I think my kids are the capital b “Best”, or I’m in a competition with other parents and kids. It’s because it’s taken me 32 years to realize that self-confidence is essential if you want to live. Basically you need self-confidence or you will spend your entire life — as I have — shooting yourself repeatedly in the foot and then wondering why you cant’ seem to get anywhere.

I was never raised to believe myself — my own thoughts, opinions or feelings. I was raised religious — conservative Christian — and the message I heard repeatedly from my parents and other elders is that I could not trust my thoughts — only the word of God or a spiritual elder. Meditation was akin to witchcraft. “Inner thoughts” were the devil. As a result I was conditioned to be unfamiliar with my inner life, to believe everybody — anybody — except for myself. Which was, of course, a recipe for disaster.

When I started BGLH in 2008 it was a novel concept. There were very few natural hair blogs around at the time. Motown Girl was holding it down, and there were a handful of others. But mine was one of the first to document everyday women who were going natural (our beloved Style Icon series). I had lightning in a bottle and my early buzz and brand growth were nuts. I was getting — organically — what many brands pay thousands for. But you know what I was doing? Spending most of those early days locked in a mostly one-sided battle with another natural hair blogger who had insulted me publicly, and a lifestyle blogger who had written that she didn’t like my content.

All of the acclaim I was receiving meant nothing. All I could think about — sometimes from morning till night — was how these two women, who really were inconsequential to my life, didn’t like me.

I had fresh ideas for my blog, but instead of following that path I tried to compete with the blogger who had insulted me. I patterned my content after hers. I panicked whenever she had success. Honestly the first years of my blog life could be called the “The Imaginary Competition With XXX’ Show.

I had titled my blog ‘Black Girl with Long Hair’, kind of aspirationally (my hair has never been long, and it still isn’t.) But I felt desperately insecure that my head of hair didn’t match the title. So I repeatedly turned down opportunities that would involve me showing my face publicly — out of fear. I cannot count how many times I’ve run into a woman who’s told me, “You know, there’s this great natural hair blog I follow! It’s called Black Girl with Long Hair!” To which I awkwardly reply, “Uh, yeh. That’s my blog.”

I sabotaged professional relationships that could have resulted in me expanding into print or nationwide events. I can come up with a dozen reasons why those relationships didn’t work out — our communication styles didn’t match, I didn’t have time, I had just given birth or gotten pregnant. But honestly the bottom line is I didn’t feel I was capable or deserving of any of it.

By the time 2011 rolled around I was burnt out and bitter.

I stopped writing personal posts, and largely turned BGLH over to a team of writers I managed. It got so bad that, when I did write articles, I used a pen name or the generic “BGLH STAFF” tagline, because I was afraid of people questioning my knowledge of natural hair.

I watched from the sidelines with helplessness as other bloggers got the things I wanted. I blamed them. I blamed myself.

It took me some time to connect the dots, but I know today that the primary victim of low self-esteem is the person carrying it. That low self-regard is like a rot that hollows out your life, leaving you with nothing but anger and regrets. And that self-confidence isn’t some cerebral concept. It’s a daily discipline. The discipline of believing the things you feel and the things you say. Of not diminishing your thoughts and ideas. Of understanding that you are deserving of the opportunities that come your way and that if you take a risk, you will be fine — no matter the outcome. And understanding that taking risks, is what we are *supposed* to do. It’s part of being human, of being alive.

It’s a wonder to me that, despite all my fumbling, my digital brand is still standing.

I think it’s a testament to my skill that, in the midst of my self-sabotage, I still managed to create a thriving online hub for black women. It’s also a testament to the loyalty of black women. Many of you have followed this blog since it’s April 2008 inception or shortly after. I don’t take it for granted.

Earlier this year I briefly walked away from blogging and returned with a vow to stop doing the ‘black woman trauma’ coverage I was increasingly trafficking in.
I’ve also been blogging more about my life (including pictures of myself.)
I’m bringing meetups back.
And speaking openly about my accomplishments and the things I’m proud of.

Basically I’m doing what I should have done from the start — back in April 2008.

And I am chasing down all the opportunities that come my way — even if they end up with me sitting on the floor of a Duane Reed in Manhattan.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...

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34 Comments on "It Took Me 32 Years To Realize that Low Self-Esteem Was Quite Literally Destroying My Life"

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How inspiring! You articulate many women’s lives right there. Keep moving from strength-to-strength. Feeling you all the way from Kenya! : -)


Dear Leila, I really needed to hear this. Thank you so much for sharing your story so openly. All things good for you, your work & your loved ones! <3 Karyn


I am impressed you are writing more about yourself now. I fell in love with your blog in 2010 when I started reading about natural hair and the struggle and triumph woman have growing it.
Personally, I prefer this new content as I loved the early years of your blog. Your contributors did a good job with the articles but it wasn’t the same and I stopped coming her because it didn’t appeal to me as much.

Ms Indy

Wow you are so brave for writing about this. I know that there are many others who can relate including myself. I think that the family dynamics and that nurture that you receive while growing up play a huge role self confidence. At 31 I still struggle with whether or not I should open my mouth because my opinion “is not important”, doubting myself or putting too much thought into things that don’t matter. I love BGLH and I am happy for you and your growth. You are a Star keep Shining! And Thank You!

So very true. I was/am never the standard for American beauty. My hair has been natural my whole life. Before being natural became popular it was always “your hair would be so long if you permed it”. When comments like that among other things of what you should do to improve yourself (bs opinions of others) come from the people you love and are supposed to build you up you lose yourself. Just now turning 40 and loving me! Keep your head held high and keep it moving sis! Be blessed in all you do. Post Myah Angelou’s phenomenal woman… Read more »

What a great post could totally relate to this

You are an inspiration and so very brave and honest to write a blog post like this. I totally get what you say about a lack of self-confidence sabotaging opportunities and progress- I struggle with this also, but the whole time you were wrestling with all that, you had created a platform that was giving confidence and inspiring so many women to embrace their beauty. I have followed your blog for many years and I look forward to your posts, I have learnt so much about my hair and now more recently about you. All I can say is you… Read more »
Nadege ADE

Amazing!!!!!! Keep moving forward and thanks for this great blog post.


I followed your BGLH when it was in blog format and always recommended it to my transitioning friends. I’m glad you stuck it out and that it is still here. Just today my niece sent me an article from here…it’s now inter-generational. Chase those opportunities and keep growing! I’ve always loved your personal posts too and felt a kinship. Thank you for creating this space.


I truly learned and enjoyed reading your story. I’m dealing with a 13 year old granddaughter whom I’ve been trying to get this very subject matter across to. In the “about to give up stage”, your article was right on time. Because I love her so I will continue and because of your article I have a new approach.

Thank you so much for all that you do, say and believe in. Don’t let ANYONE change the beautiful you!

Noel, Your story is inspiring for all of us, especially those who have been with you since the beginning (dodgy grainy bathroom pics submitted and all). I love the fact that your story has become more dimensional, as a mother, a wife and a small business owner, we see a clearer, more human image of you and it is empowering. I would love more stories about your journey of learning and pursuing your passions. It is why we are here; why we trusted you with our newfound interpretations of beauty when no one was checking for us and why we… Read more »

Absolutely love this

I see what you mean. I have been in therapy since my husband passed away and I still have an extremely low self esteem. I feel that I am an abomination That I should have never been created. I have two beautiful son’s that are autistic, and the oldest has a life expectancy illness called Becker s Muscular Dystrophy, and other complications. He is in a wheelchair, no one in the government gives a dame to help me. I have no money to get my hair done, and I am struggling At a job that I like but it barely… Read more »

Thank you so much for this. I too have been a victim of low-self esteem. Everyone says I’m so smart, so creative yet I suffer from a lack of success from being shy and indecisive aka not confident but I think I’m ready for a new approach. It’s not easy but I have to change. Check out my website below if you’re interested in what I’m doing! And definitely keep doing you.


I also wanted to say that you are so beautiful! Your blog has helped me grow my natural hair especially as I was living in a country of mainly white people and no information about natural hair. I am so happy that you broke the cycle. I am still fighting


You just described me. This gives me hope things will get better. If you don’t mind, please could you share the steps that you took to break the cycle?


You are very literally speaking my life…thank you for sharing your truth!!!

Aeleise Jana

Thank you for sharing this. You were my inspiration on Chicago to know that natural hair was a valid speciality. I’m super excited for your rebirth and know that your opportunity is limitless

Thank you for your transparency. You are not the only one who struggled with “self” as I was definitely one of them…. well I am. My self-doubt and self-sabotage I’m sure is blocking me from a lot of personal, relational and who knows… maybe professional opportunities. My greatest concern is being “stuck between memes”… that I should not go out (on social media) seeking attention vs. being visible in the world socially. So thank you for your openness. I think I overthink and am full of self-doubt. But you made me feel like I am not the only one. Thank… Read more »
Monica M

Thank you for this post! In this age of social media, it can be difficult to love yourself and your life and not compare yourself to others. You are a work in progress like many of us. Blessings to you and thank you for this blog 🙂

Wow this moved me to tears. I’m so happy to hear you claim exactly what you want and giving your all to achieve it all. Being 39 still tackling low self-esteem issues is a daily challenge. Forcing me to treat myself like I should be treated is so much work, and the opposite is easier to do. I know I’m a writer, but I never write anymore…so stuck. A stuck black women in America is one of the saddest things to witness. To witness moments when this stuck black women try’s to detach herself from flypaper, just seeing this, give… Read more »
Paula Shelton

Thank you for your honesty. Low self esteem is something I suffered with as well, and you’re right you have to make it up in your mind that you’re fine just the way you are. You have to celebrate yourself and your accomplishments. Comparisons to others is a waste of time and will only hold you back from your path. Your honesty will help a lot people, more than you’ll ever know.

Thank you for being transparent. I really needed to read this today, it resonated with me deeply. This is such a powerful testimony. Low self-esteem can sneak up on us and we have no idea. I’m beginning to wake up and love myself and be comfortable. Here’s something that is kind of funny – I read the subject line of another recent post of yours saying you opened a store and I thought “man, here’s someone else moving along and doing it and I’m still sitting here not doing what had in my heart to do. Why aren’t I doing… Read more »

…I am waiting for your mini movie to come out or e-book! You are bold m, strong, and self-aware of your flaws. As a writer, I KNOW THAT was a hard write and I appreciate your mirror-like honest. Good days are head and God be with you to march on!

Wonderful piece. You hit it right on the head re: affirming children. The best thing my mother did for me (and I plan on doing for my children if I am ever blessed with any) is affirming my place in this world. I remember being 5 or so and her telling me there would only ever be one of me ever on this planet ever and that I (and everyone else on this planet) had a unique and important destiny, no matter how big or small I would become it was still mine. She told me my voice and thoughts… Read more »
Mostly Sane
First let me say, with gratitude, thank you. It must have taken some courage to write about something (potentially embarassing) like this, and courage, like self-esteem, is something that we’re all *somehow* supposed to have, but don’t always do. I also feel you in your struggle. I too have sabotaged myself many times out of fear, not believing that that I was worthy, or that anyone else would care about me (or the things that I cared about). And low self-esteem is still something that I battle with — but God bless the Internet, because now I know that, *we*… Read more »
Michelle Smith
I for one am happy to hear you finding that too often ephemeral for many woman (particularly women of color) concept of self esteem. I actually wrote a book on my own path towards it but haven’t published it. Your story is beautiful and inspiring and I am glad you shared it. The only problem I had reading this was something that is not just a ‘you’ thing but people in general that is troubling. And that is mentioning Christianity in a negative way particularly as the blame (or partly) for your problem. This greatly saddens me because although I… Read more »
Slut O\'Crat

Please consider publishing your book. You can publish it as an ebook for free on Amazon.

Michelle Smith

Really? I didnt know that! Ill check into that. Thank you 🙂