For Nabela Noor, Teaching Her Daughter Body Positivity Starts With Herself: 'The Best Thing I Can Do Is Unapologetically Love Myself'
One of the early glimmers that Nabela Noor, 30, was going to stretch beyond the role of conventional social media star was in 2018, when she was twice invited to be a guest speaker at the United Nations, first to talk about migration, and later about her work as a body-positivity advocate. "Just being a plus-size woman, a Muslim American, a child of immigrants, there's been so many places in my life I've not felt equal, or enough, or represented," she said at the latter panel. It was a surreal milestone for Noor, who started her career posting beauty and lifestyle clips like "Instagram Baddie Makeup," "Bengali + American Fusion Wedding," and "DIY Gift Ideas."
If anything, Noor has a gift for doing things society doesn't necessarily expect from her. Loving her plus-size body in the face of both online and real-life criticism, and preaching self-love to others, is a central theme of her posts. She has spoken out against anti-Muslim hate and told the story of her own parents, who immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh when her mother was pregnant with her. And as she has continued to accrue followers—1 million on YouTube, 2 million on Instagram, and 7 million on TikTok—she has managed to strike a balance between relatable and aspirational: Noor is the upbeat friend who speaks substantively about representation and cheers us all on. She also rocks a lash look and lives in an enviable white-walled house, located in Central Pennsylvania, that seems made for close-ups and is stocked with Mason jars and Smeg appliances.
Throughout her rise, Noor and Seth Martin, 32, her husband and business partner, were hoping to start their own family. (In one TikTok clip, Noor tells the story of how she and Martin met in a mall in 2012, at a time she was contemplating an arranged marriage. The young couple eventually won her parents over.) After years of trying to conceive and just before they were to start fertility treatments last June, they got a positive pregnancy test. One week later, Noor miscarried and filmed a video about the wrenching experience to post online. She says now, "I want to normalize these conversations, because I think to appreciate life, you have to understand loss." The couple were still reeling when, a few weeks later, Noor became pregnant again. She waited two months to share the news with her followers just after Labor Day 2021.
As she prepares for parenthood, she has continued to nurture a series of business ventures that align with her wider message and her roots. She is the founder of Zeba, an inclusive-size clothing brand named after her mom, and Saara & Begum, a home-design collection that bears her grandmothers' names and sells items like soy candles. (During the pandemic, Noor started #PocketsOfPeace on TikTok, a soothing montage of at-home moments, like fluffing pillows and turning on the shower, that went viral.) She partners with the anti-poverty Jaago Foundation in Bangladesh to fund education for 20 girls there. And in 2021, she added author to her list of accomplishments with Beautifully Me, a children's book (and Parents Raising the Future Book Club pick) that touches on body image and diet culture.
How has pregnancy changed the way you feel about yourself?
An amazing part about being plus-size and pregnant is finally being in a place where you can just let it go. I'm Elsa. I am so free with my body—I love getting dressed now. My belly, an area women are traditionally told to hide and conceal, I'm able to embrace unapologetically. I'm thankful for my body, and I want to carry that gratitude with me even after the pregnancy. Also, it's very important to me to make sure I still serve looks. I want plus-size women to know that you can look hot and be a pregnant baddie mama.
What do you want to teach your daughter about body image?
I think the best thing I can do is unapologetically love myself. Taking care of myself and practicing self-love and kindness will empower her to do the same. The best thing we can do for our children is model the virtues that we want them to possess.
What are your feelings about your rainbow pregnancy?
When I found out I was pregnant again, I went to my therapist. Obviously, it was happy news, but I was sobbing, because I was still grieving while accepting this blessing. Understanding the duality was very new. I started a journal, being very honest about all the emotions. Because I have a lot of them. Also, my therapist gave Seth and me mourning rituals that allowed us to grieve together. We planted a bush in our backyard. We wrote letters to our baby that we lost. Seth immediately stepped into being my support. I remember thinking, "How can I be there for him as he's being there for me?" I know that Seth had his own journey that he might not have felt he could be as expressive about. I got him a necklace that has an infinity circle in honor of our baby that he wears every single day.
Now I'm on clouds, but I'm also afraid that today is the day I will be brought down to reality, at the end of the rainbow. I wasn't prepared for how every day, pregnant after a miscarriage, you prepare for the worst. I asked my doctor, "When will I stop looking for blood?" He said, "I've had a patient ask that at 36 weeks." He told that patient, "When you bring your baby home." That gave me a sense of comfort and peace in knowing I wasn't alone in being scared every day.
Is being so candid easy, hard, or a bit of both?
It feels right and authentic to share even the dark parts. I remember thinking, someone else is going through what I'm going through. So, for instance, I shared a TikTok compilation of myself getting hormone shots to help sustain this pregnancy.
Where do you find strength?
My mother and father. They immigrated to this country not knowing English and had to learn by living here. My dad was a taxi driver, and when he wasn't driving, he was working in a Häagen-Dazs factory, the third shift. I'd wait up all night for him to bring the ice cream. And my mom, she would sew these little bows for five cents apiece because she didn't have language skills at the time. So my parents came to this country with nothing, and with their grit and their strength, they built the life that I can now live today. To be able to help fund their retirement has been the best blessing.
What family traditions are you excited to pass on?
I want my child to feel covered by family and nestled into our culture. My parents and siblings all live within a 15-minute radius. We're a very tight-knit group, and that closeness is a major Bangladeshi value. I also really want my daughter to be multilingual like me. I want her to learn to make and enjoy South Asian food. I want her to understand our holidays and to love our music and our films. I'm very excited to introduce her to both parts of her identity. Seth was raised in a Christian home, and his background includes French and British ancestry, so we were going to France a lot in previous years. I can't wait to take her there and to Bangladesh and to show her around. It's just the dream.
How do you feel about carrying the torch for your South Asian community?
Every milestone that I make as a Bangladeshi American helps people know Bangladesh more: our talent, culture, and language. In my kids' book, Beautifully Me, there's a glossary at the end, so there are white kids learning Bengali words, okay? Even this magazine cover. I'm thankful to be able to be part of history in so many ways for my community.
Do you ever get backlash from people because you are muslim?
I do get some really horrible messages. But I think back to right after 9/11, when a lot of people were living in a constant state of fear. My mother walked out the door with her hijab on. I said, "Mom, are you not scared?" And she said, "No, I have God by my side. I'm good. As long as you feel strong enough, then you keep going and don't let anybody take that away from you." I draw strength from her example.
We imagine you must be proud of yourself.
I'm very thankful, and with this pregnancy, extra emotional. I probably almost burst into tears three times during this interview. I cannot believe I was once a girl who was bullied in school and didn't know how amazing it was to be different, to have a unique language and brown skin. That the girl would grow up, empower others to love all things about themselves, become an author, a designer, encourage people to find their pockets of peace and have their rainbow baby—you just couldn't tell me that.
Everything You Need To Know About Nabela Noor
Favorite compliment: "You're glowing," which I think people say to all pregnant mamas, but I really feel it.
The American dream is… Being able to live freely the life of your choice and to pursue your dreams. I don't take this blessing for granted.
Best advice for would-be entrepreneurs: Team up with people who know what they're doing. Be realistic, be pragmatic, be consistent.
Ramadan tradition: Gathering with family every night for iftar, the meal after sunset where we break fast.
Baby chore I'm most looking forward to: Tidying and organizing her nursery.
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's April 2022 issue as "Unapologetically Nabela." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here