Photographer: Marc Posso
Hey Pretty Birds,
After a break of nearly one year, we are back to revel in all of the beauty and belonging in this community.
I did not step away with much notice, but it was truly out of necessity and a deep need for healing. And despite my lack of updates, the gratitude I hold for your dedication to All the Pretty Birds has been a constant force guiding me back to return in an authentic, heartfelt way. But before I could, I had to flow through some experiences, and understand what it will require to sustain this platform into the future.
Our journey together is an ever-evolving narrative, but the most important lesson that I return with is: When you’re tired, run out of fuel, or have simply lost your way, your saving grace may be to step away, rest in stillness, reflect on your journey, reconnect to your purpose, and courageously listen to and observe the beating of your heart.
Here's what happened.
During the Summer of 2021, I experienced deep burnout. More than a year after the beginning of the pandemic, I was unaware that so many others were sharing their stories of burnout online and on social media, and I could not pinpoint what felt wrong. In hindsight, of course, we were still caught within the curl of a pandemic tidal wave and processing the raw trauma of the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and so many more.
In the earliest months of COVID-19 in Milan, I thrived at home and was extremely productive, but observing pandemic restrictions took an enormous toll on me. I have been a hypochondriac for most of my life, and I suffered from elevated anxiety during the early stages of the outbreak. It was a piece of cake to follow all of the Italian government’s guidelines, because I was petrified of contracting the virus! I behaved vigilantly, did not leave my apartment for 55 days, sanitised our groceries and packages, cleaned our home from top to bottom, and when lockdown restrictions were lifted, I masked up religiously. My work kept me busy and joyfully distracted, but the state of emergency that we were living in was chipping away at my energy.
As many of you experienced yourselves, Italy and the fashion industry re-opened with attempts to re-imagine normalcy, and the added measure of safety rendered going about business so much more complicated. Social distancing, PCR and Antigen tests, masks... Where life was once carefree, fulfilling COVID-19 requirements was an additional obligation, which often proved exhausting. I never complained about the rules, but I felt more knackered at the end of the day and after each work trip. And despite my diligence, I caught COVID-19 three times, and dealt with the frustration of isolation, missing work and basically feeling like I was under house arrest. Then, re-emerging into social situations after months of isolation also requires great amounts of energy. My work is extremely social, and I love being around my friends and colleagues, but sometimes we do not realise that we are running on empty until we are too far gone.
Professionally, I've been nurturing ATPB since we launched in 2008. It’s been a story of growing, evolving, stepping back and returning with something new. I launched ATPB as a street style platform to share the images I was capturing for magazines and websites like Elle Italia, Refinery 29, and Harper’s Bazaar. All the Pretty Bird's objectives were never revenue-driven, initially I had no business plan, but rather adapted to changes within the digital current as they rippled in new directions. Through ATPB I also found an outlet for all of the natural extensions of personal style that are too difficult to represent only on social media; social justice, news, wellbeing, and self. These are all areas I am proud to say my community cares deeply for and about.
Years before 2020’s social unrest, I realised that the best way for me as a Black woman to contribute to my community was to make a point of providing a platform for women of color, where creatives and journalists can publish their work and where I can contribute financially to our micro-ecosystem. I am not an activist, but an amplifier of the work being done globally to rewrite our future. This purpose feels authentic, and gives me a true sense that I am helping in a meaningful, albeit small, way.
And as we have grown into something I never could have anticipated, and you as a community have grown alongside us, I feel an increased responsibility to bring a focused, enriched purpose to the way we build.
In 2020, George Floyd’s murder, and the social unrest and racial reckoning that followed, shocked us all into reflecting on how we each were personally fighting systemic racism. Black creatives, like myself, spoke out about how we are treated within the fashion industry and at large in society, both in the United States and globally. We demanded change. While assessing the weight of the work that has to be done to dismantle structural racism, I felt comforted by my humble mission for ATPB. While I may not be able to crash down every wall, I could contribute in a consistent, sustainable way. Last summer as I began to succumb to this strong sense of burnout, I was deeply disappointed to not be contributing as deeply to this conversation. At a moment where we all wanted to be 100% committed to the fight for equality, my disappointment led me to feel utterly lost and knocked off of my orbit.
In my career, I became accustomed to running on fumes, so I didn’t realise that I was past the red zone until I found myself suspended there. I did not recognize what was happening until I became completely emotionally depleted. The combination of feelings and non-feelings were so strange to me that I felt like a foreigner to myself. For weeks, I lived that nightmare where you try to wake up but aren’t able to. When I tried to put my finger on the sensation, I noticed that it was beyond numbness. Numbness is when you can’t feel something, but it wasn’t that I had lost my sensation of feeling, what I felt was an emptiness.
Maybe this was my way of finally processing our collective loss: the loss of precious Black lives due to police brutality, the loss of life from COVID-19, the loss of our freedom of movement because of restrictions and safety requirements, the loss of decency and respect for fellow lives, the loss of hope, the loss of purpose, The news cycle and social media inundates us with information, and we move from one catastrophic event to the next without fully processing our pain and grief. 2020 was a meteoric year, with no time for mental rest and recovery.
I also have to acknowledge that I felt a deep, unshakeable sense of loss at my ability to make some small contribution to creating change in this industry, and moving the needle forward on history in a meaningful way through conversation and amplification of social justice.
As each day passed, I realised that there was a higher force at play, and that it was ok for me to surrender to the flow of this transformative moment in my life. Even though I felt absolutely lost and afraid, I moved toward the grace of faith.
Thankfully, my burnout coincided with my first trip back to the U.S. since the 2020 lockdown, to vacation with my mother. Easing into an effortless routine with a nurturing figure who accepts me wholeheartedly - vulnerabilities and low moments alike - but who can also dish a healthy portion of judgement-free tough love - was the just remedy I needed. I was able to be still, rest and heal. I laughed at the shame associated with crashing, melting down and burning out. I was able to practise gratitude for my health and the health of my community.
In Micaela Coel’s moving Emmy acceptance speech last year, she said:
“In a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and to in turn feel the need to be constantly visible, for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success—do not be afraid to disappear. From it. From us. For a while. And see what comes to you in the silence.”
With renewed clarity, I came to the conclusion that I needed to press the reset button on All the Pretty Birds and reimagine what our community should strive towards going into the future. And that is exactly what we’ve been doing for the past year. Welcome back, the fire is fresh and brilliant.
The new All the Pretty Birds is focused, intimate, and sincere. We are stepping away from the mediascape of the late 2010s: an endless demand for each moment to be new with no promise of peace on the horizon. Each month, we will bring a digitally-accessible magazine, highlighting conversations around community, self, beauty, and the way that all feeds into our great unifier: style. I am so excited for the guests that have joined us to share their stories and experiences in an intimate way, and grateful for the chance to elevate their voices to my audience.
With this focus comes a new model, including a nominal subscription fee. I have always operated ATPB with a focus on open social media sharing, but in order to bring you this new elevated level of content, I take a huge amount of pride in compensating the talent that produces these pieces fairly, and sustaining the business in a meaningful way. I hope that you will join us for these conversations, I hope they nourish your soul, I hope you continue to grow with us as we take this community further along in realness and rawness and authenticity, because that more than anything else is truly what we need right now. To be supported and find community in being exactly ourselves.
With love and always love,