We’re only three months into the New Year but already Nia Pettitt AKA Nia The Light is having a super transformative one. The successful beauty and lifestyle influencer recently surprised her hordes of followers by chopping off her trademark cascading Afro curls. We caught up with Nia to find out more.
Can you recall what you were doing when you were 16? Chances are GCSE examinations, celebrity crushes and endless hours spent talking on the phone with your bestie were just a few pastimes that occupied key positions in your life. When lifestyle influencer Nia Pettitt arrived at that milestone age she made a decision that would positively impact her life, and take her on a journey that only few could imagine. Nia launched a blog, creating a space for her to document her natural hair journey, indulge her creative impulses and share her exciting new discoveries with her friends. Then known as Fro Girl Ginny, the blog grew rapidly and by the time Nia moved to the Instagram platform her number of followers grew in the hundreds of thousands. Nia’s online ascension coincided with the boom of the natural hair movement. Soon enough hair brands were beckoning Nia to work with them. The young teen was flown to sunny, glamorous locations shooting campaigns for a variety of brands. To the onlooker, this was indeed an enviable position, sure enough, if you ask a young girl or boy about their career aspirations today, an influencer will probably rank pretty highly. So needless to say it came as a huge surprise when Nia took to her Instagram account and penned these heartfelt words:
“I embarked on a beautiful journey of love for my hair. I invested hours into perfecting my curls aspiring to grab the attention of everyone with my appearance before my presence. I bleached away at my curls to resemble a sunflower without recognising I was slowly bleaching away at my soul. My relationship with my hair became less about self-love and more about validation.”
There were two images to illustrate the words – both taken against a neutral toned backdrop – one featuring a crouched Nia with her head buried, sunflower curls covering her face. The other, featured a newly emancipated young woman who had undergone the big chop and looked ready to embark on a new life chapter. So what would make Nia chop off the very same Afro curls that helped cement her position as an influencer extraordinaire? We caught up with the 21 year old who explained the whys in her own words.
On the reasons for starting a blog in her teens…
At the time I was 16, I’d just done my second big chop and I just wanted to document my journey, and I wanted to do it on a platform where I could be creative with it. Being able to create my own blog and videos when it was still quite new was cool. I didn’t do it for money or opportunities, it was literally just a 16-year-old girl who had found something that she loved and was good at and just wanted to pursue it. My hair was always evolving, and I was learning how to maintain it, and I just wanted some sort of journal to document the products I was using, as well as what I liked and didn’t like.
The moment she noticed how popular she was becoming online.
Funny enough, I started to become aware of my growing popularity when I started to receive negative comments. I was never one to celebrate number milestones, whether I reached 10K or 100K.I just looked at it as numbers and would think, “OK, what’s next” Also, I’d go to events and people would start crying and telling me how I’ve impacted and inspired them to wear their hair natural. I didn’t realise my power until then, which was 2017. And then when I realised it I became overwhelmed by it. I felt I had to represent myself in a certain way. I was scared to post certain things, whereas when I first started I didn’t care about perfection, it was about fun. I felt that once I was aware of how big my audience was I began to care more about making them happy more than myself.
On realising she was becoming attached to her hair…
I big chopped for the first time when I was 11 in 2008, and then I big chopped again when I was 15. The reason I did it the second time was because my ends were terrible. The second time around I had this big Angela Davis/Kathleen Cleaver type Afro, and I was like ‘Oh my goodness’, it embodied so much power. I didn’t know of these historical figures at the time, it was only when older women would come up to me and say ‘You look like this person’, when I began to feel connected to these powerful women and began to research the messages they were giving. I thought it was so cool to be compared to such amazing women; it really made me feel more closely connected to my African culture. So whenever I’d go out, I’d receive a lot of comments from women telling me they loved my hair – there was a lot of positivity. But then I guess it became instilled in me that that’s what I needed to get anyone’s attention, and it went from: ‘Oh, my hair is beautiful’ to ‘My hair makes me beautiful’, which then became toxic. I wasn’t aware of this until someone asked me who I was without my hair. It would also manifest if someone would ask me to wear my hair up and I’d tell them I wasn’t comfortable in doing so. That’s when I realised I had a problem.
The impetus behind big chopping the second time around.
I’ve always envisioned myself being in my forties with short hair. It was always something I thought would happen further down the line: I’d be a vegan, have babies, and be a cool mum with a hippy vibe with short hair. I just kept envisioning this person, and I realised I wanted to be this woman now: this free-spirited person who doesn’t let her hair define her, a woman who is so carefree and a minimalist. I feel like as women we are always aspiring to become better versions of ourselves, and this in my opinion is the better version of myself.
On the texture hierarchy in the natural hair community
I definitely think it’s unfair. The natural hair community is supposed to be a safe space for everyone to be embraced, but because it’s such a booming business, brands forget about the other half of women, who also need love, who also need to be on billboards, who also need to have hair brands created specifically for them. I feel like there needs to be more darker skin tones and coily hair textures represented in the natural hair community, that was one of my frustrations. I became one of the more popular ones and I kinda felt helpless. I used to try and make up for it by raving on about my friends, but it wasn’t enough. I think that there needs to be a lot more change in terms of wider representation.
On overcoming the fear of losing her online popularity
Over the last year I’ve become really spiritual and I’ve been building my relationship with God. So when I knew I wanted to cut my hair I prayed on it, and just asked for signs that it’s the right thing to do. I had to take myself back to 16-year-old Nia that started the blog, and ask her why she started. I looked at old pictures as a reminder and it came to me that I never started it to get the attention of brands, or free hair products or clothes. I then realised if I’m doing it out of love, nothing bad can come from it and God and the Universe will always guide me in the right direction. So I prayed on it and was ready to lose followers, or have brands say they wouldn’t want to work with me because I had cut my hair. But that hasn’t been the case. I’ve gained in every aspect possible, and that’s because I did it for myself. I cut my hair for me – not for anyone else. And it feels like for the first time I’ve been able to have control over something and not worry about whether I was going to get ‘likes’ or not.
On the day she decided to cut her hair…
My hair was cut by Isabella from @curlpop_n_hair. I met her two years ago in Miami and we kept in touch. I just wanted a stylist who I bonded with. We didn’t even talk about hair initially; we just became really good friends. I actually had a dream about her cutting my hair and the night I went to ask her to cut it in January, I messaged her and she was just over the moon. She was perfect because she just understood my journey.
Nia’s advice to a budding social influencer
Whenever young girls ask me for advice I tell them to not try and be like me but become the very best version of themselves. I can only show you my life in one image, and if you were to see everything I go through in one day they would see a different picture. Young girls have to look at what they actually want from social media. If you want to travel and want free stuff consider your reasoning behind it, because once you have it, what’s next? You have to do something you enjoy doing. And stay in school – I don’t want to sound like that moany auntie, but education is the most powerful thing, you will always have that. Instagram could shut down tomorrow if the government feel like it, so have your education, and do it out of love. Don’t sell yourself short either, you don’t have to post revealing pictures, or over expose yourself or share your every thought. You don’t have to cake on loads of makeup, wear expensive clothes or do any of these things for attention. The right people will love you for you; I’ve learnt that already since letting go of my hair.