Nia the Light.
There couldn't be a more fitting name for a young influencer whose crowning glory once spanned her head like a mega-curly halo and drew the awe and following of more than 86,000 followers on YouTube alone. Even over the phone during our chat, there's a special radiance around Nia "the Light" Pettitt.
She put that radiance to the test recently, cutting the blonde regal 'fro that made her famous on YouTube and Instagram alike. Trust us, her lioness-like mane put Angela Davis, Chaka Khan, and Kelis circa the "I Hate You So Much Right Now" days all to shame. (And just one tutorial detailing how she styled and maintained it attracted more than 899,000 views.) Even beyond the hair, her smile, aura of positivity, and candid vlogs sharing her travels via her #FroGirlAdventures series, offer yet another glimpse into why there's an ambiance surrounding her.
Why cut the signature style that has led to notoriety and success---endorsements with L'Oreal and Aerie, features by PopSugar and Glamour South Africa, and co-hosting gigs for women's empowerment and beauty events around the globe?
"I'm a big believer in manifestation," Nia says. "I think since starting that relationship with myself and God, I've just been free to just be who I am."
The avid traveller, vlogger and founder of @HappyFroDay, an IG platform that celebrates natural curls, says she didn't want to be defined by her hair or the need to be liked a million times. Formerly known as FroGirl Ginny, Nia dove headfirst into a whole new, healthier vibe.
"People don't realize that social media can affect your mental health so much. If every day you're waking up and expecting to go on IG and see your favorite girls with the flawless skin and amazing body, or they're traveling all the time, you have to realize that sometimes it's not real. People can create who they want to be and the lifestyle they want to live."
"People don't realize that social media can affect your mental health so much."
Cutting one's hair might seem like just a regular thing to do, but for someone whose curls were a defining aspect of their Web fame, it's major, especially if it's connected to an awakening. In a social media world filled with technologically enhanced photos, staged depictions, ads, and a fierce competition for shares, endorsements, and celebrity, she sought to create a space where she could embrace everything about herself--flaws and all.
"I mentally prepped for the big chop. I spent time at home hibernating before I cut my hair, just to make sure it was something I wanted to do. I didn't tell anyone I was going to do it, which was such a big secret for me to keep," Nia says. "I started talking more about self-love [in my vlogs] and things I'm truly passionate about. I stopped Photoshopping my pictures, which was really good for me because I was so dependant on it. That was really key in being my raw and authentic self. I no longer had my hair to hide behind and other things I was modifying, which is really good."
"That was key in being my raw and authentic self. I no longer had my hair to hide behind…"
Nia, 20, sees this part of her journey as one of enlightenment and growth. "I grew up on YouTube and was on since I was 16. Now, I don't engage with social media like I used to before. I'd have all my notifications on and see everything everyone would say. When I post, I leave the app and kind of forget I did, and then I'll go back and respond to comments and DMs. I'm not as attached to it as I used to be, which is really good for me mentally."
She's since shifted focus to self-awareness and service in an effort to expand her understanding of the world and herself. She recently took a trip that led her back to her Zimbabwean roots, strengthening a pride in heritage that has been instilled in her since she was a young girl growing up and living in the UK with her mother. "I recently went to a school in Zimbabwe and hosted a workshop with young girls---educating them about self-love---and it was really an amazing moment for me because I've always wanted give back. And that's something I've always dreamt of doing, building homes and schools in Zimbabwe---that was the like the start of the journey for me," Nia recalls. "It was refreshing because they had no idea who Nia the Light was but valued and appreciated my time and what I was saying. Before, when I'd do events, it would always be about 'Hey, let's take a selfie,' and that whole aspect of things. I saw the impact I'm able to make without my hair and without social media, which was really powerful for me."
"I saw the impact I'm able to make without my hair and without social media, which was really powerful for me."
The momentum hasn't stopped for Nia, and chopping off the massive curls that gained her popularity has opened up more opportunities---not less.
"Since I cut my hair and changed my name, I've been able to be free and create what I want without being limited to one thing. I've gotten some great opportunities including more campaigns with Aerie with my short hair. A girl [once] said to me, 'If you think about it, what you did was so radical because you took something that gave you confidence--- that allowed you to build a career---and you got rid of it.' I never look at it like that. I just knew it was just the right thing for me to do. You don't have to do everything for likes. Remember why you started and tap into the girl who was eager to create what you want."
"Remember why you started and tap into the girl who was eager to create what you want."
For more Nia the Light, follow her on Instagram.
*Featured Image Credit: Eva Haftmann/Vogue