The highly styled, Instagram-filtered life of others is enough to make you want to sign off altogether. Niá Pettitt (otherwise known by her Insta-handle @niathelight), is all too familiar with the painstaking measures one can go to get the “perfect” shot. With 429,000 followers the young Zimbabwean-English influencer has built an online community of young women who share her passion for honouring and embracing the beauty of natural Afro hair. A pioneer of the recent natural hair movement, Nia has made is her mission to promote self-love across the globe. Though her relationship with the photo sharing app has changed in the last year (since joining in her mid teens), choosing to take a step back and engage more IRL after becoming “addicted” to posting. “I’d devote hours to taking a perfect selfie,” she says. “Photoshopping it to blur out my acne or even sometimes enhancing my curls. It wasn’t until I did a campaign with Aerie where they told me on set that I wouldn’t be photoshopped is when I gained a sense of freedom…” We caught up with the 21-year old confidence advocate to share with us the dark side of social media, her personal hair journey and internet #goals…
Hey Niá! Firstly, how did you find yourself in social media?
I started watching YouTube videos of internet sensations such as Taren Guy in 2012 when the natural hair movement was slowly evolving. I was now finally devoted to embracing my big curls and watching routines of women with hair like me became an addiction. After trial and a lot of error, I mastered the iconic big curly ‘fro. People started asking me to make a tutorial and so I did with terrible editing but at the time felt like a movie, I uploaded my first video online. From there I built this incredible platform that allowed me to travel, work with amazing brands and get to know myself and ultimately hair.
You’re arguably one of the most recognizable leaders in the recent natural hair movement…
I think for the last 5 years of being online, it has definitely been such a priority to make women with all types of natural hair feel beautiful and confident enough to wear it out to their jobs or to parties. Now that I have cut my hair, I am still discovering what exactly I want to spotlight. I want to shed light on poverty in Africa, self love for women, helping to remove the beauty standards of needing tools or products to make us feel beautiful, feeling confident enough to wear a sleeveless top or backless dress even with acne scars on skin.
How has your relationship with Instagram changed since you started out? Have you ever felt social media anxiety?
At first it was definitely a fun and addictive thing where I’d devote hours to taking a perfect selfie, photoshopping it to blur out my acne or even sometimes enhancing my curls. It was all a part of it and it wasn’t until I did a campaign with @Aerie where they told me on set that I wouldn’t be photoshopped is when I gained a sense of freedom that my flaws would be on Time’s Square in front of millions of people and I’d look just fine. Now, my relationship with it is really interesting. I love planning my feed and making it look as colorful as can be but I am barely on it. I find it fascinating how out of touch I am with my social media friends because I am less active on it. It kind of made me see who was really there for me, you know?
Talk me through your personal hair journey so far…
From as young as three I started sitting on my special cushion on the floor for my Mum to apply a thick white ointment to my hair to straighten it. At the time, I wanted to resemble the girl on the box who had silky straight hair or the girls in my school who could tie their hair and comb it with ease. It was all about maintenance and that time yet in the bigger scheme of things, it was actually damaging for my self esteem because I was altering my hair which then made me feel a desire to alter my entire self.
I decided to cut off my relaxed hair that was mid way on my back and get my curls back. It was after seeing a picture of myself when I was two with these adorable baby curls. There was also a girl called Yazmin Cazeau in school who had the same skin colour as me with the most beautiful curls and I was so envious and in awe that I just wanted to get them back.
What do you feel has been missing in mainstream media in recent years?
I think we are making such a great shift already. Seeing so many brands do campaigns with plus size bloggers, transgender influencers and all kinds of races is just so refreshing. I think I’d want to see more diversity behind the scenes too. I’ve been on sets where everyone is caucasian and I think it would just be nice to see some more of everyone.
What would you like to see less of on the internet?
The internet is actually in a very interesting space right now. I have this special talent of seeing when people are going through something just by watching their story or seeing their pictures. I think everyone is trying to portray themselves “living their best life” that they are forgetting to be still or to be human and embrace the bad as much as the good. Not everyday will you look your best, receive an email to an island or be at the latest events wearing the latest fashion and that is ok. So with that being said, I think I want to see more honesty and truth.
What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty is freedom, because once you are free from everyone else’s standards and from comparing yourself to others is when you will see your own beauty without needing anyone else to see it for you.
Your top five must-follow Instagram accounts?
I love @AsiyamiGold, her images are so delicately and perfectly curated. She travels the world showing the beauty and rawness of each place she visits. It is so refreshing to see, especially as a black Queen.
@TheJungaLow is amazing for being inspired with interior. I love their ideas and as I just moved into my first space, I have been decorating with them in mind. Definitely give them a follow to brighten up your feed.
The fashion from the 90’s is so timeless and that is why @VirgoMood is essential to be inspired with style. I love seeing the variety of shoots they upload as it really inspires me when I create with my team.
I met this gem in an Uber and she is a total #BossBabe! @IAmNatalie really invests in her 24 hours each day from meetings to travels to building so many wonderful businesses for women. It is really inspiring to see.
My friend @MaliaMurphey makes me want to book a flight to anywhere with palm trees and sunsets everyday. I met her on the set of an Aerie shoot and since following her, I love mentally escaping to the beach with her!
Who is your style icon?
Hilary Banks because she was so classy and I love a two piece set – her style was effortless and chic on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
The one quote you live your life by?
You have so much light,
The plants grow towards you.
It always reminds me of the power of nature and to always remember my light.
What advice would you give to your teenage self?
Do not touch your eyebrows! They are perfect the way they are.