Dr. Nina Ellis-Hervey can say she prevented a suicide, but not through any intervention hotline. It was through YouTube.
Since gaining fame on the ‘Tube, the 30-year-old has been featured on television shows such as “Dr. Oz,” “The Doctors,” “Good Morning America,” “The Jeff Probst Show” and “Extra!” She also has been the face of Jamaican Mango and Lime hair products and featured in magazines such as Ebony (2013’s “17 Natural Hair Bloggers You Should Know”), Essence (2012’s “Top 100 Naturalistas on Instagram”) and People (2012’s “How They Lost 100 Pounds”). The Huffington Post also recognized her as one of YouTube’s top five natural hair care vloggers in 2011.
To her, helping stop someone from committing suicide was “deep.”
“It’s a really scary thing,” said Ellis-Hervey who is better known as BeautifulBrwnBabyDol to her 191,756 YouTube subscribers. “That’s how you know you’re really making a difference. Someone can really relate to you and they feel like they can open up to you.”
Her blogging endeavors moved her from the TV box to the soapbox, attracting invitations to give motivational speeches in front of thousands. Now, she’s taking her most-used speech theme and putting it into her 100-page book “S.U.P.E.R.N.A.T.U.R.A.L,” which is projected for a late 2014 or early 2015 release.
“It represents holistic health,” she said. “Mental, physical and spiritual health, all those coming together to make the ultimate supernatural person. I’m going to give my very own story to help people propel their journeys.”
Since stepping on the scene in 2009, Nina has solidified her status as a fitness and natural hair maven, often being sought out for guidance on hair and skin care, life coaching and healthy living.
Ellis-Hervey currently makes a living talking to people, whether it be in her videos or as an assistant professor teaching school psychology classes at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas, but it wasn’t always that way. At one point Nina didn’t talk at all. “At first I didn’t think she could talk,” said her mother, Vermer. “Then after 15 months she just took off and has never closed her mouth since.”
Photo Credit(s): beautifulbrwnbabydol.com/Instagram
She made her first video in 2008 after a friend encouraged her to share her story about her 100-pound weight loss. “It really just started because I wanted to tell my story. I didn’t expect anything from it.”
After returning to her first video a year later, Nina saw that she was embraced by viewers who had questions not only about her weight loss but about her natural hair. “The thought is if you work out that much, you’re gonna sweat your hair out,” she said. “I thought to work it in with the whole holistically healthy lifestyle thing and try to get them to see that it is not just about your hair. It’s about all parts of your body and being healthy.”
Scrolling through the 200 plus videos on her Beautifulbrwnbabydol channel will lead you to coily hairstyle tutorials and product reviews, fitness tips and even how to deal with unsupportive family. In front of leopard backgrounds or in the comfort of her Texas home, Nina shows you how to do your hair like a sister and dishes out well informed fiery opinions like the best friend everyone wants. She pulls viewers and subscribers in with her silvery voice, welcoming persona and personal, uplifting stories.
“I can remember specifically one of Jay Z’s drummers,” she recalled. “He was heavyset guy. He wrote me one night and said, ‘I’ve watched your videos and you are truly a star. I’ve been contemplating getting on this weight loss thing because I feel like I am always the guy in the background.’ That was just kind of motivating to me.”
Her mother was once surprised by her daughter’s fierce tongue in a rebuttal video towards “The Talk” co-host Sheryl Underwood, who called afro-textured hair nasty. “She didn’t hold back,” her mother said. “She just stood firm and talked to Sheryl or anybody who didn’t like their natural hair. She lashed out on her and I said ‘oh my goodness, Nin’!’”
Though she is heavily admired now, she didn’t impress everyone back at Williams Temple Church of God and Christ on Union Boulevard and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in St. Louis.
“I didn’t like her,” said Corstella Henley, her best friend of 21 years. “I truly thought she was a know-it-all. Nina has always been smart, truly a wiz kid, so she would be that girl that would give you that random stuff. It was like Nina, nobody cares.” Once Corstella recognized some of her own qualities in Nina—as many of her YouTube followers do—they eventually hit it off.
Soon, Nina will also be adding “actress” to her resume. She’ll be playing the role of Dr. Sara Scott in the first interactive natural hair web series entitled “HAIRiette of Harlem,” which is being produced by actress Tanya Wright of Orange is the New Black and True Blood. In the series, she coaches the main character through her natural hair journey and helps her realize that there are other parts of her life she wants to change. Filming for the series starts this summer.
The helping role is one Nina knows very well. Nina says that YouTube started the journey of helping people reflect on themselves and how they wanted to be better. “I do a lot of storytelling,” she said. “A lot of people wouldn’t make the mistakes we make if we would share our issues, what we went through and how we got through them. For me, it’s a big part of what I do.”
Before Nina came to the aid of the masses, she first needed help herself. She was mentally and spiritually sound growing up but physically, not so much. “I didn’t understand the instance of exercising or taking good care of your body or understanding how the body works in order to get the best benefits from it,” she admitted.
She noticed she was different from her teenage female peers. At 16, she was 5’4″ and 177 pounds.
“I was always popular and well-known, but there was always something missing,” she said. “I wasn’t as comfortable with myself, in my skin or with people around me.”
To her dismay, by her senior year at Truman State University, the scaled tipped upwards to 238 pounds. She decided to improve her own holistic health by not only losing the weight but losing a boyfriend who had always told her that her face was pretty but if she’d lost weight she would look better.
“I was always accepting his behavior because I never felt worthy enough of getting someone else’s attention.”
Eight years and 100 pounds later, she still maintains a strenuous fitness routine, which Maureen Aladin, creative director of Twelve18 Media, recently got a taste of.
“We woke up with her to work out and we did like four DVDs back to back,” Aladin said. “I was like ‘Oh my God! Nina I cannot do one more video!’ But we did.” —Tanay Hudson