The natural hair movement has spawned a number of standout figures in the last few years – individuals who have engaged, entertained and educated through blogs, vlogs and websites and a day doesn’t go by without a new name popping up on the scene. It’s those original vloggers however that have led the way, telling us to take control of our tresses, inspiring us in our droves, that can lay claim to some of the most popular social media sites and Curlvolution 2014 played host to one such individual this weekend at their annual event. Having uploaded her first videos in 2009, simply sharing her transition from relaxed to natural hair, Taren Guy is definitely a trail blazer; known for her beautiful big hair, bold fashion and lipstick choices she’s also very much a head turner. Like her style, her videos ooze charm and charisma and there is an honesty that engages those who tune in. Her individuality both in looks and content is perhaps the reason that nearly a quarter of a million people subscribe to her channel Taren 916 which boasts close to 20 million YouTube views! Currently on tour with her Luv and Learn Your Hair message, Curlvolution was the perfect place to sit down and have a chat about how attitudes toward the natural hair community have evolved, her new Salon Series and saving lives!
How was opening up Curlvolution 2014?
It was amazing, warm and loving and lots of support. Action Jackson - he is amazing as a host, got us moving and dancing so a great start to the day for sure.
This is your first trip to the UK so can you tell us what your thoughts are of the UK audience and some of the UK specific questions you’ve encountered.
I realise that here in the UK the questions are very, very detailed. You guys really want the nitty gritty of step one, step two, step three. You guys want to know everything, down to the ingredients, you guys wanna know your stuff so that’s definitely something that stood out to me. You guys are on it!
When you started out you were presenting a chronicle of your transition from chemical straightening to embracing your natural curls. Do you remember why you relaxed your hair?
I relaxed my hair when I was 12. My grandmother did it for me because I wanted to look like everyone else. I was tired of standing out and people making fun of my big hair because it wasn’t the norm when I was a kid so I wanted to look like everyone else. But eventually when growing up and evolving I started to find my individuality and experiment with going back to being natural.
Was anyone responsible for influencing your strength in doing you and owning it in regard to your hair?
Once I started my journey, especially on YouTube, that just opened everything up because you get feedback from people and you know, in a sense you do want that validation that you’re on the right track. So the validation, the being open - it was like a form of therapy you know doing the videos and also following others. So you know the sharing aspect and the creating aspect together - it helped me navigate through my journey to get to where I am with the freedom that I feel now with my sense of style.
Back in 2009 you did a video about stereotyping in response to being called a ‘tree hugger’ by someone who jumped to a conclusion about your lifestyle based on your choice to wear your hair naturally. Five years on, do you feel that attitudes towards natural hair have evolved?
I think we’ve evolved because it’s grown so exponentially all over, not just the US. Of course my perspective is from the US, but we’ve grown so much that you see so many types of women who are natural and I don’t think that it’s just that one type any more necessarily. You don’t have to walk around burning incense and lighting candles and wearing wrap skirts and listening to Jill Scott. That is not everyone who is natural, it was weird back then [outsider attitudes].
It’s good to see that progress is being made. It seems to me that advertising campaigns are beginning to catch up with brown beauty. What do you think about the way in which the wider community is accepting it?
I feel like we are on the right track and we just need to keep on moving forward. There’s a lot of layers within the community which will be talked about on the panel, a lot of layers that we need to get over within the community but overall the media and everyone outside of us has recognised that we love us, you know and that is the important message and everything else we will just have to tweak on the inside.
If there was a moment where you could breathe a sigh of satisfaction and state “my work here is done, the movement is complete”, what would that look like to you?
What would it look like to say "okay this has definitely stabilized?”…. everyone accepting themselves – not necessarily just hair, it’s a whole to me. Just accepting their hair and themselves just the way it is while acknowledging the beauty of someone else. I feel like it can be either or.. like “I like her hair and want it to look like that” and then you totally ignore this [gestures to herself] you ignore yourself. OR you’re all up into yourself that you don’t even acknowledge the beauty of others. So I just feel like mixing it up to stand tall in yourself and your own beauty - as well as acknowledging everyone else, It’s that simple. It’s really not complicated to free ourselves… we make it complicated.
You recently created The Salon Series – how is that working out?
It’s had a great response – we just did the one [episode]… a lot of people are appreciating it, they want more so I’m definitely continuing that production for sure.
My understanding of the Salon Series is that it’s introducing other women’s voices to the conversation...
Yes because on my channel… it’s a couple of years of just me and I’m like “okay you guys kinda know me already”. [Exclaims] OKAY I have like, over 400 videos of me, let’s get perspectives of different women, different experiences that they have, different hair types and just talk to them using my platform to expand that perspective for other people. There’s only so far that people will listen to me, I get it a lot where people say I have no right to talk about kinky textured hair because I don’t have it - even though I know a few things - they wanna know it from the person who has that perspective and I get that, I understand it.
“It’s heartening to hear how something that started so organically has inspired hundreds of thousands and literally saved lives”.
What is a bad hair day for you?
…I don’t have them anymore…. [Taren thinks about this a moment longer] I don’t have them anymore to be honest! That is a really good question because I’m really trying to think… I had plenty of them when I first started YouTube but now I just, I really let it do its own thing. ‘Cos like this [gestures towards her hair] has been like this for three or four days and I forgot my shampoo and conditioner so I’M NOT WASHING IT, I’m still gon’ wear it so I’m okay with that… and that’s great.
What do you enjoy about your role/position within the natural hair community?
I enjoy the sharing aspect and inspiring – I get the emails and that’s really what keeps me going. It’s people commenting and saying that I inspire them with whatever I’m saying or doing, so just being conscious of that, it gives purpose to what I’m doing. Just knowing that people are touched some way, whether that’s on a surface level or a deeper level, either way it all makes a difference.
Have you been surprised by any of the comments or responses that have come through to you and what are some of the more extreme examples?
Some of them are very surprising yeah… [thinks for a moment for an example before recalling one] It has nothing to do with my hair videos. I made a video about happiness or something like that. A woman, she emailed me and she said “your video literally saved my life…”. She said she was driving, she dropped her kids to the baby sitter and the plan was to actually commit suicide and she got an alert on her phone and an email - YouTube gives you the subscription alert - so she saw the title and I guess it resonated with her (the title of my video) and pulled over and she watched it and she totally changed her mind about killing herself and she went back to her kids. So she shared that with me and that was very extreme and I didn’t even know how to feel about that but it definitely just confirmed everything.
And what a poignant note for our ten minutes to end on.
I have enjoyed Taren’s work for a while now so chatting with her in person was a real treat and I learned more than I could have hoped for. It’s heartening to hear how something that started so organically has inspired hundreds of thousands and literally saved lives. The conversation is still very much in its infancy and clearly Guy has a lot more to say and share. With hundreds of videos under her belt will she slow down? At five and a half months pregnant, possibly. But with this whistle stop her first trip to the UK, she shows no signs of slowing any time soon. Taren is a thing of beauty, literally glowing - her hair most definitely her crowning glory.