For seven years I've been journaling the ups and downs of my natural hair journey on my YouTube channel — from chasing the perfect curls, obsessing over length, damaging my hair, to cutting it all off and starting over again. Through each stage, I've learned so much about myself, seeing a direct connection between my sense of "self" and wearing my hair natural. I noticed I became freer and freer not only in my hair journey, but freer as a person.
Some people believe that hair is just hair, which is true at the surface, but I also see a deeper layer that only shows itself if we choose to acknowledge it. I truly believe that anything brewing on the inside of us, eventually manifests physically — and hair is no exception. Versatility is a beautiful thing and as women we have a right to flirt with different looks and experiment with a variety of styles through trial and error. However, it can become an issue once a certain look becomes a dependency instead of a style choice; a crutch instead of an option.
This is what happened to me.
My hair grew big and luscious, just like I wanted. I embraced my frizz, not fretting too much over my hair like I used to. I was free! It was so liberating to have reached a point in my journey where I was carefree with my hair, not taking it as seriously as I used to. There was a sense of pride that grew with that confidence — and to me this was my hair nirvana.
Over time, I noticed subtle changes in the way that I felt about myself. There’s no doubt that my hair was deeply rooted and attached to my online persona, the way I made money, and to the way I perceived my own presence in the world. But in 2014 I took a step back from YouTube and decided to take that time to spiritually connect because I was feeling detached from the work I was doing — which felt out of order and misaligned with my purpose. The online natural hair community didn't have the same authentic feel to me anymore. My videos became redundant because I was bored and uninspired. In addition, my family and I were being severely cyber bullied and attacked online. The worldwide web was simply not a fun and inspiring place for me anymore. This period became my cocoon and now it was time to truly reconnect, go inward and self reflect.
Two years of taking a much needed break was the best thing I could have done for my sanity and for my growth. I grew thicker skin, became more in tuned with who I was and realigned with my purpose. I'm actually grateful for that dark period or what some may call the dark night of the soul. It felt like I had shed off a lot of dead skin and was a newer version of myself. Simple put, I felt great! But there was one problem, I felt like I was still wearing an old costume and no longer identified with my outer image anymore.
I noticed that my Afro eventually became a beauty crutch for me. I noticed that anytime I needed to show up to an event or function, I had to "show up" with my Afro in order to feel present. If I needed to go out to a social event, I would never wear my hair in an updo or wrapped up. My Afro, aka my pride and joy, now became a cover up and I found myself hiding behind my hair. This was something that needed to be addressed. Quickly.
What inspired me to loc my hair you ask? I don't know. It seemed so off of my radar — and it's almost like locs called out to me instead. Although I knew I felt disconnected from my Afro, I was prepared to challenge myself to get over this insecurity by simply covering it up with turbans for a period of time, wearing a protective style, or even cutting it off again to start fresh. But none of that felt right. My decision to loc my hair was more of a feeling than a style choice for me. It represented "next level" freedom for my personal journey and a healthy detachment from my old self. I courageously decided to go for it and chose to walk in my truth, even if it didn't make any sense to anyone else.
In late August, I decided to publicly share that I was going on a free form loc journey. Not that I was looking for validation, but there was so much love and support! I was also surprised that there were so many women who have always wanted to loc their hair but felt scared or unsure for different reasons. It was either because of the permanency of style, worries about being accepted at work, or fear that their spouses wouldn’t approve. I was blown away yet not surprised. Here we are tapping into a different aspect of natural hair and we have women who are natural and afraid to go natural.
On the flip side, I quickly experienced being canceled from a scheduled appearance at a natural hair event. The cancellation was due to my hair change because I was told "doesn't fit the demo and audience of the attendees" and won't sit well with sponsors. This blew me away because my purpose was to speak on a panel about being a pioneer in the industry and I'm sure my contribution to the conversation would have been valuable. My appearance had nothing to do with my hairstyle. I'm almost 100 percent sure that if I chose to shave off all of my hair, I wouldn't have been canceled — but we will never know.
DEAR NATURAL HAIR COMMUNITY: Transitioning into locs has really shown me the tremendous love and vulnerability that women of color posses with words of support, wisdom, relatable testimonies and hopefulness of one day letting go of those things that keep them from moving forward in their truth. I've also experienced the B side of the online natural hair community that I was aware of but still sort of blind to. A side that has truly turned this beautiful space into a commercialized industry. My locs haven't even been a week old and I've already been canceled for a NATURAL HAIR event due to my hair change as it "doesn't fit the demo and audience of the attendees" nor does it sit well with sponsors. I'm a bit disappointed, not because I won't be attending, but because a space that was created to empower women of color with ALL types of natural hair has turned into a show that only support one type of natural. This post is not meant to be negative... It's just real. And it's a problem. Shout out to all of the beautiful women out there who celebrate their uniqueness while empowering and supporting women trying to do the same... Women who are keeping this beautiful space alive with the intention to educate, inspire and express themselves freely!
A photo posted by Taren Guy 🎈♍️ (@tarenguy) on Aug 30, 2016 at 3:58pm PDT
Here’s a list of other reactions I received:
"Why would you loc that beautiful hair."
"Hair isn't that deep."
"I thought you found Jesus."
"You're getting weird, I'm unsubscribing."
"Oh no, you messed up your hair!"
As you can see, the common theme was that my hair was "too pretty to loc" or that the spiritual connection I felt with my hair wasn't real.
Two weeks into my journey, I was becoming impatient and decided to create instant locs and add permanent human hair extensions to the ends to feel better about my choice. It didn't take me long to realize that me rushing through and fast-forwarding the process wasn't right for me. One night, I got out of bed, looked in the mirror and saw a cute style but I did't see my authentic self. I said to myself, this wasn't why I started my loc journey and I had to face it — so I took out the comb, conditioner and scissors and started all over again. My purpose behind my journey became even more meaningful than before. The faces of cover up, impatience and insecurity were showing up again and I had to be real enough with myself to recognize it.
I am here, happy with my immature freeform locs. Starting from scratch I’m truly embracing the process and ready to grow and mature as my hair does. Locs tell a story and I intend to be proud of mine.
Freefoming is one of the most organic ways to form locs by simply letting my hair do it's own thing with little to no manipulation. 7 years ago, this would have been too scary for me, too imperfect and just a plain hot mess. But now can I proudly say that I love my beautiful mess! Throughout my natural hair journey, the acceptance of my hair has trickled down into other important inner aspects of my being and that's why paying attention is extremely important.
I just read an article that the federal court rules it legal to discriminate against employees with dreadlocks which is an extremely easy way out for employers. The only way to fight for our right to be ourselves is by collectively taking our power back.
I intend to use my platform to help in restoring substance to this beautiful empowering space that we call the natural hair community. I should be inclusive to all hair types, from loose hair to locs. My goal is to help inspire other women of color to truly free themselves by seeing the beauty in change and discomfort, while understanding that unlocking different levels of freedom is an eternal discovery.
I want women to reintroduce themselves to themselves — with honesty and vulnerability. Some of us have been taught to overcompensate by focusing on outer values despite the fact that some sit and suffer in silence. It's time to give yourself permission to be free.
Freedom is exercising my ability to make a different choice.
Freedom is knowing it's bigger than me.
Freedom is living and speaking in my truth, no matter how scary it seems.
Freedom is not about being perfect but about being real.
I am Freedom.