By Martha Hewett @MarthaHewett
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Videographer / director: Scott Hoon
Producer: Martha Hewett
Editor: Florence Kennard
Tania Speaks, 18, is an entrepreneur, mental health advocate and one of Time Magazine’s ‘Most Influential Teens of 2018’.
Her company, ‘Brow Boost’, is an organic skincare product which tames thick brows and helps thin brows grow.
From Baltimore, Tania was in elementary school when her peers began taunting her for “looking like a man with a bushy unibrow.”
The teasing soon became something more sinister, including physical assault and verbal abuse, resulting in Tania taking a razor to her brows.
Tania told Barcroft TV: “I kind of felt like the odd one out. I didn’t have any confidence at all because of what they would say about me.”
At her lowest point, Tania decided she “couldn’t take these bushy brows” to middle school and shaved her eyebrows off after seeing where her mum kept the razor.
“I didn’t realise how sharp it was, I had to go to the hospital and get stitches.”
At the time, Tania’s mum, Tanika, didn’t realise how serious the bullying was.
She said: “I noticed Tania was spending a lot of time worrying about her brows, I said your brows are fine, at a young age what child thinks about stuff like that?”
But after finding Tania covered in blood after shaving them off underneath the table in her basement, she realised it had gone to a whole other level.
“The school dismissed it as teasing,” Tanika explained.
“I said it was much more than teasing if she tried to cut her brows off.”
After having stitches, Tania returned to school, but the harassment continued.
“My brows were really messed up - I was teased for having cut up brows.”
Tanika cut her daughter’s fringe so it would cover the scars, but Tania was upset and hated her hair - so her mum cut hers in the same style so they could be twins.
Dissatisfied with how her brows were growing back with available products, Tania began researching ingredients.
“I tried to find something to grow them back but I had sensitive skin and everything made my skin break out and go red,” Tania explained.
Motivated by her frustration, she started to experiment with different oils to find what worked best for her.
Little did she know, this would be a pivotal moment in her life.
“I thought, if I’m going to get bullied I might as well rock what I have and embrace my brows.”
Although she created the product for herself, Tania soon realised there were others who were looking for a natural alternative.
She began posting videos on Snapchat and Instagram, telling her peers to meet her in the school bathroom if they wanted her brow gel.
When Tanika found out about her daughter’s booming business, she told her to make it official.
The pair went and registered 'Brow Boost' in 2016, making Tania a business owner at 15 years old.
Made from vitamin E and aloe vera, the product tames and styles thick brows whilst helping thin ones by encouraging growth.
'Brow Boost' soon gained attention and received rave reviews, helping Tania overcome the trauma she faced in the years before.
“People wanted it and then adults wanted it and my confidence grew through the roof.”
After getting her name out there on social media, Tania recognised certain names showing interest in her business.
“My bullies started purchasing my product online and I would see their name and think, ‘Wow!’
“My bullies became my customers - it’s crazy.”
Tania made $10,000 in her first year and managed to grow the business by 60% in six months after taking a loan from her mother.
Since then, she has become a household name for public speaking, visiting schools to promote anti-bullying.
“I try and talk about working on your mental health and building your self-esteem.”
As a victim herself, Tania understands how painful it can be but instead of resenting her bullies, she tries to understand them.
“They were going through things as well and may have been picked on for their hair or their body type," she said.
“I don’t know what they were going through and they could have been crying at home like me.”
Tanika is immensely proud of her daughter but can’t help think of those who have faced similar struggles and didn’t come out on top like Tania.
“Some kids don’t make it out of bullying and they take a terminal solution,” Tanika said.
“I often remind her of how far she’s come and other people need to see that.”
And Tania’s business has allowed her to process her past whilst building a successful future.
“I believe kids creatively try to find a way out of their struggles and trauma and you should allow them to figure it out.”