Hair History -Baby HairJan 28, 2021 08:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
Many fashion and beauty trends are influenced by black culture. Baby hairs, or more specifically the act of laying down edges, is something unique to black hair culture and is regaining popularity with many celebrities doing elaborate styles. Even non-Black celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner are gelling down their hair, though they receive a great deal of backlash for doing so. Many are calling out non-Black celebs for trying to make baby hairs fashion yet labeling it as ‘ghetto’ when worn by the very creators of baby hairs.
For those who may not know what they are, baby hairs are the short hairs that grow at the edge of a person’s hairline. Laying down edges is the act of styling these baby hairs and gelling them down. Sadly, the history of baby hair is rooted in racism. Black people were seen as inferior and that included kinky, curly hair. The laying down of baby hair was a way to tame the curls and emulate European standards of beauty.
American-born French entertainer, Josephine Baker and American jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald.
Finger waves became the new look for Black women in the early 1920s with the likes of Baby Esther - the inspiration behind Betty Boop - and Josephine Baker rocking this hairstyle. Finger waves were a popular style that was meant to create a softer look to the bobbed hairstyles of the flappers for Black women. In the 1930s and 1940s, sculpted hairlines weren’t very popular, and softer looks like roller set updos sported by singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were the trend. However, Black women continued to lay down baby hairs as they felt the pressure to maintain super straight edges without a hair out of place.
Afros and rocking natural hair was the trend in the 1960s but baby hairs returned in the 1970s with more elaborate designs. Celebrities such as LaToya Jackson, Bernadette Stanis and Sylvia Robinson, founder, and CEO of Sugar Hill Records, slayed their baby hair adorned afro puffs, long braids with beads and slicked back ponytails. In the 1990s, singers like Janet Jackson and Brandy slicked down the baby hair that lined their box braids. By the turn of the century, the finishing touch to any black hairstyle was baby hair. Celebrities are rocking their baby hair on the red carpet, in major advertising campaigns and magazine covers. Even with the lace front wig movement, having a wig with baby hairs for the ‘growing from the scalp’ effect is important in Black culture.
Now, there’s another hair movement with more Black women leaving relaxers and other chemical straighteners to rock their natural hair. Information about how to care for and style natural hair is now more accessible than ever thanks to social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Laying down edges and baby hairs is still a trend, but now there’s more discussion on advocating for the need to not lay down edges and let curly hair exist in its natural state. Not having to have laid edges all the time does give the hairline a break and prevents traction alopecia and hair loss. Whether you choose to lay down your baby hairs or not, one thing remains true: Black women are the architects of baby hair and there’s nothing ghetto about the hair from their heads, no matter how it is styled.
Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.
She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.