Black hair is a rain forest, lush and ancient like El Yunque¹. It’s an endless field of fluffy cotton blossoms nestled in prickly claws, rising out of wet, dark-red Georgia dirt. It’s the deep Mediterranean Sea with secret wild gardens growing up from the murky Egyptian floor. And like the Ogun² and Combahee³ Rivers, it is powerful and mysterious and can hold a hundred generations’ worth of secrets. And at its shorelines—the ones that frame beautiful Black, brown, and beige faces—sometimes there are playful wisps, little waves, intricate dips, and delicate swoops that look like filigree crafted from Geechee4 mermaids or maybe even Yemoja5 herself.
These are our glorious edges, where Black and brown hairstyles begin. Where our cornrows must start off tight or the crop won’t last, where our box braids hold on with all their might, where all good weaves come to an end and lace fronts can triumph or fail.
Black women are good at naming things for themselves—especially when it marks a point of difference or when the word they were given just wasn’t fly enough. And we knew “hairline” was far too flat for such a dynamic site. “Edges” is much more accurate. It communicates both being on the verge (of so many things) and the verve in a woman of color’s head.
We’re also brilliant at taking what appears to be broken and transforming it into something beautiful. We’ve reframed edges—our shortest, most vulnerable baby hairs—into an opportunity for whimsy and creativity. An area that could have been discarded as damaged, troubled, or burdensome has been marked by Black and brown girls for Black and brown girls as something sweet, precious, and cool.
That’s why edge styling wasn’t born in a high-end salon but from the innovation and imagination of everyday “regular” colored girls. Perhaps the spirit of Josephine Baker, with her black patent leather finger waves and magnifique plastered-down swoops, whispered a little song in their ears: “Bonjour, brown girl, go on grab you an old toothbrush and some brown gel, make some curls and swirls to show off that pretty brown face of yours.”
This isn’t so far-fetched, actually. Finger waves were the gateway to all baby-hair art, says celebrity stylist Shelby Swain, aka the Beyoncé of Baby Hair. Growing up with older parents, Swain was only allowed the standard pink-roller-set bang as a hair flourish. She’d gaze longingly at her peers who got to play with their edges.
She told her little-girl self that when she grew up, she’d make sure everyone else could too. “The only reason I went to beauty school was to learn how to do finger waves,” she remembers. Emancipating edges became her calling and she answered, leveling up to create some of the most iconic edge designs of today.
“Edges are like little jewels,” explains edge-art pioneer and natural-hair educator Anastasia Ebel, owner of BabyBangz salon in New Orleans. She’s been styling her own hair since kindergarten, when she had to wear a uniform to school and (like millions of women) felt like her hair was the only place she could express herself.
For her, working with edges just feels good. “You can wake up and feel defeated, make a puff, frame your face with adornments made from your own hair, and no one has to know what happened. You can fix anything with edges.”
Through our edges, you can begin to enter our story. Black women, who’ve been living on the fringes of society since we first reached the shores of the United States, have struggled, organized, and loved our way out of the shadows and into the cultural spotlight.
Now there is a Black and Indian (one of many great cultural combinations for baby hair, by the way) woman in the White House, one step removed from the most powerful political position on the planet. Our edges are a visual representation of that beautiful journey. A living symbol of our tenderness, our tenacity, and our genius that deserves and demands liberation, protection, and love.
- El Yunque: A tropical rain forest in Puerto Rico. Indigenous Caribbean people believed it was the throne of the chief god Yúcahu.
- Ogun River: A sacred waterway in Nigeria.
- Combahee River: A blackwater river in the low-country region of South Carolina. During the Civil War, Harriet Tubman (the first woman to ever lead a major U.S. military operation) led the Raid at Combahee Ferry, freeing more than 700 enslaved people of African descent.
- Geechee: Also known as Gullah, these are people of African descent who live in the coastal areas of north Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
- Yemoja: A patron spirit of rivers and water and the divinity of the Ogun River.
Written and performed by Michaela angela Davis. Photo credits: Abbey Adkison and Amanda Evans. Production: Abbey Adkison, Meghan Allen, and Liesl Lar. Cinematography: Janet Upadhye. Stylist: Andrea Zendejas. Stylist assistant: Eunice Bruno. Hair: Cheryl Bergamy. Makeup: Danessa Myricks. Makeup assistant: Desiree Denis. Manicure: Martha Fekete. Deputy beauty directors: Lauren Balsamo and Chloe Metzger. Production assistant: Amanda Evans. Video editing: Heather Weyrick. Music: Matthias. Photo editing: Ruben Chamorro. Digital creative director: Abby Silverman.
On Ta’Lor: Jonathan Simkhai dress. Grenson shoes. Mara Paris earrings.Pascale Monvoisin necklace. Ivi rings. On Diarra: Tory Burch dress. Alexander McQueen shoes. CompletedWorks earrings. Alighieri rings. On Kortlynn: Ivy City Co. dress. Doc Martens shoes. Alighieri earrings. Alighieri and Ettika rings.