“Cloud Hair” Is the Natural Community’s Answer to Slicked Back Edges

Black hair can do almost anything. With the right technique and amount of heat, it can be silky-straight. If you gently comb it out in its kinky state, it will blossom with terrific volume, reaching north, east, west — wherever you want it to go. By now, we’ve all been witness to the swell of the natural hair movement, which over the past 15 plus years, has compelled plenty of Black women to leave behind chemical straighteners and allow their kinks and coils to thrive. 

But even as Black women continue to play with their natural texture, there still are certain aesthetic preferences within the community that need to be contended with. Even if they aren’t going so far as to straighten out their texture, many Black women still face pressure to make their natural hair look a certain way — specifically, for it to look “done.” And ofttimes, that means finessed, swirled, gelled-down edges, or a slicked-down base that blooms into a puff. There is a persistent belief that if we wear our hair out, our curl patterns — natural or done with the help of braids or curling tools — need to be perfectly defined in order for the hair to look good.  

On the surface, it may seem like an innocuous standard, something as simple as a style preference, but in many ways, it’s much deeper than that. Where’s the Black girl version of a messy bun? Why the obsession with making sure our curl patterns are always crisply defined, even if it means spending hours a week to twist and retwist our hair? Why is it that in order for us to be considered “presentable” our hair, which by nature wants to puff up, needs to be brushed down to look as sleek as possible? If part of loving one’s natural kinks is about rejecting Eurocentric beauty standards, why not let your crown be gorgeously cloud-like, from root to tip?

People with Afro-textured hair spend a lot on beauty products. A 2018 study done by Nielsen revealed that of the $63.5 million spent on Ethnic Hair and Beauty Aids in 2017, Black people accounted for almost 86 percent of that, shelling out a whopping $54.4 million. We take pride in our hair, but sometimes, it feels as if that “pride” is putting undue pressure on Black women for the look of their hair to fall within a set of parameters that one, no one else has to follow, and two, were not created with Black people in mind anyway.

Just because you want your hair-care routine to be less involved does not speak to how much you value yourself. And if no other group of people has such rigid standards impressed upon them (see, again, the widely accepted messy bun) why are we so quick to comply? Our hair naturally wants to puff up and frizz. It is, in its very nature, the manifestation of freedom and liberty — so why place so many arbitrary, unnatural restrictions on it?

If we’re going to embrace our natural hair, it’s important to do so it in its full glory: When it’s loose, when it’s fuzzy at the top, when the curls start to separate or turn to frizz, looking more like a cotton candy cloud than a fresh, uniform braid-out. It is OK to have a lower-effort look. Indeed, it’s more than just OK — it actually can be pretty darn beautiful to keep our edges coily, rising like a perfectly executed souffle. Seeing styles like that in everyday life and on social media can really influence and help change these antiquated standards rooted in white supremacy.

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