Why This Baby Hair Styling on the Wendy Williams Show Went Wrong

Perfectly-styled baby hair is an important feature for many women of color when it comes to their hairstyles. Having those clean, little gelled-down swoops around the hairline just gives the hairstyle a certain polish and charm. Indeed, styling baby hairs is a beloved practice in certain communities of color and has been for years. And this storied tradition came to the forefront of an internet roasting thanks to a recent segment on the Wendy Williams Show.

Known for her no-holds-barred commentary, Williams hosted Sarah Potempa, the hairstylist who invented the Beachwaver, on a July 10 taping of her show to give some quick tutorials on celebrity-inspired hairstyles. For one of the styles, featuring two (admittedly not-so-equally-measured) Afro puffs and a plait down the middle, Potempa picks up a toothbrush and applies some styling gel to it. The style in question appears to have been inspired by (or at the very least, bears a striking resemblance to) a look worn by Yara Shahidi, whose baby hairs delicately swooped and swirled around her temples and forehead. The look was projected on a screen behind Potempa, Williams, and the model.

“One little trick that I’d love to show you guys,” she says, toothbrush in hand, “Look at this you guys: just put a little bit of that edge gel,” she says as she dips her brush into the gel and begins to brush back the model's edges, causing them to disappear into the rest of the style.

“Oh girl, we know about the baby hairs,” Williams replies, not realizing exactly what’s happening at first. She pulls down a few baby hairs out of the model’s puff for the stylist to attend to. “No, get her baby hairs,” Williams says. When the stylist comes around to brush them back into the puff, Williams realizes the error.

“No, don’t brush them back, comb them down and around,” she says, to the crowd's delight, eventually taking the task upon herself.

For most, this is a tale as old as America: Welcome to the Christopher Columbus-ing of baby hairs. While Potempa — yes, she’s white — didn’t say that her suggestion on to how to handle edges was completely new, she definitely explained it as if it would be a discovery for some. But it isn't, and wouldn’t be for most black women who’ve lived for any length of time — particularly through the '90s and early 2000s when the style was en vogue. What’s more? Her technique on handling those edges, at least for the particular hairstyle she was trying to execute, was off. Clearly, Potempa understood the need for a toothbrush and that edges needed to be attended to (which is good), but the actual shaping and styling of them got completely lost.

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This in itself, is a puzzle, considering baby hairs are absolutely everywhere. Celebrities of color like Rihanna, Zendaya, FKA twigs, Beyoncé, and more consistently style theirs and have quite a lot of visibility in mainstream culture. Even Katy Perry has attempted the style, in spite of being accused of cultural appropriation for wearing her hair in that way. So what happened here?

Perhaps Potempa was looking to do a modified version of the style. After all, Shahidi's original hairdo didn't have the braid in the middle. Another good question is why, if Potempa wasn't a baby hair expert, was she asked to execute that particular style? Fortunately for hairstylists, if you really want to learn how to style your edges, all you really have to do is search “baby hair tutorial” on YouTube. There are over 7 million results — we know, we just checked. The tips are all quite similar: use a toothbrush and styling gel (Potempa got that part) to swoop the edges down and around, creating curly swirls of hair, at your forehead and temples.

You can even achieve the look with a fine-tooth comb and a spoolie:

Got it? Good. Now if someone could show this “one little trick” to all misinformed hairdressers. Seems like Twitter already has made attempts:

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