The Idea Of “Effortless” Hair Doesn’t Sit Right With Me

Photographed by Leia Morrison.
If I were to mention the word 'bedhead,' you might think of a messy bun tied effortlessly with a scrunchie. Perhaps, like me, you would also imagine someone running errands early in the morning as baby hairs swish around their face and a halo of soft strands trail behind. Either way, bedhead hair is supposedly low maintenance and somehow always accidentally perfect.
The tousled look is reminiscent of the 2010s, where bedhead poster girls included the likes of Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, and Alexa Chung. Bedhead hair screams 'indie sleaze,' to be paired with a Breton-striped top and skinny jeans. But if TikTok has taught us anything, it's that the 10-year trend cycle is real. Fast-forward to the present day and bedhead hair is no longer the property of Tumblr.
On TikTok, bedhead hair tutorials are racking up views and likes, just as they did on Pinterest and Tumblr back in the day. The videos and selfies all have one thing in common: straight hair without a coil or curl. I'd go as far as to say that I've never seen a photographic example of what the bedhead hair trend would look like on natural hair.

I'd go as far as to say that I've never seen a photographic example of what the bedhead hair trend would look like on natural hair.

Here's the thing: existing with afro hair is complicated at best. Many people, myself included, have had to deal with discrimination at school and in the workplace merely for wearing our hair in its natural state. Thanks to these lived experiences, not to mention the pressure of having to hold ourselves to white beauty standards, Black women often feel as though they must always have their hair done to be palatable, whether that be pressed or braided, for example. Paradoxically, white women are given the grace to do whatever they want with their hair, which includes embracing the bedhead look. So is it really cool or is it simply out of touch in 2023?
Black women have long been told that their hair texture is too 'unruly', and the idea that natural hair must be 'tamed' has persisted throughout history. These attitudes prompted the use of hot tools and often damaging chemical relaxers to straighten hair to be more like European textures. A study conducted by Dove in 2019 found that a Black woman is 80% more likely to change her natural hair to adhere to social ideals and expectations in the workplace.
So is bedhead only really attainable for white women? After scrolling through the TikTok hashtags, it became obvious to me that this look requires a number of styling steps and products, most of which are applicable to any hair type. But there's no doubt that the trend is off-putting to many Black women, who may feel as though their hair will be perceived as 'messy.'
Refinery29's Unbothered editor L'Oréal Blackett says that there is often an incorrect assumption that big hair has not been groomed. Sure enough, I don't see myself leaning into bedhead hair, especially with my hair in its natural state. The thought of receiving comments about my hair in a bigger form than is usual for me generates waves of pre-emptive frustration. That's because even after styling, my natural hair has often been described as 'wild' and 'distracting,' particularly by those with straight hair. By contrast, bedhead hair with its frizz, flyaways and waves is accepted and described as 'chic,' 'breezy,' and 'undone.'

Even after styling, my natural hair has often been described as 'wild' and 'distracting,' particularly by those with straight hair.

Hairstylists, beauty editors, and influencers have called for change when it comes to the words we use to talk about natural hair. 'Unruly' and 'difficult' are just two words that it's important to shelve. Their negative connotations are enough to make anyone feel uncomfortable, and I know I'm not alone. Women have long reported microaggressions when their hair is curly, for example, including touching and suggestions that big hair should be tied up to appear smaller or flatter. Conversely, the bedhead hair trend seems to encourage volume but, judging by social media, mainly in Caucasian hair types.
Afro hairstylist Elizabeth Ariyo shares my sentiment and says that she is unfamiliar with the term 'bedhead hair' when describing Black hair. "I think about it in relation to Caucasian hair that is 'messy,' like in a bun or a ponytail," she tells me. Ariyo does not wear her hair straight from bed and neither do many of her clients, she says. "Plenty opt for braids, which means in the morning their hair is neat and tidy so they don't have to worry about being perceived as 'ungroomed.'"
For lots of people with curly and afro hair, rocking your natural texture (like many stylists suggest when emulating the bedhead trend) isn't as easy as it's made out to be. It takes time and money to look after and style natural hair. In a Refinery29 article titled "I'm Struggling To Afford Black Hair Products As Costs Rise — & It Matters" Blackett writes that for reasons such as self-expression, tradition, societal pressures, and the unique demands of Black hair, Black women invest more than most in products. She reports that afro hair products are up to 70% more expensive than their counterparts.
The notion of bedhead hair, also referred to as the 'I woke up like this' look, is especially interesting to me considering how complex my own bedtime hair routine is. My hair is dense and has been color-treated in the past so overnight preservation is key. I sleep on a silk pillowcase to help maintain my curls, while silk bonnets are popular, too. On an expert's recommendation, I never forget to drench my hair in a hair oil or serum to revive my curls come morning. That's before I've washed, conditioned, masked, and enlisted a diffuser.

It takes time and money to look after and style natural hair.

Thanks to the natural hair movement, many Black women have chosen to cut their hair and regrow it in order to embrace a journey of self-love and acceptance. Hair trends like 'bedhead chic' seem inaccessible, especially when there is such an obvious lack of representation beyond Caucasian, straight hair. And it isn't just the bedhead. If you have a social media account, it's likely you've spotted the Matilda Djerf-inspired haircuts everywhere. Think heavily layered lengths requiring lots of rollers.
Sure, plenty of Black women participated in the full-volume trend using wigs, weaves, and heat styling (the Dyson Airwrap being a major player). Though it was somewhat more inclusive than many other hair trends that have gone viral on the app, I noticed that videos of Black women never made the top search results. The same goes for bedhead hair.
Thankfully, modern Black haircare brands are championing inclusivity within the hair space, ensuring that looking after your hair (as well as styling it) is a positive experience. Just look at BREAD Beauty Supply. One of its key goals is to make frizz cool, as it is often seen as something to get rid of when it comes to curly hair especially. "At BREAD, we say that 'lazy girl hair' is for everyone," brand founder Maeva Heim told me. We must consider all coils and curls, and in the bedhead trend there is definitely room for more than one hair type. "My tightly-coiled hair styled in a messy bun isn't going to look the same as someone with straight hair in a messy bun," Heim says, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be welcome.
It is clear that countless beauty trends are cemented in Eurocentric ideals. While some may be fleeting, it would be remiss to let them go without delving into the very real impact that they have on women of color, who are so often erased from the narrative. So will bedhead hair endure? I have a sneaky suspicion it might just disappear into the ether along with the 'clean girl' and 'brownie glazed lips.'
This story was originally published on Refinery29UK.

More from Hair

R29 Original Series