Monday, March 5, 2012

Hair versus Health: Why Some Black Women Don't Workout

WARNING: The U.S. Surgeon General has determined that hair relaxers can be hazardous to your health.

Not because of the toxic chemicals, but because a woman who spends $60 and four plus hours in the stylist's chair is not going to be eager to hit the gym and mess up her hair.  For a lot of women, getting your hair done is not cheap. “It costs me $80 to get my hair pressed, and it only lasts until I sweat it even with a headband or a ponytail,” wrote a commenter in response to a story about this topic. “When I get my hair [done], it means I’m not working out for 4-5 days. I do not have money to throw away like that.” Touché  my sista, touché…..and if you don't get that, well, you're probably a guy.

Everyone encourages working out as way to a better, healthier life. You hear it from your doctor, your co-workers, your fit friends, and your boyfriend. But nowhere in any of those conversations about working out do any of these well-intentioned people mention what happens to our hair or what to do with our hair after we work out. Many women struggle with this, particularly black women (this may be an issue amongst other races but I can’t speak on that because 1. I’m black 2. My gym stays full of white women so *kanye shrugs*).

I am currently in week 6 of boot camp (got a trip coming upJ) and I have not had a perm… I know that if I get my hair done it will deter me from going all out…and my trainers don’t play that (hey Brian, hey Ron!)! I bet most of you reading this have to admit there have been times where you’ve skipped a work-out (or two) for the same reason because sometimes just wrapping up your hair doesn’t get the job done. But notice that I said that getting my hair done will slow me down…not keep me from working out altogether and that is because my health….not my hair …is most important to me. I believe looking good extends to our hair AND our bodies. We can’t forget about one to totally focus on the other. And we can’t be all the way fly, even with our hair done, if we’re unhealthy.

Ladies if you’re gonna let your hair be the reason you don’t exercise, the issue probably goes deeper than that. There are many other reasons we don’t work out as much as we should. You might blame it on the hair, but more often it really is about what lies underneath it. Pure laziness, maybe? Complacency? It’s all about the MIND. Tapping into the motivation within, finding the time in your day and then fighting the dread that keeps you rooted to your seat and staring vacantly at a computer or The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Real talk: if some of us spent half the time exercising as we do watching reality TV, we’d all be summertime fine by May!

In 2009, comedian Chris Rock  shed a interesting light on the extraordinary lengths that black women go to maintain our hair in his documentary "Good Hair."
There was some backlash -- especially from black women -- but truth is, whether it is paid for, natural or chemically improved, black women don't play when it comes to our hair and some believe that this obsession has had a damning effect on the health and fitness of black women.

I read in Essence magazine recently that one third of black women either don’t exercise enough or don’t exercise at all because they don’t want to mess up their hairstyles or due to their hairstyle management routines. This was discovered through a survey conducted  at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in 2008. The study polled 103 black women in the North Carolina region and found that a third of them mentioned their hair as the reason they shied away from exercise. “Sweating out” their hairstyles and the time required to wash, dry, and recreate their previous hairstyle, were the top two reasons the participants chose to live more sedentary lifestyles.

This is disheartening when, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, four out of five African American women are overweight or obese which increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many other ailments.

Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, a black woman, recently called black women out for forgoing exercise to maintain their hair. She also revealed this statistic: Nearly 50 percent of black women over age 20 are overweight or obese, compared with 33 percent of white women and 43 percent of Hispanic women. "Oftentimes you get women saying, 'I can't exercise today because I don't want to sweat my hair back or get my hair wet,'" Benjamin told The New York Times. "I hate to use the word 'excuse,' but that's one of them."

So how do we fix it? Sacrifice.

If you take some steps to inform yourself and ensure that your hair doesn’t suffer during your workout, then you may get motivated to do it more often.  This is what I do: when I have a fresh do, I workout but I focus on things like legs and arms….these exercises don’t make me sweat much. When my do gets a little older I start doing more rigorous workouts because now it’s time to wash my hair. I wash my hair once a week anyway so this doesn’t bother me.

Black women have never had more or better hairstyles and products at their disposal, including a variety of weaves, smoothing keratin treatments, even wigs, which some use as a temporary solution to “workout hair.”

I came across some helpful tips on how to prevent a post workout hair nightmare.

  1. Wear hair in a ponytail, feel free to twist and secure the ends of the hair with pins. This will help the hair retain its bounce and body  and maintain your style. Wearing a sweat band also works to keep hair around the edges flat.
  2. Wrap a silk or cotton scarf around your head to absorb perspiration and prevent  hair around the edges from curling.
  3. Simply wear the hair natural.
Nicole Ari Parker (wife of Boris Kodjoe, *sigh*) recently revealed her solution to this problem by creating Save Your Do Gymwrap, a head wrap that pulls out sweat and moisture from the scalp without messing up your hair.

In an interview with ESPN, Nicole said she was way more worried about her hair looking fly than her body looking fit, only working out 20 minutes a day and thinking that was enough. She eventually put her vanity to the side, changed up her routine, and says that she now has the solution to a problem that has plagued many black women when it comes to beauty and working out. Every time Nicole hits the gym, she sports a ‘Black Women Work Out Too’ t-shirt that hopefully inspires other women to think about their bodies and their health…and put the excuses to bed.

With health concerns such as diabetes and hypertension, disproportionately affecting our community, physical activity is vital for our people.  Hair should never be a deterrent from living a healthy lifestyle. Find what works best for you and get to moving girl!

Remember: “When you are in the coffin, no one is going to say ‘she died at the age of 45 of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and being 100 pounds overweight, but her hair looked great”-Unknown

See   Workout Hair Solutions for more ideas on caring for your hair pre and post workout.

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