Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin believes that Black women’s concern for their hair may be one of the reasons we have the highest rates — four out of five — of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S.
“Often times 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 an audience at the annual Bronner Brothers International Hair Show. “When you’re starting to exercise, you look for reasons not to and sometimes the hair is one of those reasons.”
Benjamin has taken a lot of flak for her remarks, especially from guys (and others) who just don’t get it. But hair maintenance is a “big” issue, especially for Black women. For many, our hair is considered our “crowning glory” and we head to the salon in droves to get our hair styled and maintained. And what some don’t realize is the sweat that comes from a good workout can undo those efforts.
“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 Gawker.com 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.”
The overly-simplistic solutions are ‘Well, do your own hair!’ or “Wear it natural!”
The former doesn’t take into account the time investment in doing and re-doing our hair or the damage that will be done from all the heat and re-heating. The latter doesn’t recognize that a fluffy twist out deflates during a thirty-minute run, a Zumba class, or a Pilates session. For most, there’s also no such thing as washing your hair at the gym post-work out, blowing it dry in the locker room and being on your merry way at your prime — unless you have a couple hours to spare. And neither “solution” acknowledges that most Black women don’t wash their hair daily and funky-hair for a week is not an option.
Unless we’re all rocking Caesars, or locs and an exceptional scarf that keeps the frizzies at bay, we have a very real maintenance problem. So how do we fix it?
If we have to choose between our health and our hair, there’s only one sensible choice. I believe in looking good like it’s a second religion, but there are times — about four days a week — that I forgo keeping my hair done-done so I can hit the gym. My hair may not be at its best every day, but I find solace in knowing my health is on its way there.
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.
Demetria L. Lucas is the Relationships Editor at ESSENCE and the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. She has recently been nominated for an African American Literary Award. Vote for her now on literaryawardshow.com.