First World Problems: Hair and Fitness

Now the issue of African-American (or black, I am comfortable with either) women and their hair has been talked about in the media to death.  With the firing of News Weather Anchor Rhonda Lee (see article here) for her letting a viewer know that she wasn’t ill, just wearing her hair short and natural being one of the most recent “teachable” moments, it’s safe to say that even though it has been talked about to death — it is also a reason.

I have found that this tutorial by Melissa Harris-Perry (LOVE her!  She is a kick-ass professor, MSNBC host, published author on amazing topics, mother, wife — she is totally my mentor and dosen’t even know it!) to be very good at explaining the basics of black hair:

I also encourage you, if you are so inclined to watch a pannel discussion that MHP had about the issues of African-American hair: Click HERE.  One of the panelist in the video is actress Nicole Ari Parker who has even pioneered a line of hair wraps called Save Your Do (link HERE), marketed to minority women to try and get them to feel comfortable working out. So why in the world would women not feel comfortable working out?

Well if you watched the above videos you know that when an African-American woman sweats during a work out — she wrecks her hair.  And I mean wreck.  Sometimes irreparable.  Within the first five minutes that I teach, I am sweating — depending on the class I could be pouring sweat.  And when I’ve finished with some workouts, Zumba-thons, so on you can literally wring out my hair.  So what is the big deal?  Well the big deal is that with the notable eccentricities of black hair, some women literally weight weight vs. finances in the decision to work out.  A trip to the salon on average can cost about $50, about two+ hours of your day.  If a minority woman utilizes relaxing chemicals to keep her hair straight and more manageable  the cost can skyrocket — same with any other specialty style like a weave.  So who wants to sweat out $50+  and two hours worth of stylist magic to work out?

Apparently less black women than preferable for the statistics.  From the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health Website: Obesity and African-Americans

  • African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S. About four out of five African American women are overweight or obese.
  • In 2010, African Americans were 1.4 times as likely to be obese as Non- Hispanic Whites.
  • In 2010, African American women were 70% more likely to be obese than Non-Hispanic White women.
  • In 2007-2010, African American girls were 80% more likely to be overweight than Non-Hispanic White girls

Four out of FIVE African-American women are overweight or obese.  Four out of five.  In 2011 the Surgeon General of the United States (an African-American woman by the way — who does happen to be carring a few extra pounds as well, so she understands the struggle personally) made a point of asking all women (including black women) to choose fitness over hair.  (Article HERE).  In the ariticle Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, the Surgeon General, is quoted as saying:

“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,’ ” she said in an interview. “When you’re starting to exercise, you look for reasons not to, and sometimes the hair is one of those reasons.”  “It’s not just African-American women,” she said. ” I’ve talked to a number of people, and I saw it with my older white patients too. They would say, ‘I get my hair done every week and I don’t want to mess up my hair.’”

I speak specifically about African-American women because first of all I am one. My mom (who had Gastric Bypass in November 2009 to loose weight) is one.  My aunts, grandparents …well you get the picture.  So with talking about black hair, I can speak from a place of personal knowledge.  I LOVE the way my har looks after my stylist does his magic (and I swear it is magic).  I mean look at this:

Photo By: Dan of Montage9 Studios

Photo By: Dan of Montage9 Studios

How amazing is that hair?!  He turns this big thick mop of natural hair (meaning I do not use relaxing chemicals…more on that later) into something just wow worthy!   I HATE it when I have to walk into the studio with THAT hair.  Because I know that it will not withstand the workout I am about to lead or participate in.  I try and plan my salon visits when I have time off from teaching, or saving those appointments for times when I have an event (dinners, photos, business meetings) and then I have to time it around my fitness schedule.  I’ll be honest, it’s annoying and I hate it.  Yes, on my own I can get it straight and presentable — but nothing like that silky smooth waves and dips that you see in that photo above.  NOTHING like that.   And as soon as any type of moisture or humidity hits it — POOF, there goes my style!  Sometimes I teach with it natural — which works out well because it’s dance fitness, but not everyone has a job where looking like the photo below is perfectly fine and even encouraged:

Photo By: Boyd Photography.

Photo By: Boyd Photography.

In the 2011 New York Time article (cited above) a woman was interviewed and had some very truthful words about hair and fitness.  Ms. Gordon is an executive secretary at a predominantly white law firm in Columbus, Ohio who straitens her hair.  Her employer allows a longer lunch break for employees who wish to work out, but she chooses to not take part of the activities stating:

“It’s just too much of an effort to take care of my hair afterward,” she said. “When I tell them, I see the underlying look: ‘You’re just making excuses, you’re lazy,’” she said.“I have to blow-dry my hair and then curl it. At a minimum that’s another good hour,” she said. “Other women at the office can wash and let their hair dry naturally. If I do that without a relaxer in my hair, it will look like an Afro.”

All of that work is true.  So here is my hair right out of the shower, with some towel drying:

My hair after a wash.  With only leave in conditioner, heat protective spray, and a light low heat blow dry to try and get some of the moisture out.

My hair after a wash. With only leave in conditioner, heat protective spray, and a light low heat blow dry to try and get some of the moisture out.

It’s big, it’s frizzy, its …well my hair and one of the reasons that sometimes I wish I could skip a work out for a few weeks and just have nice luscious hair like in the photo above.  That is about after 20 minutes of air drying/towel drying, and about 10 minutes of work with my amazing blowdryer on the warm setting (Conair Silverbird — that thing is a rockstar.  My stylist uses it, and recommended I pick one up. I own two.  One at my moms house, and one at the farm).   There are at least two products in my hair already: Cantu Shea Butter Leave In Conditioner (that I put on in the shower and slap a conditioning/shower cap on); and Cream of Nature Argon Oil Strength & Shine Leave In Conditioner Spray.  After this photo I did about two more passes with the Silverbird on the nuclear setting (I swear my hair smokes, it so hot) adding various hair products each time including: Cream of Nature Argon Oil Cream Moisturizer, some coconut hair oil, and Pantene Nature Fusion Smoothing Cream (which has been discontinued, and it makes me sad).  So about two hours later, I get this hair:

My now straight, overheated, hair.

My now straight, overheated, hair.

So that is about three hours of work.  About five (at least) hair products, and the use of one hair dryer that is totally efficient and effective — but horrible on my hair.  I went to dinner with my hair like this, pulled back — but the next day I had a sorority meeting.  Which entailed pluging in my super hot (for hair tools to work on African-American hair the instrument has to get hotter than for it to work on most any other hair types) flat iron to get more straightening  smoothing, and a little bump curl in the ends.  So my hair, done by myself looked presentable.  Until I went to the last part of rehearsal at the studio….by the time I left that smoothness you see at the front of my hair had turned into a frizzy mess (as it is today — but I teach so I don’t care as hard).  So about four hours of work, ruined in about five minutes.  Yep, that’s about right.

So despite the statistics, despite the fact that I’ve lost about 130lbs, despite the fact that once I get on the dance floor I am super excited to teach — I still wish my hair was easier.  I still understand those women who use their hair as a legitimate reason to not work out.  I’ve been in the working world, in a part of it where natural hair/Afro’s/frizzy curls and waves would not be an acceptable way to come into the office.  I know that not everyone can wear their hair how it comes, and not everyone WANTS to.  It’s a choice to go natural, so as a natural hair wearer I rebuke all those who just tell women that that will solve there problems.  It makes my hair healthier keeping it natural and sans heat as much as possible, but I still want those luscious silky smooth dips and waves.

Tomorrow I go into the office at my university department, and I probably will have my hair natural since I teach in a few hours.  I want to keep heat off of it as much as possible, and since I will not be seeing any students tomorrow I feel like I can.  But that isn’t always the case, and eventually I will get a job that might require more strict hair standards (lucky for me sometimes I can even go into my GTA position wearing my studio clothes if I will be cutting it close to make it to teach).  So just another fitness fun-fact — another battle to loose the bulge, another reason why some folks stay home.  Anyone have a hair story to share? Please list it below!  I’d love to hear how other people manage unruly locks and the desire to stay healthy!

Caviate: Yes I do know African-American women who work out.  I am clearly one of them.  However, I can say at least during my time as a fitness instructor I see far less minority faces than I would like.  I can think of about ten African-American women who come to the dance studio on a regular basis.  When I taught at another facility, I can think of about four black women who were in my classes on any kind of regular basis.  I know (including myself) six black women who teach group fitness.  SIX.  I work as a part of a twelve member instructor staff at the studio.  I am the only African-American woman there on staff. 

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4 thoughts on “First World Problems: Hair and Fitness

  1. Dee says:

    I go to the gym with a lot of caribbean women and they wrap their hair before excercise. Not just putting something on tome of it but that circular thing then maybe on top of that a head wrap. They even sauna and shower at the gym and when they leave they haven’t sweated it out. I notice that in your work out pic your hair isn’t up so wrapping might be on option.
    I have my hair in locks because even at the age of 12 I realized that chasing after crispy crack/ trying to make my naturals behave like white people hair was just a waste of time. However even in this state, I realized that I had to go through a process of learning my hair, how it responded to things, and how it wanted to be treated. Through the process I learned that my hair produces enough oils in the course of a week to where I don’t need to apply external moisterizers, it hates heat, and prefers being washed once a week and left alone. In my estimation, folks who sweat their hair out and don’t know how to fix it don’t have an intimate relationship with their hair and their hair dresser knows more about their hair than they do. I think in knowing your hair intimately, sweating it out at the gym will stop being an issue. In closing, I’d love for you to read a blog by one of my friends who went natural late in the game.

    http://msbettylou.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/hair/

    • Thanks for the message Dee. Part of teaching dance fitness as an instructor is that we kind of costume ourselves in our dance gear. So that is one reason why I wouldn’t do a head wrap. I also generally hate things that cover my head. I do wear headbands (mositure wicking if possible) and then occasionally with that costuming we might rock a hat or a wig. At times (like during yesterday’s class!) my headbands fall off, so I wouldn’t even think of a full head wrap.

      I would be remiss at not saying that I don’t think all black women who do relax their hair (I clearly am no longer one of them) are chasing “white” hair. Sometimes they just want something more manageable, and/or the style that they prefer requires relaxed hair. Clutch Magazine wrote a great piece yesterday about how we as black women chastise other black women through our choice of words on topics just like that. I would encourage anyone to take a look at it — I know I found it to be poignant.

      http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2013/01/beauty-black-and-beyond-4-myths-we-should-stop-perpetuating/.

      Further, I think that many women DO know their hair — whether they choose to keep relaxing it, weave it up, wear it natural, lock it, or something all together different. I know my hair hates sweat, that it frizzes at the smallest drop of moisture or humidity, that if I forgo adding moisture it hates me more. I also realize I am still in transition, so the pieces of my hair that are holding on to the processed chemicals have a totally different idea that the fully natural hair. Also with more than 20 years of chemical hair-processes (first a Wave Neuvo, then onto relaxers), and my weight loss — the texture of my hair has been changed and that is a consideration. For example today: I am wearing my hair completely natural with no heat. It is pulled back in a bun, so as to keep it out of my way. But it’s a casual day at work — so I feel confident with this do. When I go to a formal dinner — I prefer my hair to be pressed out and show the waves, length, and amazing natural color I have. So that’s what I do. Not trying to be white — just wearing my hair like I prefer it. So I would say to your statement that I know my hair, but I also hate sweating it out. I hate spending the hours fixing it, I hate the tangles that it gets from the unprocessed bits if I let it air dry, so on. I still work out (clearly), and I will continue to do so. And perhaps for some people more hair knowledge would convince them to come off the couch for a 5K — but to each women her own. Your hair is your crown, and everyone gets to wear a different one of her own choosing.

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