No matter the style, nearly every Black woman has encountered the problem at least once in her lifetime: having to decide between exercise and a fresh hairdo.
However, U.S. surgeon general Dr. Regina Benjamin, herself an African-American woman, says that although the issue is real, hair should not keep you from having an exercise regimen.
“I’ve talked to a number of women and that’s the first thing they’ll tell you,” Benjamin said in an interview at the Bronner Bros. International Hair Show this past weekend in Atlanta.
“I know that was an issue for me. I didn’t want to mess up my hair. You sweat a lot in your hair and it changes your hairstyle completely.”
Instead of cutting out exercise completely, she says Black women should create a strategy that works for them instead of letting their hair run the show.
“We need to spend a little bit more time on our hair,” Benjamin said. “I exercise at night. That’s my solution: Exercise at night so when I finish, I can be at home.”
Benjamin helped judge a special competition at the hair show called “Hair Fitness”, co-sponsored by UnitedHealth Group, that challenged stylists to create unique styles with easy maintenance that will help Black women feel free to exercise more often.
“We want to help African-American women keep their great style and keep fit at the same time,” said Reed Tuckson, M.D., executive vice president and chief of medical affairs at UnitedHealth Group. “We recognize that stylists play a powerful, yet often underappreciated, role in the health of their clients, and we hope that by working with them as a group we’ll be able to help African-American women everywhere realize they can look beautiful and be active and healthy at the same time.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, four out of five African-American women are overweight or obese. In addition, studies show that many African-American women avoid certain kinds of fitness activities in order to maintain their hairstyle, citing the time and cost involved.
In addition to stressing exercise and healthy living, Dr. Benjamin also used the venue of the hair show to encourage Black women and their stylists to have more open conversations about health in the salon.
“Health care doesn’t just occur in doctor’s office—it occurs in the home, work place, where you worship. […]What better place than the hairdresser?” Benjamin said.
“When you’re sitting in the chair, it’s a good place to have conversations about sensitive issues, public health issues … about getting HIV testing— everyone should get tested— things like diabetes and heart disease, strokes and getting your blood pressure checked.”
(Photo: Robert Giroux/Getty Images)