Straight Hair Or Fitness?

Bellas, I’ve been thinking a lot about health and fitness, my particular issues, and what I need to do to take better care of myself. And I’ve also been thinking a lot about our community of black girls and women around the world. What are we teaching the generation to come? How are we uplifting ourselves and encouraging each other to be the best we can be?

I might not be articulating any of this coherently right now, but I read an amazing article over at Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss (one of my fave fitness blogs, dontcha know) that made me think long and hard about myself and my values, and our priorities as a community.

I’ll let Erika tell it like she sees it:

“Somewhere along the line, too many of us have grown to prioritize something as minor league as our hair over the major league issues, like health. It’s considered unnecessary vanity if I take pride in my abs or my legs (I’m showing off, and deserving of the catty conversation behind my back), but my hair better be on point or… I’m deserving of the catty conversation behind my back. You’re clowned for having “bad hair,” and – not saying you should be clowned for a “bad body” – praised for staying on top of your hair and not having a strand out of place. Hour long conversations can be had about hair products that are healthy for our hair.. “but what’s healthy for our bodies?” Silence.

Maybe I’m just hella skeptical… and I can accept that. But there’s a serious problem with the fact that we can figure out a thousand ways to keep our hair in tip top shape – some of us sitting with mayonnaise, avocado, egg, kool-aid and dill pickle mixtures on our heads because we heard it’ll make it “grow” – but no one’s willing to give healthy living a shot, trying different things to keep our bodies in tip top shape. Something is very wrong when it makes sense to allow something like hair to get in the way of our pursuit of health.”

Excerpted from Black Women, Our Bodies & Perceptions of Beauty: Straight Hair | A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss. Click here to read the whole post.

As a natural haired woman, I don’t share the straight hair concerns anymore for myself. But I am still “allergic to sweat.” I’m not as active or as healthy as I’d like to be. I’m working on being better. And I wonder about us as a community.

It was just reported that black women spend half a TRILLION dollars on haircare and weaves. And in my opinion, that’s crazy stupid money that could be going to improve our communities in more meaningful ways. I found myself coming back to the question asked on Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss: “What if you swapped your hair with your body in your list of priorities?”

What if?

Those are just my thoughts. What are yours?

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Comments

  1. I think overall we will choose our hair over fitness. But that’s the precise reason why I rock my natural curls versus a press. My hair looks great natural and I still workout. I normally keep it straight during the winter but this winter I had to pass because I was more committed to my health.

  2. Tasha K. says:

    I definitely feel that we as Black Women invest too much time in getting our hair done but don’t take the time to workout. Your hair does not have to look bad even if you work out. I’m natural now but even when I was relaxed I still worked out four days a week. I just always kept a two day cute rule(lol). There were two days out of the week where I did not work out and my hair was sweat free.

    Black women have to look at hair and health from a long term point of view. Your hair may look good now but as a result of not working out you can become overweight, suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. I say take the time out now to exercise and eat right or risk your health and paying for expensive medications all for the sake of looking good.

  3. Ironically, exercise was the reason I decided to go natural. I’d just started taking Zumba classes and was sweating my style out every time. I had to make a choice and the choice was to feel really good and look good sporting a twa. ;-)

    • Same here. I was pretty over the straight hair. I was sick of it for awhile, but my mom was always saying “your hair needs a perm”. But after I graduated, I was done trying to keep straight hair when mine was not straight. Then I started to workout hardcore again. I’ve always worked out a lot, but of course, when I had a perm, I slacked off. Sad.

      Now I workout when I want, and I’ve been natural over a year. Reading this article though made me sad. Women choosing hair over working out. Sad on so many levels.

    • Pflecia says:

      Exactly the same reason for me. Zumba is fun, addictive, but definitely no joke when it comes to sweating.

  4. Snarky's Machine says:

    I’ve worked out four times a week without interruption for the last five years. My hair be damned. I already live some place where access to product/someone to do my hairs is a joke. Also, I cannot die in VT. I gotta die when I’m old and some place way cooler than VT. Have to stay fit. So that means rocking Monday-go-to-meeting hair on the days when I don’t have time to go home and style my hair. I have some “gym hair” I wear sometimes. ha. I am really protective of my natural hair because I love it soooooo much, but I also love working out. Plus I don’t have cable so I have to watch my stories at the gym.

  5. If we swapped our bodies with our hair on our list of priorities, most of us would probably be in much better shape. But for that to happen, we can’t wait for everyone to jump on board or create a movement (though that helps), we have to make the decision and lead the way for ourselves when it comes to being healthy. After all, we are the ones who suffer the consequences when we don’t.

    • Mishara says:

      This is a good point. For a long time I wanted a workout buddy and slacked off in my exercise when I couldn’t find one. Then I realized it is ridiculous to wait for all your friends and fam to jump on board. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” -Ghandi

  6. My mom has natural hair and always faces this battle. She skips her Zumba class because she recently got her hair pressed. I try to tell her she shouldn’t sacrifice her workouts but I do understand not wanting to waste money in sweating out her ‘do. Think she needs to either rock it natural (unpressed), braids, locks, sew in or wig but rock something that lets her workout!

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  7. One of the things I have done since going natural was to learn to swim. Now I can’t imagine not being able to swim because of my hair.

  8. llehsal says:

    There is a girl at my office who stopped coming to aerobics class because her stylist told her the sweat was breaking up her hair :/ . Oh well, my hair was always WELL done (relaxed or natural) throughout ALL my workouts and I was fine :) You just need to know how to care for it.

    • Melanie says:

      I agree.My hair is relaxed and I’ve played tennis, did yoga and spin class and now I throw zumba into the mix. I think you just need to know how to take of your hair whether it’s natural or relaxed.

  9. Georgia says:

    I associate being active with better skin and hair so to me it’s all related. Maybe if we sold it that way, it’d be more of a gumption to get moving.

    I’m mad that I haven’t been able to work out as often as I want to. >_<

  10. My hair/body priorities flip flop somewhat. I’m not adverse to exercise or afraid about how it may impact my ‘do, it’s just that exercise for me means that I will have to make time for it and carve out a place for it in my day or it won’t get done. On the other hand, I rarely have any qualms about making time for my hair.

    What helps me bring things back into balance is finding activity that I really enjoy–swimming mostly. It’s easier to see fitness as a treat rather than a chore when it’s something you look forward to doing.

    Thanks for touching on this topic, very important.

  11. First time visitor to your site – a friend of mine posted a link on FB, and I felt I really wanted to weigh in.

    This is an interesting post, but didn’t go you went as far as you could in the conversation – or at least, as far as I thought you would. We definitely have an issue of poor prioritization; that, financially, black women are more interested in investing in ‘good hair’ vs. their long-term health. I think, to go one step further, would be to start a dialogue about how we can maintain health AND good hair – that there doesn’t have to be a trade-off of one or the other. I love black women who rock it naturally, but it’s just not for me, so I think others like myself would be interested in hearing about how other women keep up with their relaxed/weaved/etc. styles and still maintain good health. We should be able to do both, right? To llehsal’s comment, yes, it is all about how you take care of you hair, so would love to hear what women are doing to care for it while still meeting their fitness goals.

    Anyway, just my $0.02. I’m super excited I found your site!

    • To pick up on what pets said, there are several high profile athletes that wear their hair straightened or relaxed, so I don’t know that it takes the conversation a step further to show that one (health) doesn’t have to suffer at the expense of the other (hair). It’s pretty obvious that they are not mutually exclusive. And “how” they do it doesn’t seem to be much of a secret either, but I guess someone (not sure why it should be Afrobella) could do a feature or two on it. But I digress, I think the point is more about cultural attitudes, excuses and how we have not embraced health/fitness as a necessity.

  12. I actually think this is one of the perks of being natural. I’ve never had an issue of working out with my natural (unaltered, unpressed) hair. I have yet to press it, but probably wouldn’t do it unless I was going to be in a predicament in which sweating out my hair would be a problem (vacation, etc.), although I like the options of natural hair in those situations, as well. :)

  13. For thirty years, I have been happily nappy, physically active (though by no means a jock) and catchin’ constant hell from other black women. They tell me that valuing my life – my ability to move, to be happy, to be acquainted with my emotional and physical strength — is considered a ridiculous priority. So this has literally, and symbolically, been a barrier to my having relationships with other black women. This is a particular sadness for me, as I live in New England in a place where sisters, and care for black hair, are far & few between.

  14. Perhaps you can contact one of the high profile athletes like Venus Williams,and also one of the female basketballers and ask about their hair regime under such gruelling conditions? Just a thought.

  15. I was one of those women who didn’t work out when I had a fresh relaxer. But even after I went natural, I realized I was more concerned with what I put on my hair than what I put in my body. I said no to petroleum products on my hair but my body was full of french fries. Wrong answer! I started getting my priorities straight earlier this year. I’m down 20 pounds and my hair looks AWESOME!

  16. Great post by both you and Ericka who I also love. I have been natural for half of my life and all of my adult years, some where about 16 years natural, so all I remember about relaxed hair and working out was HS basketball and a bit of running in college. I did hate that my hair sweated out but being such an adrenaline junkie I carried on. Over the years I gained alot of weight and last year took control loosing 55 pounds and becoming a runner. I sweat profusely so my afro puff or twists are always soaked upon return and sometimes I wonder what I look like when I pass a cutie while jogging in the park. I put my health first and love it, my twist out look hella crazy at the end of a race or long run and I love it. I ring out my shirt and flash my hair and go on with my bad self. I have to do more work to my hair now that I am consistent but it is worth it. We are beautiful when we move.

  17. I’m glad I’m going through the I-don’t-give-a-damn phase of my life now because I’ll live long enough to care about my hair later (God willing). With this weight loss journey I’ve been on, hair has definitely taken the backseat. I don’t even think we’re even in the same car anymore. And the funny thing is, my hair is probably the longest its ever been in my life because of it. Our hair thrives because of what we eat and how we take care of ourselves. I’ll admit that I’ve thrown some weave on my head, but that’s because I can roll out of bed and not have to think about my hair at all! I don’t wanna throw black women under the bus because I think we’re coming around when it comes to eating right and being active. From natural hair to diet and exercise, we’re coming into our own.

  18. Hotcocoa8 says:

    Why does it have to be one or the other? People exercise and do their hair, work, and take care of their family.

  19. I’ve been reading Erika’s blog for few months now and I have to say girlfriend is just on point. I take a water aerobics class and you should see the length some of the sisters go through to keep their hair dry. You know what? They are there and I should applaud them for it. It’s sad to here the hair industry has us under such a stronghold. I hope we wake up and reorganize our priorities.

  20. I don’t think it’s really about relaxed vs natural hair. I have natural hair and swim 3x a week (in addition to running 4x & cycling 2-3x). Swimming has been AWFUL on my natural hair – but I haven’t stopped an activity I love but instead just try to spend more time waking care of it and finding products that will help – still working on it though.

  21. We can put all of your straight hair-work out fears to rest. The best way to keep a great looking body and great hair isa simple secret from our childhood- the ponytail.

    Put your locks into a tight ponytail in the middle of your head without it touching your neck. Use a good band (a “goody” band or similar”). Make sure the pony tail is tight and go for broke during your workout. Don’t be afraid to work up and good sweat, your hair will be fine.

    Wait until your hair completely dries before taking the pony tail down. If you scalp is still sweaty this defeats your while objective and your hair will be a mess.

    After your hair is dry, take the pony tail out. Wrap it as usual and/or retouch the edges. Your silky smooth wrap or curls will be good to go the next day with no-signs of post work out puffiness.

    The downside is that this only lasts for so long. Whereas before without working out your hair could look good for two weeks. With this method, you probably have at most 8 consistant days of working out before the inevitable comes along. However, I use this method and its a great delay-to-the-beautyshop technique that allows me to stay in shape.

    TIP: Using scarves is a bad idea. It smothers your hair and locks in the mosture from sweating. Overall creating a disaster when the scarf is removed after working out.

  22. Even though I know this is true, it is so foreign to me that I almost can’t even comprehend it. I am currently in the process of transitioning, but I have been working out 6 times a week for the last 15 years. During the time that I wanted to protect my hairstyle, I worked our in the evenings so that I would be able to have good hair style for work the following day. On Saturdays I worked out early and then did my hair afterwards. At some point in time, working out in the mornings was way more convenient and ensured that I got it done, so I started wearing a ponytail. I quickly gave up letting my hair rule my health. It hasn’t even been difficult. Like one of the posters above, I knew that I would have a few cute hair days and the rest would be a ponytail. You can look perfectly cute and professional with your hair in a ponytail and that was enough for me. I guess it really comes down to priorities, I hope that everyone is able to make the appropriate choice before it is made for them….

  23. candiew says:

    I have a very cute, relaxed very short style a la Halle and Nia. I used to have the standard issue, long relaxed style enhanced with hair extensions. Hair was always a priority no thanks to a vain grandmother had the so-called ‘pretty hair’ and who always reminded her granddaughters to keep their ‘bad hair’ straight because straight hair= a man=self worth. By cutting my hair and keeping it short, I feel free!

    Health and fitness is more important, especially since black women tend to have issues with being overweight and unhealthy. My hair issues or lack thereof, don’t get in the way of my workouts, which consist of ballet classes, stair climbing and power walking. In regards to hair growth, good nutrition, exercise and rest are the way to go.

    I’m about to study nutrition and psycology, and it will be interesting to research the triangle of hair issues/self-worth/health and well-being in regards to black women.

  24. Arrin Banks says:

    I made the choice 10 years ago to go natural. Just two years ago, I made the best decison to get sisterlocks. They are beautil, easy to care for, I can get creative with them, and best of all it does not impact my excercise routine. I am always happy to see other corporate professionals that rock sisterlocks. They are a more feminine and sophisticated alternative to dreadlocks.

  25. I spend a ridiculous amount of time and money on my hair. My bathroom cabinets look like a beauty salon-and I’m clearly no professional stylist. Since I’m at the beginning of a 2 month vacation, I’ve decided to take that time to focus on my health. I’m carrying around excess weight that makes my knees and back ache. So, now instead of focusing on a fly hairstyle, I’m gonna focus on a healthier me.

  26. IT CHICK says:

    I find that many women of color are choosing their hair over thei fitness. I am an enthusiastic jazzerciser who attends a center owned by an beautiful African American woman who perms her hair. She tells me that her hair takes quite a bit of additional maintenance but she manages it. I wear my hair natural but have seen many of the instructors switch from relaxed to natural hair opting for styling products when they feel the need to go straight. I find that having a firm behind and tight arms surpasses my need to meet the European standard of beauty.

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  28. I, too, cared for many years about keeping my hair fly so much so that I periodically sacrificed my regular workouts just to look cute. Shame! I used to HATE ponytails and buns with a passion because I never considered my hair to be “done” if I had to pull it back. Since I’ve come to my senses and have been working out consistently (BTW, I’ve always liked to exercise. Just didn’t like the sweaty hair as a result), I’ve learned to love buns. I wear it in a top knot, low, low to the side, you get it. . .It’s so convenient. Though I do prefer my twist out, which pretty much sweats out during a workout, I’ve learned that my beauty does not come from my hairstyle. It’s just the genes, baby;)And the fact that strangers compliment me on my top knot all of the time has helped my confidence in wearing buns. I believe that I look good regardless of how my hair is styled. Maybe it’s a little easier for me because I don’t straighten my hair anymore, but all I know is that I’d rather have a smokin’ hot body with a sleek bun, than fabulous hair with a body resembling a busted can of biscuits. #Theend.

  29. One of the things I have done to become healthier is to incorporate vegetarian meals into my weekly meals. Also, over the years I have eliminated (at my own pace) “white colored” products from by pantries and replaced them with healthier substitutes! I also try to walk to work at least twice per week.

  30. aslickchick says:

    I’m late to this discussion but for the natural hair sistas, I think the key is knowing and understanding that having unpressed natural hair doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice style!!!! I say this because I had to learn this myself. I ate right (for the most part) but my workout routine was sketchy at best until I got a bike for my b-day last fall. As spring finally arrived in the Midwest and perfect riding days started to present themselves on a more regular basis, I decided to confront the “I’m not gonna sweat out my fresh P&C ” issue because nothing kills a P&C like a great ride in a helmet. I decided to reduce the number of times I pressed & curled my hair or went w/the wash & go (my hair always feels more exposed and vulnerable to damage w/the W&G) and spend a little more time investigating protective styles (updos).

    I found that there are a LOT of sites and Youtube tutorials (Sunshower143, ChocolateTresses, and KinkyTresses are three of my favorites) that show you how to style your unpressed hair elegantly so that you can work out and still turn around to do your hair, go to work or on a date while looking fabulous. Indeed, looking at these sistas and the impressive things they are doing filled me with natural hair pride and a new resolve to do MORE with my natural hair. I watched the videos, experimented with the styles (the first time always takes longer), was delighted by the results and then went out to meet the world knowing that I was looking GOOD. The number of compliments I get on my hair from sistas (especially the natural ones) as well as brothas’ turned heads and postitive double takes, affirms the choices I have been making.

    I don’t wash my hair after every workout. Indeed, the updos give me the flexibility of washing when I really want/need to. I also don’t sweat (pun intended) the hair/workout connundrum anymore.

    So my dear stylish sistas, go to Sallys, stock up on bobby pins, hair pins, some of the decorative pins and beads, and watch the videos. I say do this in this order because the hair envy you get from the videos will be so intense that you will want start styling immediately!!!

    Peace.

  31. Angela Chichester says:

    This ideology is so true. Many ppl, inc. myself, have felt that way. That’s another reason for me going natural…besides the irrefuted fact that its waaaay cheaper, sweat is no longer my enemy when it comes down to exercise, plain sweaty fun ;-) or even a nice walk in the rain(which I had the pleasure of doing with my love yesterday. I had forgotten with it felt like to skip in it and skip he did with me grown man xoxo. The irony here is about 20mins later one female told another, her friend, that her idea of walking in the rain was a “gangsta” decis. Yes. She had a weave but at that moment I realized how much happier I was about the simplicity of it all as opposed to upholding the weaves most cardinal rule, don’t get it wet.

  32. You have hit the main vein with this topic!!! I used to be a body builder and had to sacrifice so much for the sake of my hair! My hair was always wet from sweat, the pool or just from washing the pool and sweat out of my hair. So I had it in braids with extensions, or over relaxed and slicked down. That was in my 20′s and 30′s. Now I am still an avid fitness enthusiast and my hair is still frequently wet. What worked for me??? I cut if off, grew it out, kept it natural and used various products to maintain moisture, shine and condition and adornments to change up my hair style. I am in my 40′s now and I really have enjoyed the transition!

  33. ShaCrista Rideaux says:

    Loved this post!! I went natural solely for health and fitness issues. I was rocking a short haircut when I was hit with the reality of being overweight and uncomfortable in my skin. I began hitting the gym regularly, and sweating out my relaxer. I made the decision to transition for a few months then do a big chop. I was able to workout as much as possible without having to worry about my hair. It was the best decision I could have made for myself!! I’ve lost 10 pounds in 3 months and I’m loving my body and my hair!! Although I still exercised when I had a relaxer, I didn’t work as hard, or as often, as I do now. My health has improved my hair and I couldn’t be more proud!

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  36. Jennifer White says:

    I think it depends on the woman and in some cases, I think it depends on her work environment. I know that most of us would be the first to say that we are not compromising our health for the sake of our hair, or a look. But, I offer this. Not all of corporate, mainstream America embraces the natural “us” they way we do. Some companies want a certain look, want to work there, want to be able to make strides towards bigger and better things, then you have to look the part. I am not saying its right or wrong. I am saying that its a truth that still exist. I can understand a woman, being afraid to embrace her natural hair, if it comes with the anxiety and worry about how she will be viewed at work. These are unfortunately the times that we live in and the things that we are forced to think about. I felt uneasy when a co-worker commented that I could “get away” with wearing my hair natural at work because I have nice hair. What is nice hair? She could wear her hair natural as well, but first she has to be comfortable with what is GOD given on top of her head. Great post!

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