HAIR CARE AND HEALTH FOR BLACK WOMEN
The age-old question of balancing vanity with self-care takes on notable significance among black women. Let's face it-the staggering rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other forms of chronic disease that face us significantly limit our productive capacity. Our health outcomes also get in the way of our ability to be fully attentive to our families and communities. Add to that the societal pressures of sexism, racism, classism and assimilation then you have the perfect cycle for generational degradation and regression.
These black women have found the balance between wellness and hair care.Kim Rutley
Lajuana has donned a short natural for over a decade. Simultaneously, she readily admires a full range of hairstyles that other black women wear including braids, relaxers, locs and color treated do's. Her salt-and-pepper coiffure readily lends itself to a variety of professional settings. It is also works wonderfully for her walks, runs and hikes throughout the Birmingham area.
Always one to take on a new adventure, for a change she decided to get a Dominican blow out. As she was leaving the salon she casually mentioned that she was headed to trek with someone at Alabaster's Veteran's Park. It was 80+ degrees outside and very humid.
Black-woman-hair political calamity ensued. Stylists and patrons alike were stricken in disbelief that someone would consider any form of physical activity within 72 hours of being in a salon. She was reminded of how good her hair (finally) looked.
"A woman, in harmony with her spirit, is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination
prepared to be herself
and only herself."
Hair care for black women is at the nexus of societal pressures and deserves a closer look. It seems that if we could crack the 'hair code' that a significant upsurge in physical activity among black women might come about. I tested this theory and asked a diverse group of black women the question "how does hair influence your physical activity pattern?" Here is what they had to say:
Khadija (21 years old): I am not working out straight out of the salon. Period.
Carter (21): I have locs, which I maintain myself. When I work out I put my hair in a ponytail and carry on. If I'm not able to retwist right away, I use headbands and scarves to hide the "frizzies."
Keeshna (33): I have been natural since July 2000. If it was the first five years of my natural hair journey, it would have affected it a lot then since I used to wear a press and curl. I would not be active, period. Also, there was limited information to upkeep natural hair back then. Today, I don't think twice about it.
Ashley (33): It doesn't! I know how to do my own hair though so if it sweats out I can come home and fix it. No big deal.
Tori (34): It depends on the humidity.
Jeannen (39): I stopped straightening my hair because I didn't want to be able to use that as a reason to skip exercising.
Shekera (39): Wet hair... Don't care...Run, rinse, and keep it moving.
Stephanie (39): After cutting off my locs, I actually had to consider what hairstyle would work best with my lifestyle, which includes regular exercise. I wanted to resume swimming and knew that having it straightened would not fly.
I instill in my two girls that life does not revolve around your hair. Whatever comes our way, we have the tools needed-- Denise
Denise (43): My hair does not dictate my exercise schedule because I recognize it is an unhealthy mindset. I instill in my two girls that life does not revolve around your hair. Our weekends may be filled with cross-country, swim lessons and soccer during the day and school dances in the evening. Whatever comes our way, we have the tools needed including curling irons and a few bobby pins.
Angie (46): I allowed my relaxer to grow out because of my active lifestyle. It kind of happened accidentally. I was wearing braids because they are so easy to care for while being active. After a year of doing that, all the relaxer had grown out.
Olivia (47): Not a problem, but if it becomes an issue I won't hesitate to shave it all off again.
Regina (47): No influence at all! Even before I went back natural....
Jaimee (50+): My biggest weight gain occurred when I had relaxed hair. Paying out cash and sweating it out.. Oh no, that was not gon' fly! Now, that I'm natural I try to keep it professional with a flat twist up.
It seems that my theory is not too far off, nor is it terribly unique. Most of these women do not consider their hair to be wash-and-wear ready. Also, they continuously consider societal and personal factors that could keep them from staying active. But, each of them chooses and remains active.
Healthy black women and girl crossing the Edmund Pettus BridgeMarsha Wilson Photography
So, what is a black girl to do? All hair requires maintenance and care to be healthy. Exercise adds more complexity. As Tonjivanese (40) points out: "Hair actually plays a big role (in exercise) because some of us don't want to sweat our style out once we get it done."
Who lets me know that I am more than my hurtings? Who lets me know that I am still walking upright? Woman, hold my hand.
Sweet Honey in the Rock
The beauty of being a part of a community of black women committed to physical activity is that there is a spectrum of creativity, success, and experience in everything. The local women of GirlTrekand Black Girls Run are adding verve to the physical activity landscape and breaking personal barriers to being active. Hair care does not stop these women from looking and feeling great while walking, wogging and running. One trekker, Melody, offers tips for taking care of black hair and staying active:
DOO RAG, DOO WRAPS but DO something to reduce your exposure to high levels of hair-harming pollen.If your scalp sweats heavily, cover your head with fabrics that have wicking properties and allow the sweat to evaporate while you strut your stuff.Wanting to look stylish after you trek? Mist your hair with a leave-in conditioner and work in a styling agent. Make two cornrows and tie it down. After your walk, take your hair down then don conditioned bouncy waves.When wearing hairpieces, rinse them out daily to reduce to pollen build-up.Take off your wig or hairpiece during your outdoor workout for preventive maintenanceAvoid overly tightened ponytails that pull at your hairline. Opt for protective styles such as cornrows, two strand twists, or pinned up-do's.Make good use of bobby pins to pin back hair to create a protective effect.If you notice changes in your scalp or hair that concern you, go see your dermatologist.
Lajuana quickly sweated out that Dominican do. But her experience readily reminds us that hair politics and personal preferences have great influence over black women's activity patterns. Try some of the hair care tips above this summer. And by all means, keep moving!
WALK WHERE YOU ARE puts into words the power of walking to change lives, build relationships and anchor community. Counter to alarming statistics about obesity, Birmingham boasts a robust array of Black women who walk, hike, 'wog' and run.
GEMS HAIR TALKS is A blog page that supports women's health MIND BODY and spirit.