Oh Hair We Go!

A male friend (who wears locs), commented on a New York Times article regarding US Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin. The article titled “Surgeon General Calls for Health Over Hair” was commentary on how studies revealed a third of Black women exercised less because they were concerned it would jeopardize their hair. That of these women, 88 percent did not meet the CDC’s guidelines for physical activity, which is 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, or about 20 minutes a day. What pissed me off were his ending comments…

Are you one of these sisters? Real talk. Whether you rock a curly hawk or a sew-in special, we honor and respect you. Now get your sneakers and go sweat your perm out! With such an awesome task ahead of her, our hair should not have to be on Dr. Benjamin’s radar. And let’s be clear, this is not a School Daze – straight hair, natural conversation. This is a show-your-daughter-that-sweat-is-your-swagga-and hair-ain’t-your-dagger-conversation. A new priority. A paradigm shift.

I am not commenting on the merits/demerits of the surgeon general’s or the journalist’s comentary (Black women are fat ’cause they got their hair did), but on his.

You have NO idea how it pisses me the fuck off that it’s always the people with wash and wear hair and others who don’t have to deal with our hair every day always telling us what the fuck to do concerning it.

I don’t know any woman who goes to the gym regularly and only does twenty minutes of “moderate” exercise. For those of us that go to a gym to work out, WE WORK OUT. For me, if I’m not doing at least forty minutes on the floor, it’s not worth the time of changing into my sweats. Once my hair gets funky from sweating it’s funky for hours until it eventually peters out or I wash it. I planned my gym days around when I had time to at least damp wash (which is an extra maintenance time unto itself), if not to fully wash my hair.

My hair is thick, when I had it permed bone straight it took three hours to dry naturally. Yes, it only took about an hour with a blow dryer, plus whatever additional curling time if desired, but no woman in her right mind, is going to damage her hair by blow-drying it two or more times a week, every week. Not if she wants to keep her hair. And here’s the irony, even women with a weave need to have some hair to weave it to, so we can’t damage our natural hair underneath by blow-drying it constantly. Even a loctician will tell customers not to heat dry the hair, because it’s damaging. So I need to wait it out.

I currently wear braids, once wet it takes considerably more time to dry than when straight, especially if I want it curled. Even the weather affects drying time. I have washed my hair at 7pm on cold damp days and woke up the next morning at my usual 5am only to find it still damp. Every spring and fall, I risk catching colds for this reason alone. I’ve asked and a lot of my sistas wearing whose hair is long in twists, dreads and locks have similar drying time issues.

A few years ago, I wore my hair in an all-natural Afro for three months one summer. I’m not going to comment on all the societal-political ramifications from such, that’s a blog for another day, but it was the most miserable time I’ve ever had with my hair. If the wind blew strong, it was messed-up. If I leaned back in a tall chair or on the subway, it was messed-up. If I wore a hat, or pushed my sunglasses up, it was messed-up. And like most women, different parts my hair grow and behave differently than others, so sometimes it was just messed-up. I felt I was always in a mirror checking it, making sure it was nicely rounded and I don’t have time in my life for that kind of vanity.

I’m single with adult children, so I have no demands on my after work time except the ones I put on me. However, I can tell you from experience that there are not enough hours to work, commute, run errands, be mom-wife-girlfriend-lover as is, in a day. Going to the gym meant something else was being put off until another time, or I was in for a very late night. If I just spent half of my day (usually a Saturday, twice a month, when I should have been doing something else), in a salon for four or five hours and spent serious dollars for the privileged to boot, you’re fucking right I’m going to try to maintain that look for as long as possible. Even women with locs/twists have to take time to get to a loctician every couple of months or so for maintenance and I guarantee you, they are not likely to be doing ‘moderate’ exercise, let alone a full-on work out for a few days after that until it sets.

Should our hair not be an issue (read excuse), for exercise? No, it should not be, I fully concede to that, but let’s be real. Even for the regular exercise enthusiasts, the majority of the day is not spent in the gym and we have to deal what we look like when we’re not in it. We may not care what the average stranger on the street thinks, but it’s bullshit to pretend the average woman is not, on even a subconscious level, thinking about how she presents herself. And it’s equally disingenuous to pretend we’re not being measured, if not outright judged on it, down or rather up to our hair, even by the people whose opinions we may care about — our own friends, co-workers and families.

To him I say: You are not the one having to take more time out of your schedule because of return trips to the salon (or home maintenance), to get that do back in order for the next day. A month from now when your comments are relatively forgotten and you’re greeting – hugging – standing next to a woman and her hair is smelly as all get out, at that moment, you are not going to be thinking check out Sistagirl taking care of her health. You’re going to be thinking damn her hair’s funky!

We’ve all scrunched-up our noses at the woman who otherwise looked fine, but the hair wasn’t up to par and that was before we were close enough to smell it. In a perfect world every woman would look fab in whatever style that washed and dried in no time, but it’s not a prefect world. These are our realities and belittling it down to pithy sound bites because it’s not your hair apparent reality doesn’t help (our hair or our fat asses for that matter).

3 thoughts on “Oh Hair We Go!

  1. I don’t even know if I qualify to speak on this subject, I find women beautiful whether they are sporting, locs, weaves, afro’s ceasers or simply bald. I think every person should prioritize according to what’s best for them. I wear locs and I wouldn’t want to sweat with them either, it cost too much to get them done and they itch like hell once I start sweating. The bad thing about that is that once they start itching they don’t stop, until washed.

  2. Hear! Hear! Just finished finger detangling, combing and braiding my hair for the night. Feeling nostalgic for the truly wash-n-go days of my super-short afro. Your post is right on time, my dear. I’ve been trying to figure out how to work dance classes back into my routine … without causing too much hair drama! And I am sicker than sick of people trying to tell me what should and shouldn’t be true about what I can or can’t do with my hair.

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