Friday, August 11, 2006

Black Women: Hair and Fitness

Black women have been more than heroines. They have been saviors for countless children. They have been the backbone of the black community. Our black women have proven to be the STRONGEST homo sapiens on earth and the VAINEST when it comes to their hair. Unlike white women, hair appears to be overwhelmingly important. The black female spends countless time and dollars on keeping their “Do” up-to-par. They also forgo a healthy lifestyle in order not to “sweat out” their perms.

Now, many of my black female readers are saying, ‘He better be extra careful with this one.’ If you are black and female, why are you cautioning me or beginning to feel uncomfortable? Are you guilty of spending large sums of loot on black hair products? Are you guilty of becoming a regular at the local Korean owned and operated black hair products store? Are you guilty of having to get up at 6:00am to “fix” your hair when your work day begins at 9:30am and when the commute is only 30 minutes? Are you guilty of neglecting your health because you refuse to workout? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, you are making the Koreans wealthy, you are probably missing out on an additional forty-five minutes of sleep, and most importantly you would rather gain weight and become unhealthy all in the name of keep’ in yo wig tight.

Yeah, I know I have upset someone. I would say that I don’t care, but I do care. This is my sole reason for bringing this to my readership community. I am so tired of seeing my sista’s struggle with the hair and weight dilemma, and it is my hope this commentary will help and not offend. Continue to read.

A few months ago I conducted a week long study in the Atlanta Five Points Marta train station (in the morning between 8:30am-9:00am). I decided to count the number of African Americans and White Americans who take the escalator instead of the steps. 75% of the African Americans decided to ride up the escalator. 60 percent of the 75% who took the non-energy exerting ride were black women. At least 70% of the 60 percent of the women were overweight. I realize Five Points station is a predominantly African American drop off and transfer station because many of the riders are coming from the east, west, and south ends of the city. This surely accounts for the high statistics. However, out of the 80 white people I counted in a week’s time 74 walked up the steps with me.

I decided to do this study because I overheard a discussion between two black men discussing African American health issues. The light skin brother said, “I only date white women because they enjoy doing the things I want and like.” The dark skin brother proceeded to ask him, “What do white women do that you like other than give you head whenever you want it?” The yellow brother said, “For one, white women will workout, and black women make up every excuse not to workout. One excuse being: the upkeep of their hair.” After ears dropping on this dialogue while the two men and I sat outdoors eating lunch and while admiring the beauty bodies of African American women as they strutted up Broad Street, I began to think about his statements and began to wonder why do I see so many unhealthy looking black women on the train, in restaurants, in the building where I work, in the bars, and even working at the strip club?

Now, looking unhealthy of course to me is being over or under weight. When I told a black female friend this she began to question my understanding of the Body Mass Index scale and Height to Weight scale. I appreciated the questioning (which were out of her frustration with my analysis). However, with a degree in Health and Physical Education, having a certificate of fitness instruction, working as a fitness trainer, and enough common sense to know that if you are 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighing 250lbs, I perfectly understand there is a problem.

This problem is definitely not unique to black women. I realize that. My issue is the reasons or justifications I have received from black women on why they refuse to workout or restrict their workouts. I posed the following questions to 20 African American women: Why is your hair at times a barrier to maintain proper health via working out? Should it be, considering the rising black female weight/obesity problems?

Some of the responses are legitimate and some maybe plain ole excuses. Read a few of them:

1) I would not have this hair issue if black men accepted me with nappy-hair.

2) I must admit I am a culprit of the hair barrier. My head sweats really badly. The only reason I am wearing weave in my hair right now, to this day is because I want to continue to workout without sweating out my hair. It is really sad. The main reason I wear extensions is so that I can workout without sweating out my hair all the time. I have delayed working out several times because I did not want to get my fresh "NEW DO" messed up.

3) THE CROWN & GLORY.....Hair has always and will always be an issue for woman....whether it be sweating exercising or having sex. Some women just can not maintain their own the in between time is most important, even if it means holding on to a couple of extra pounds as to not mess up the "DO" or maybe making him get on the bottom as to not mess up the "DO"...Black women have to compete with other races with "GOOD HAIR"...simply because ours just does not bounce back...maybe one day our men will start loving us for what we are inside and not what we look like between the "DO'S".....

4) The hair washing process is a lot different for black women than ANY other race. It’s a process...a two-three HOUR process. Neither white, Asian, Latin, Middle Eastern, Native American, nor Eskimo women have this same barrier. Washing their hair is a part of taking a shower. They can wash, leave, and let air dry. We as black women have no such luxury. I am a black woman who would be considered to have a relatively decent "grade" of hair- and it definitely hinders me from working out as much as I would like to. I couldn't imagine how this would affect someone with really course or inflexible hair- it makes their ordeal even more difficult.

I will allow you to determine if these are plain ole excuses or legitimate reasons. You decide and then read some more responses to the questions:

1) My hair stays in braids -- it's not a deterrent for working out. Well, maybe for water aerobics. My biggest obstacle is laziness... When Fall comes, I'm cutting this stuff off, again. Anyone using hair as an excuse is just not owning up to her laziness. I betcha she gets her booty-slappin', screaming, hair-pulling sex on though! Sex-exercise is the best exercise. Hair isn't an excuse for everything...

2) I choose to watch my diet more closely in order to compensate... With this being said, hair should be no excuse for obesity. Eat better, or get braids and go to the gym! Now- excuse me as I run off to my elliptical machine!

3) I understand the importance of health. And, I am no friend of obesity. It sickens me that black females have allowed themselves to become overweight, and with the help of immature and ignorant boys/men and celebrities like Monique, they think it's sexy. Not realizing the heath aspect of it all. I can say I know quite a few females that go to the gym and workout on a regular basis, despite the hair issue. For the most of them, they keep their hair in braids. However, it's the ones that aren't obese.

Hair for black women is an issue. It is evident in the frustration this commentary may have generated, in the responses listed above, in the profits the Koreans continue to make (, and in the small number of black women in the gym. It is my sincere hope that we (black folk) will support each other on this front. If not, the primary caregivers of our children will continue to be among the diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other health aliment statistics.

Men need to decide which is more important: A woman’s Good Health or A Nice Hair-Do. I prefer both, but if I was forced to choose one it would be Good Health. Women need to do what is best for themselves and discontinue being preoccupied by a man who does not realize staying healthy is essential.

A message to the permed-up and lazy black woman (another sista called you lazy, not me):

You need to get with the program. A man in the final analysis of things will select a woman with a natural over an out of shape woman. If he does not, you better believe he is lurking around trying to find a Fat Blow Job-Giving White Chick while you are at home eating honey buns!

Written by Brian E. Payne. Inspired by my love for a honey bun.


Muata said...

Reader Response:

I don’t find your numbers to be a shock. I go to Washington Sports club and I never see more than five black women at a time in there. I grew up in Athens, GA and I remember seeing white girls jogging around campus of University Of Georgia. I remember never seeing any black women really working out. I always found it amazing even in college to see that mostly the white women worked and the black women didn’t as much and their waist line suffered.

I am dating a white woman and I can say that unlike any of the black women I have ever dated, she will play golf with me, basketball, and tennis. She wants to go camping, she likes to be outdoors.

I am not saying black women don’t do this. What I am saying is that some black women care more about their hair than their black men. Men, like women, like their hair to look good but we don’t get into the details of how much you wash it and all. A woman in good shape with not the best kept hair is much more attractive to me. Especially, if she likes outdoors and sports. I think we as a race are way out of shape. Maybe if we all took our asses to the gym then some of us wouldn’t be so damn reactively violent.

It’s important to be healthy and hair is not an excuse for obesity. There are plenty of women that do it (Black women) but certainly the number needs to increase.

Muata said...

Reader Response:

They (white women) take JUST as much pride in their hair or more. Haven't you seen the commercials???? Do you know how much they pay for a hair cut and color??? How many have you seen that just wear their natural color???? Hair cut & color for them is like $200!!!! The difference is that their hair is EASIER to maintain. They are blessed that way. they wash and walk out the door. It takes us 2 hours after we wash, not because we're so vain, but because that's what is necessary for our hair to look decent and live up to the black man's expectations. White women are able to be more care free...stand in the rain, etc, because their hair will look EXACTLY the same after it air dries as it did before. Not the case with us. I don't know why you don't understand this?????????? honestly, would you want your women to replace her natural, soft, bouncy, layered “Do” with a stiff artificial set of cornrows in order to add an additional 30 minutes to her already 60 minute a week work-out? Most black men that I know prefers natural hair, but yet complain that we don't workout enough. I sure would appreciate a little more consistency and support from black men. Interestingly enough, there are enough black men walking around with their stomach hanging over their trousers in order for me to pose the question......what then, is YOUR excuse for the big stomach?

-Tunisia Baion McCray

Muata said...

Reader Responses:

Wow....hope you don't get any death threats. :-) Seriously, this is good commentary and a HUGE problem for black women. I've often wondered why more black women are not into taking care of their health (good eating habits and exercise). It saddens me how we will eat junk and sit on our buns, but yet our hair is tight, our nails are done, and our clothes are fly. Hopefully, one day we will wake up and get with the program.


Man, you are right on target. I got my braids so that I could start back working out...... I decided a couple of weeks ago that I needed to forgo the weekly salon visits and dedicate that time and energy into getting and staying healthy. I don't know why we (black women), are so obsessed with having and keeping a "tight hair-do." -JM

You are off the chain.....but so right...I can't even lie!


Muata said...

Reader Response and Muata Responds:

You are so funny. I like this concept, but I take opposition to this piece. I workout and keep short, easy maintenance hair, so you did not offend me. But, what you are lacking here are some real stats on who is in the gym. You counted chicks walking up steps vs. escalators and I promise you, when I am commuting, I will definitely take the ride if it is accessible, but it does not correlate to my willingness or desire to work out and be fit.

When I am in the gym, I have befriended countless black women doing their thing. Some of us, including myself, were scarves or bandanas looking ugly as all get out, but it has not deterred us. We sweat and take our chances on our hair hoping that when we come from under the scarf, we'll be okay.

The one thing I have going for me is that I can wash my hair daily to keep it from being gritty or smelling musty. But many women with long hair cannot do that. Even when I kept my hair natural, I was even more unnerved about my hair because it took an hour just to wash it and then over three hours to get it looking partly neat. So washing out sweat and grime daily is not an option when you have to spend several hours on your hair. Further, you cannot trivialize the importance of looking good and maintaining a neat is as important as getting on the treadmill when it comes to basic functioning in this society. I think you are being a bit unfair in your commentary and not really respecting or understanding what the maintenance of a black girl's hair really entails. If you want to approach why we are so fat, that is a different story and has nothing to do with hair.


Muata Response:

I just believe we should take “most” opportunities to adhere to physical conditioning. Our mindset should already be in this mode. The white folk walking up the steps with me in the train station are doing it because they are health conscious. Not enough of us are. That is evident in the gym, on the track, and even on walking trails. I am just trying to make the point: We need to workout and focus on things other than on those things that make us vain.

Muata said...

Reader Responses:

I must say I have natural hair. I exercise. No, I workout and I workout regularly. I eat better than I have in my entire 34 years of life. I have no children (and that may be my advantage to working out and doing what I need to do; I also have no steady man or husband so that may help also.) Whatever the case, I do agree that there is something seriously wrong with someone who is 5'3 and weighs 250. Heck, there is something seriously wrong with someone who is my height 5'8 1/2 and weighs 250.

I must also agree with the young lady that stated sex-exercise is the best exercise!!!!!!! To bad it doesn't occur frequently in my life, so working out is what I do. I think it is laziness that keeps us from working out. If I must be truthful: I use to be one those lazy people. There is always enough time to do what we want, the question is do we really want it?


You are a trip!!!!!!!!!!


I stay away, as much as I can from Korean shops. I find better ways of giving my money away. I also take the stairs at work from the 2nd floor to the 7th or 9th (last floor). So, I'm not one of the sisters you are talking about, nor was I offended.


Muata said...

Reader Reponse and Muata Responds:

Besides, if it is true that we are vain, why shouldn’t the Koreans or I get a piece of the pie?


Response: The Koreans are just capitalizing on what we want and believe we need. “Believe we need” are the words to analyze here. We are so caught-up in appearance at times. Men included. I went to school with white men and women who wore t-shirts and jeans to class. They were simple looking folk, but they were not spending all their loot on clothes and shoes. Now, go visit some historically black schools, it is like being at a car, hair, and fashion show. Our vanity is a problem that we continue to display even after we understand the root cause of it: Slavery!


Muata said...

Reader Response and Muata Responds:

They (white folk) walk up the steps because they are impatient and in a hurry. I promise you that most of them are not thinking that walking up the steps at the metro/marta is a way to get in some exercise. It is sad that you think that the hair issue for black women has anything to do with vanity. When you took your poll you asked specifically about hair and exercise and certainly, some women forego the gym because it may mess up their hair, but if you simply said, do you work out, yes or no, and for those who said no, you ask them would find a myriad of reasons why sisters ain't hitting the, I get off at 5 and have to pick up my kids by 6 and get them dinner and correct homework and give them a bath and vacuum my floor and put them to bed and prepare myself for the next day. Something like that may come up well before a woman would ever mention their hair. if you are going to make a commentary, be fair and explore the entire issue. Plus, being a man, you haven't a clue about us. Now, if you would excuse me, I am about to take the elevator down one flight, bypassing the gym today because I want to make sure my hair looks tight for happy hour.

Question...Throughout this commentary, I could not help but notice that you seem to think that white people have this grand understanding of life; much better than blacks. Why do you have them on such a pedestal?



My commentaries are written to generate this type of discussion. On occasion people misinterpret my points. I just want our women to be more health conscious. You and I know the majority of our people are not in-tuned to the benefits of working out. You also know that many of our sista’s and brotha’s are lazy in regards to working out. Other men and women are too. I recognize that. For me not to understand means I have not explored the topic of fitness or gathered data from women. I have. I can safely say I am knowledgeable on the subject matter considering I am trained in area of fitness.

What you have done is suggested I pose the question in a different way to receive answers that do not have a bearing on my analysis. I am aware my mother could not workout as much as she wanted to because she was entirely too busy with raising her 4 children. However, my mother and our mothers in my neighborhood could have avoided some illnesses if they were more health conscious. They were not. This should not shed a negative light on them, but it does not change the fact that they were neglectful in this area.

I believe I have been fair. Extremely fair. I asked women to help me formulate/write the commentary by questioning. Saying I am not being fair is not accurate at all. Also, visit the site. The comments I received back have varied. Many support my opinion that I put forth: Vanity is a barrier.

No, I do not think “white people have a grand understanding of life”. I could have used Indians as an example. They walk with me up the steps too. But to put this out there: I have seen more white men and women working out than black folk in my lifetime. It was not until I moved to Atlanta that I began to see more of us in the gym. We are moving in a positive direction with health to some degree, but we are still a part of the growing Fat Nation. Actually, America is an OBESE nation. It is disgusting that we have all this “stuff” but we fail to get on a stair climber.


baion said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Muata said...

LS Responds to Baion:

Baion relax.

I know I know I lose ALL credibility because I have a girlfriend that is white. Funny how that works. I don't think you objectively read my comments but that's not the point. And since you don't know me I challenge you to retract your comments about "black" men like me. I didn't attack you personally and you shouldn't attack me. My point is simply that I agree with Muata's assessments. I was not surprised.

As for my relationship with my girlfriend, I was simply giving my woman props for being active. If you take offense to that then I don't apologize because a compliment to someone else should never be seen as an insult to you.

I also never said that she cares for me more than a black woman can. I simply stated that she cares for herself so she takes care of herself.

No, she isn’t a petite super model. She is a 5'8 former swimmer and rower in college. She by far isn't the fittest woman. Her effort is what I applaud. I don't expect every woman to be skinny.

AS for UGA, I will say that the population is not the point. Athens is a relatively black town outside of the University and still the same I didn't see many black women at the gym. They all take pride in being thick.

I spent some time at Albany State and Alabama State on recruiting trips back in 1996. These colleges are predominately black. One thing I noticed is the lack of black women in the gym and at the track.

By the way, no need for the personal attack. I didn't attack anyone. My sisters, mom cousins, aunts are all black. DUH. I tell them the same things I mentioned in my comment. They need to get in the gym. Black people as a whole do not take care of themselves the way we should. I didn't sit at Five Points and do an experiment however, I can attest to my experiences in life. I live in Chocolate City and I observed the same ratio of women working out.

Muata said...

Muata responds to LS and Baion:

Baion and LS-
It is always good to debate particularly when there is a positive outcome. My hope is your debate/responding to each other has been fruitful and/or helpful. If not, that is too bad and it is your issue not mine.

The sole purpose of my blog is to help create a form where the readers are educated, informed, inspired, frustrated, spiritually moved, empowered, motivated, and all those things that helps us to become better human beings.

While the both of you have good points there is one thing I want to say: We as a people are unhealthy for ignorant reasons and we are not health conscious. This is a fact. Both, black men and women can do a better job of eating right and exercising. None of us should question that. If we do, we are kidding ourselves.

We have along way to go. This eight ball we are behind is getting bigger and bigger, and one of the reasons is self induced ignorance. It is pathetic we roll around in ignorance and foolishness. A disgrace to the ancestors!

In conclusion: Black men need to be more encouraging when it comes to fitness and some of the Black women who got offend by this are dealing with a little guilt.


FREEDOM said...

According to Webster’s dictionary work out: a training session for a boxer, athlete etc.

Fitness: the state of being fit, suitable, appropriate; good health

Exercise: the use or practice of a quality, power, right; the use of a bodily power; physical exertion for the sake of bodily power.

If we, (black people) think about exercise as having Bodily POWER, WOW!! We have the Power to transform our natural beings into this incredible canvas that enables us to really LOVE ourselves. When the outer man catches up with the inner man and both are singing in Harmony, that is a Beautiful thing to SEE. You become irresistible to the Black MAN. He can’t take his eyes off of you, because he sees your BODILY POWER, which he cannot resist. You are truly confident in yourself once you have the Natural Man caught-up with your Inner Spirit Man. When you walk by any MAN they have to feel the presence of your POWER.

Okay, just because YOU do not see black woman in the gym does not mean they are not exercising. Let’s face it, black folks are cheap! Some people do not want to spend money on a gym membership and others just cannot afford it. I have several relatives including my mother that works for the State of Florida. In Florida, my mom and others use their two 15 minute breaks to exercise. You see, they exercise 30 minutes a day 5 days a week without giving it a second thought. Other black woman may park at the end of a parking lot to get a quick exercise in, while others walk the mall. And let’s not forget about the sistas and bruthas that really got to clubs to DANCE!! You know black folks LOVE to dance. Dancing, feeling the music move you to the beat of your own drum is a rewarding form of exercise.

Although, the hair barrier is an issue in the black community contributing to weight gain, I think this is a great forum to educate black women on the importance of exercising in whatever form they choose to adopt as the best way to get their sweat on regularly. You only receive one body, it is up to each individual to love and respect their OWN BODIES. I must exercise; there is no negotiating about that. My body is so worth it!!! So, let us LOVE our bodies the same way we want to receive LOVE from others !!

Muata said...

Reader Respones:

This was a good one. I'm reading this from Khartoum, Sudan so it was REALLY interesting reading because I'm so out of the American context.

That was a very interesting article! Thanks for sharing.

Ashley said...

I can believe a lot of what you said in your article because I have friends who spend hours weaveing and spend money for days on hair remedies. But as for me I would have to disagree. I am a black woman and I clearly will not wake up hours before I have to, to do my hair. It falls into place. As for weave I have never put any weave in my hair at all. As for working out I have never used my hair as an excuse, I am 5'6 weighing at 120. I will always put my health first. So there are actually some black women out here who actually don't go through such a tiring hair routine everyday. All this weaveing and dyeing can actually cause a lot of breakage to the hair. Thats why I still have a FULL head of hair and don't worry about much. Hair is hair. On the other hand you have to also look back in the past of African Americans. We were always taught "good hair" and "bad hair," good hair meaning more fine and straigt or european. Bad hair meaning more course hair. And in many cases a lot of black men will go for the woman with more naturally straight hair than the woman with the afro. So it also has to do with self esteem issues within the woman. But I will always take pride in what I have on my head and I will take my long curly brown hair over a long blond straight mane any day.

FREEDOM said...

On more quick comment about hair and fitness. Any woman (black, white, yellow, purple) that tells you that hair is not a barrier for exercising is LYING. Any woman that just finished getting their hair done at a salon, girlfriend’s house, or a boot leg salon at someone’s house; and her man says, ‘Babe, I love your hair, lets go to the gym’. She would instantly reply without a second thought, ‘Are you crazy, I just got my hair done’. So, yes hair is a barrier for ALL women at some point or another.

Muata said...

Muata responds to Fellow Blogger Freedom:

So, this means you have labeled numerous women as liars. When I received the following statement: “my hair is not a barrier for working out”. I believed what the female was saying. For me to discount or automatically say they were lying is inappropriate. The point of this commentary was to, not only bring attention to my take on black females and their hair, it was to encourage each other to think about their own personal health and fitness decisions. It is my hope black men and women will truly think about this important piece:

Men need to decide which is more important: A woman’s Good Health or A Nice Hair-Do. I prefer both, but if I was forced to choose one it would be Good Health. Women need to do what is best for themselves and discontinue being preoccupied by a man who does not realize staying healthy is essential.

Also, another piece to this is the amount of money we give away to the Koreans. Not one person has commented on the web link I provided. It is appalling our people continue to be exploited as a result of our vanity.


FREEDOM said...


I am glad that you wrote this commentary because it is informing and a real issue in the lives of some women, especially black women.

To my fellow female readers, I am not trying to insult you, rather to allow you to really think if your hair has been a barrier for exercising. This may not be an issue for you right now, but I know in my hearts of hearts at some point in all of our lives, rather childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, or right now in adulthood; hair has been a factor when it has come down to our health and fitness.

I challenge any woman to take a trip throughout your life and see if hair has been a barrier to your health and fitness. I know I am more health conscious today than I was 4 years ago.

Sister Kia said...

Black men usually do not find black women's hair attractive in their natural state...

Black women make excuses for not taking care of their health... but... so do most Americans... they are a product of their culture...