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Is Your Hair Worth Your Health?

By January 27th, 202114 Comments

Is Your Hair Worth Your Health?

Dr. Phoenyx Austin

Hair is a big topic in the black community. It has been discussed along many lines- biological, psychological and social. We often talk about how hair affects us “emotionally.” But there is also an important “physical” component that should be discussed.

I remember when I was in medical school and had to speak with a young black patient about her weight and general health. She was an 18 year old girl with a BMI (body mass index) of 29, meaning she was severely overweight. She also had symptoms of metabolic syndrome- a very serious condition where an individual exhibits signs/symptoms of high blood sugar, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and increased weight. It’s a very serious condition because it is often a direct precursor to developing other deadly conditions like coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

I remember speaking with this young lady about her need to lose weight via exercise and other lifestyle changes. She seemed generally concerned about her overall health, but when asked about what steps she planned to take to tackle her weight issues, she expressed uncertainty about how she would be able to exercise regularly. She was willing to change her eating habits, but she was a bit more resistant to exercising. When I asked why, she basically explained that she didn’t like to sweat because it messed up her hair.

I wish I could say I didn’t encounter many patients who said the same thing when confronted with serious weight/health issues, but unfortunately that wouldn’t be the truth. I went to an HBCU, Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. And while attending such a wonderful institution offered a rich educational experience and diverse patient population, it also highlighted many serious health issues within the black community. One of those issues is weight. I encountered countless patients with issues like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure- health conditions that are often completely avoided or eradicated with diet and exercise. But when it came to intervention, in many cases, a good proportion of women seemed resistant to exercise, often citing reasons like “I don’t like to mess up my hair.”

Is it possible that some black women would really choose their hair over their health? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be yes. It does happen. I have seen it many times. And just yesterday, it was reported that the U.S. surgeon general Dr. Regina Benjamin stopped by the Bronner Bros. International Hair Show on Sunday to discuss the very same issue. It was no coincidence that Dr. Regina Benjamin chose the wildly popular Bronner Bros. International Hair Show to discuss the hot button topic of black women, exercise and hair. The event is attended by tens of thousands and the perfect venue to spread the word on black women and wellness.

In fact, it turns out that Dr. Benjamin struggled with this same issue herself- citing that, among other things, she made the decision to start exercising at night to find a balance between her hair and her general health.

Is Your Hair Worth Your Health?Dr. Regina Benjamin

To read more about Dr. Benjamin’s visit to the Bronner Bros. International Hair Show, click here.

It’s important to note that black women aren’t the only race of women that make certain lifestyle choices that may adversely affect our health. And we aren’t the only race of women that worry about our hair. But it’s also important to note that within the black community, we are more likely to die from conditions like heart disease (# 1 killer of all women) and diabetes- conditions that are completely avoided through diet and exercise.

Yes, hair and looking good can sometimes require a certain level of commitment, but it should never be at the cost us our health. And I was very happy to see Dr. Benjamin taking the time to emphasize this fact within our community.

If you’d like to send a comment/question to Dr. Phoenyx Austin, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter. Dr. Phoenyx Austin is a writer, media personality, and physician who shares her thoughts on natural hair and wellbeing.

14 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    They gone be in a coffin, but at least they hair looking good! Idiots…

    I wish somebody in my family would say this to me, I would be forced to go hamm and let them know the truth. Like "hope your hair looks good at your funeral then girl!" hahaha Sounds harsh but Im serious…

  • Anonymous says:

    In reference to Anon 12:45 about health insurance companies making unhealthy folks pay more for insurance. I don't agree with you idea, because this is no different than charging more for women, or different ethic groups etc. When we leave it to the "Big CompaniesBig Brother" to start telling us that this is good and that is bad, then we start to let government intervention bleed into our personal lives too much. What if I said, Black people are more unhealthy than white, so I am going ot charge for Blacks more. Not right! Who sets the standards. My governor, my state councilmen…no way! This is just an example of when things can go way wrong. I think an alternative option is to let free enterprise take over. Get the drug companies, health insurance carriers, and government out of bed together. Drug companies prescribe more pills, insurance charges more, government passes more bill. Let me know your thoughts.

    BTW back on subject- I used to avoid exercise around my freshly permed hair. No more…I exercies with my afro and I am have lost 20 lbs now that I more care free with my hair. Liberting!

  • Carla says:

    Part of why I stopped constantly pressing my hair in the first place (I was doing it weekly) was because I wanted to exercise on a regular basis. I had no freedom when my hair was straightened. I worked out and swam when I straightening my hair, but I wasn't consistent.

  • Anonymous says:

    WOW, great article! So on point Anon 10:23….so true, so true, SO TRUE!! It is such a shame for AA women to put their hair over health….so many don't realize what you put IN your bodies impact the health of your HAIR, SKIN and your overall well being. I am a huge health/nutrition & exercise advocate and have always said, if you don't have your health, what will you have? It can cost you your life and many don't realize it until the situation becomes so bad that the doctor tells you you MUST change your eating habits, you MUST exercise, and many times we don't listen then until the doctor says you have a serious disease that you can succumb to. It breaks my heart because no matter how you wear your hair–relaxed or natural shouldn't not take precedent on how you take care of your overall body.

    I completely agree that job opportunities and health insurance coverage will be impacted based on current health situation as someone previously stated….the cost of medication for some of these diseases is just ridiculous and an be avoided if eating habits & an active lifestyle became of part of your everyday life…didn't mean to write such a long comment, but this hits home for me….my sisters are victims of this and one in particular has kidney disease now because she wouldn't change her eating habits, exercise or half take her high blood pressure medicine, so now she MUST do so or her kidney disease could take her life

  • Toybox Playground says:

    I KNOW people who live this way. I personally never did, I would avoid swimming and playing too vigorously but I didn't avoid exercise. I can say that if I'm unhealthy and overweight it won't be because of my hair. It would be sheer laziness and a lack of discipline.

  • Anonymous says:

    Health and weight are not protected classes in this country. I believe the next great wave of job discrimination (if it's not happening already) will be based upon an applicant's weight and/or perceived health.

    Good luck to the job candidate who walks into an interview with the mildest hint of cigarette smoke on her or him. Anyone who is considered overweight or obese will also face challenges when interviewing for a job. Corporations will now view these individuals as liabilities to their company healthcare plan. That smoker's cough will conjure images of treatment costs for emphysema and lung cancer. The obese person will trigger thoughts of the cost of high blood pressure meds, diabetes, heart disease, etc. And of course the company will be wondering just how many days the person will miss from work.

    Most of us recall the ugly comments made about Dr. Benjamin's weight when she was first nominated to be the Surgeon General. There were individuals who felt like she shouldn't have the job, which she was clearly well-qualified for, because of her weight. If it can happen to her, then it can happen to any of us.

    Get healthy, stay healthy. Peace and blessings.

  • Anonymous says:

    Im so tired of seeing people who will not take responsibility for their health- reasons dont matter to me. The cost to our society is astronomical. I think one way to get people to take better care of themselves is for health insurance companies to either charge more for those who choose to eat more, refuse to exercise, etc. OR give breaks to fit people (the fitter you are, the lower your premium). Everyone has a choice in how they want to live their life, but we shouldnt have to ALL pay for it.

  • Anonymous says:

    I was guilty of this on the days I wore my relaxed hair out. I would go to the gym everyday, but on the days I wore my hair out (which was extremely rare), I wouldn't work out as strenuous. I didn't want my fresh curls to be drooping down my head.

    I kept my hair is braids or under a wig during my relaxed days. Even on the days I wore my wig, I would just put it in my gym bag, tie my hair down and go workout.

    When I went natural, it was a struggle for me to workout because I have the kinkiest version of type 4 hair and when I sweat, it would matt to my scalp in the middle to the point where I couldn't get a comb or pick through it.

    I was finally able to get enough money to braid it a few weeks ago and I am back in the workout game!

  • Anonymous says:

    The article said nothing about being relaxed or natural. It just stated you shouldn't put your health in jeopardy over not messing up your hair.

  • Anonymous says:

    i've never believed that black women didn't want to work out because of their hair. not only was i very active in my relaxed days, but i've seen women themselves on this very blog cite being active as a reason for getting a relxer in the first place because it was more "low maintenance." really, i've always looked at it as an excuse, and that maybe someone might relate out of empathy or something. because being relaxed doesn't keep you elbow deep in unhealthy food either…

  • Anonymous says:

    This article is the TRUTH. While many may try to deny it, AA women do tend to put their hair above all else. Health (no excercising), sleep (I just had this done today and it's got to look fresh), extracuricular (sp?) activities (swimming, are you out your damn mind?!), intimacy (don't touch my hair!!) etc… It's sad, because we miss out on a lot when we don't have our priorties straight.

  • Anonymous says:

    Wow! This topic is so on point. I can't think of how many women I know who choose not to work out to keep a hairstyle "fresh". Sadly, it happens not just with relaxed women but also with naturals. Wasn't the point of going natural to be free from the restraints of relaxed hair? I enjoy the freedom of being able to swim, run, jump, lunge, sweat and get my heart rate pumping without worrying about sweating out a hairstyle. When will we as women focus not only on the outer appearance, but what we put inside our bodies (eat) and our overall general health (exercise). After all, for young women a super defined twist out or extra curly wash n go will not be so important when we are sixty years old with arthritis, high blood pressure and a bottle full of pills…okay I am jumping off my soapbox now.

  • Anonymous says:

    Oh my goodness, I can't tell you how many times I've used that same tag line "Is your hair worth your health" with friends and family members. I so agree. I'm natural now for 10 yrs, and usually wear protective styles to save my time during the week while I'm working out. We have to find a balance. Diet, Exercise and Sleep are key to staying happy and healthy. BTW when we have healthy habits our hair can benefit too.

  • Naturally Nita says:

    This is such a timely and true article! My best friend and I were just talking about this last night. I worked out when I was relaxed but I certainly scheduled it around my salon/fresh hair days. One of the things I'm thankful about is that I'm less concerned about losing a little definition with my natural hair due to working out. Most times I just keep it in twists until my workout is complete. Just a blessing. Regardless, a healthy diet and exercise has to become a priority in our lives just like everything else. If we want to be here for and with the ones we love, we must take care of our temple, inside AND out!!

    www.naturallynita.blogspot.com

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