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.

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.