This one is no joke, and I can personally confirm it.
When I lived outside Atlanta, I became good friends with a group of ladies who would not exercise.
Their number one barrier? Their hairdo.
They were not going to pay that much money and look that good, only to see it all get ruined by exercise. They made their choice.
So, we made an agreement. They agreed to exercise more, if I could find them a hairstyle that (1) looked good, and (2) could be maintained within an active lifestyle.
I fervently began my quest. I talked to other women, I visited salons, and even picked up some used hairstyle textbooks and magazines.
I came back to them with several different hairstyles - which come to find out, were outdated by at least a decade and terrible choices.
But, seeing the effort I put into finding hairstyles for African American women, and the good laugh they had at the hairstyles I chose for them - they were encouraged to start exercising again.
In other words, they felt sorry for me. Worth it.
So, I was quite happy to come across this recent study that confirmed my struggles. The authors examined how hairstyles impacted physical activity in African American adolescent girls.
Of interest here, the participants responded to two questions:
1. What happens to your hair when you exercise?
A theme emerged that represented the negative effect of exercise on their straightened hair (their preference).
“You sweat it out”
“It puffs up and it’s not cute anymore.”
“Especially if you wear your regular hair”
“It gets wild. It gets nappy.”
2. What styles allow you to exercise without problems?
A theme emerged that expressed the benefits of natural hair and braids for exercise, but they had begun transitioning from these hairstyles to more adult hairstyles.
“It just doesn’t feel right anymore. You’re so used to the new hairstyles.”
For those who typically had extensions were about 2 days per week more active than those who did not typically have extension (4.8 days per week vs. 2.9 days per week, respectively).
Concerns about hairstyle maintenance (especially sweating) negatively affecting physical activity choices and amount is a legitimate concern.
However, we do very little to recognize or accomodate these concerns, which provides us with opportunities to be innovative in taking on the challenges that hairstyles place on being physically active - from style to identity and social norms.
Here are some women who have already taken on the challenge:
A great video from my colleague, Dr. Nina Ellis-Hervey.
If there are any celebrities out there reading this, email me, so we can work together to promote hairstyles for the active adult and adolescent woman - much like the 'athleisure' trend is doing for clothing.
Oprah, if you are reading, I have some special opportunities for us. I look forward to hearing back from you.