Home Beauty Black Women, Our Bodies & Perceptions of Beauty: Straight Hair

Black Women, Our Bodies & Perceptions of Beauty: Straight Hair

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I’ve always had a gang of hair. Like, a GANG of hair. There’s actually a very old video of my mother trying to tame my hair as a toddler, and two thirds of the screen was nothin’ but ‘fro.

Me, as a toddler… not a strand out of place.

My mother wasn’t having it, though. Born in the era of straightening combs on the stove, she was good for waking me up at the crack of dawn and burning the hell out of me trying to straighten my hair. I don’t even think I knew what my hair looked like without a handful of grease and a whole morning’s worth of heat in it… because we started doing this routine when I was approximately 4 years of age.

Say what you will about that – especially since it was a couple of decades ago – but I grew up believing that I was supposed to have straight hair, and this suffering was how I was supposed to get it. If ever my kitchen (you know what the kitchen is) was even remotely curly, my Mom was quick on the draw. “Um, what’s goin’ on with your natural? Come here, let me hit those naps real quick.” I never thought twice about it. That was Mom, for crying out loud. I pretty much worshipped the ground she walked on – always well dressed, properly put together, never a hair out of place – surely, she knew what she was talkin’ about.

I, much like most of the little Black girls in my area, grew up coveting straight hair.  Considering how difficult this was to maintain for girls like me with the most all-the-way-live-kinks and coils, this also made us resent anything that got in the way of us ruining that straight hair. Gym class was almost always indoors, and forget about getting us in any kind of swimming pool.

Eventually, all that hair pressing left my hair pretty lifeless. Horribly split ends, breaking off like nobody’s business.. I actually remember people clowning me about it. I didn’t really know any better. I just knew I needed to have straight hair, and I was succumbing to what I needed in order to get it.

It got worse once I entered high school. After having moved to my new neighborhood where all the hair was not only straight, but blond and long.. my mother and I dug all throughout the city to find a hairdresser who could help me at least accomplish the long and straight part. As a high schooler, I was in the salon weekly, spending $40 for a wash/rinse/press… and $80 once a month for my relaxer. Two hundred dollars a month to acquire this look that I had coveted since I was four years old.

Needless to say, I grew up prioritizing an inordinate amount of time strictly to straight hair. Never knew (or considered) why I did, why I needed to… never asked any questions. Just fell in line.

Hindsight is most certainly 20/20, though.

College-aged me… approximately 250lbs.

I started gaining weight somewhere around the fourth grade. I can’t help but wonder why no one was equally “quick on the draw” checking me about my weight instead of my hair. I wonder why I never prioritized an “inordinate amount of time strictly to” my physical and emotional fitness instead of… hair. I wonder why a more fit physique wasn’t “coveted” the same way straight hair was coveted. It just seemed like I wanted those things that seemed easiest to acquire – just spend your morning getting burned by the stove and you, too, can have straight hair just like “the rest of society.”I guess “being fit and healthy” wasn’t that easy to achieve.

When you grow up putting such a high priority on hair, it means that at some point, you start cutting things out to protect that priority. I can recall taking an F for a semester of PE because I wasn’t getting in any pool. (After an uber expensive hair treatment? No thanks.) I can recall walking the “one mile speed test” because I didn’t want to sweat… and I was out there for almost 18 minutes to do it. In college, I took a geography class that required not only hiking but kayaking… and I gave my professor hell the entire time, complaining that I “was going to have to take out a student loan to keep up my hair if he was going to have us out with Mother Nature every other darn day.” I dealt with it in order to get my “A,” but that was about it.

When I first started working out – as in, complete newbie status – I can remember stopping on the elliptical the moment I felt liquid on my forehead. I was literally allergic to sweat. It wasn’t until one night I happened to be at the gym the same time as The Cleaner was on, accidentally stayed on the elliptical the entire episode, jumped on the scale and saw that I lost a pound of water weight that I literally said “Man, f– this hair.” That was the end of that for me. Every night, I was wearing my sweaty shirt as a badge of honor.“Yes, that’s right, I broke it dowwwwwwwwwn on that there machine! I’m that chick!” I’ve been over it, since.

I don’t remember even taking this picture, which means there might’ve been wine involved.

I listen to conversations that other women have about their hair, and I always keep quiet… though more often than not, I’m the one they want to hear from. Not because I’m anybody special, but because the assumption is that this is a hurdle I’ve encountered before. I don’t really have any popular or easy answers for them, which is why I usually keep quiet. I could say, “Why is straight hair such a big deal to y’all, anyway?” but that’d only be met with laughter and “Um, anyways…” and I’d rather not get extra indignant and say “What if you swapped your hair with your body in your list of priorities? This wouldn’t even be an issue then, would it? You’d be doing what you gotta do to make your hair work without interfering with your gym routine… not just doing what you can at the gym to feel like you did something, and protecting your hair investment.” That’d certainly ruin the mood. Instead, I just shrug my shoulders. Everyone has their “come to fitness” moment at different points of their lives.. I don’t know that a social gathering is the proper place to try to evoke someone’s moment without their consent.

In my mind, my priorities have shifted. They’ve shifted to the point where I find it hard to understand the logic anymore. If I’m going to devote my every sunrise to something, it’s going to be my health. If I’m going to go the extra mile for anything, it’s going to be my body. I’ve even decided to be a little vain about it. If I experience pain on a regular basis or a regular burn… it’ll be because I’m workin’ hard on getting my abs cut right or building my fit booty. To me, if I let my priorities switch back to what they were, then I’m going to start gaining weight. I don’t want that.

The usual me… if I’m going somewhere where my braids won’t suffice.

Somewhere along the line, too many of us have grown to prioritize something as minor league as our hair over the major league issues, like health. It’s considered unnecessary vanity if I take pride in my abs or my legs (I’m showing off, and deserving of the catty conversation behind my back), but my hair better be on point or… I’m deserving of the catty conversation behind my back. You’re clowned for having “bad hair,” and – not saying you should be clowned for a “bad body” – praised for staying on top of your hair and not having a strand out of place. Hour long conversations can be had about hair products that are healthy for our hair.. “but what’s healthy for our bodies?” Silence.

Maybe I’m just hella skeptical… and I can accept that. But there’s a serious problem with the fact that we can figure out a thousand ways to keep our hair in tip top shape – some of us sitting with mayonnaise, avocado, egg, kool-aid and dill pickle mixtures on our heads because we heard it’ll make it “grow” – but no one’s willing to give healthy living a shot, trying different things to keep our bodies in tip top shape. Something is very wrong when it makes sense to allow something like hair to get in the way of our pursuit of health.

The wild thing about it, really, is that I don’t have any answers. For me, I haven’t put a flat iron to my head in almost ten months. My loved ones don’t even bother asking me to do otherwise. Folks know when it’s me running in the neighborhood because there’s usually about a foot worth of ‘fro bouncing behind me. If I have somewhere to go, I even occasionally jazz it up and put something in my hair. I spend too much time being active to want to sit around protecting a hairstyle. I just prefer to focus my efforts on my body.. and the more I do that, the more I find that others focus their attentions there, too. “For get her hair, did you see her body? Dang!” I’m OK with that. I put in the work, I shifted my priorities there.. that’s what I want… even if I’m rockin’ an attention-grabber like below.

Me… right now. Clipped in the back, up off my neck, breeze blowin’ through my scalp? Winner.

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65 comments

Ashley (DazzlingRayn) July 29, 2010 - 11:27 AM

LAWD.

We usually have a lady who helps us clean/do laundry/etc cause everyone is busy. I asked if she was coming this week and my mom goes, “No, I’m trying to save up for an expensive hair style.” I’m like, “Oh? What is this style?” I’m still not sure exactly what it is, but she said it was something like a curly weave. I responded, “Well, why not just save some money and go natural?”

I should stop here and say that after years of having micro braids because I though my hair was too hard to manage, especially while straight, I decided last November to stop getting them, due to cost (I’m a poor grad student and the hair costs $250, labor another $250) and time (it takes at least 12 hours). My mom has not been altogether supportive in this endeavor, even though she knows I can’t get a perm because my hair breaks off like woah. She’s said that she doesn’t always like the way it looks and that I don’t always look my best. At first these comments hurt, but I’ve just decided to stop caring what she thinks and just do me.

Back to the story already in progress. She replies, “No, I’m not going to go natural. I want to look good.”

So you’re going to spend however many hundreds of dollars on a hairstyle that simulates a curly look (I think?) when you could just go natural and have the SAME THING with a much lower cost and maintenance? She said something about braiding her hair and then sewing the weave on, but I’d imagine that if you’re actually sweating and working out that this style can’t last very long anyway.

In my mom’s defense, she had surgery on her face many years ago and you can still see scarring. I think she’s self conscious so she always wants to put her best foot/face forward. But I still looked at her with my mouth open like REALLY?

Sorry for the long post and all the parenthesis but I just thought it was ridiculous. This is something that needs to be addressed for ALL women.

Tina Fite July 29, 2010 - 11:29 AM

Thank you Erica for defending those of us who do not pay as much attention to their hair as they do their bodies. I completely get this article because I get this conversation every time I go walking with a neighbor. She wonders why I don’t even get my hair braided. I’m rocking a natural and I like my ponytails and hats so why change when I know I can easily shower, wash/condition the hair and keep it moving? I don’t have to make sure shampoo is washed out of synthetic braids or that I blow dry it. I just wash and go…it all turns into a wavy ‘fro anyway. Well, I just wanted to say thanks because some women (like my neighbor) just don’t get it and will throw a bible verse on being a steward of the body and will criticize me for it before even realizing that she may not be a good steward of her money because she spends it getting her hair done every week just to sweat it out working out. Thanks and sorry for the rant…LOL!!

Curvy Jones July 29, 2010 - 11:31 AM

Lol, you gots some hair! Love it!

Not working out because of my hair never occurred to me. That seems like a lame excuse…Nothing makes my hair grow like some good cardio and leaving it the HECK alone!

Some of my friends up in the NE experience a LOT of offhand comments about their hair, especially from men, but sometimes women as well. Here in ATL, I’m happy to see the demise of the butt length silky weave and a surge of natural hair sisters walking around. The men here don’t seem to mind a bit. As long as it’s yours, they’re for it!

Reecie July 29, 2010 - 11:33 AM

well I still wear straight hair, relaxed even. and I work out. And I sweat in my head. My answer: I learned to do my own damn hair!

I started doing this as I grew it out anyway, I went to salons weekly to maintain a short cut, but once I knew I wanted to wear it longer, I knew I had to reteach myself how to rollerset, etc. and now I enjoy it. I can put my hair in a loose ponytail to work out. Since really only my edges sweat, a sweatband takes care of that. I also sometimes schedule my “hair days” on my workout days so I go to my gym with deep conditioner in my hair–and wash it out when I get home in the shower

It works for me, and I’m saving money. I’m not the best at flat ironing so I go to the salon when I want that–and I might not work out super hard for a few days to “get my money’s worth” on a particular style. But knowing that I can do many things to it–updos, rollersets, sleek buns and still be cute makes me happy.

GaNeane January 14, 2011 - 4:11 PM

Thank you for this comment! Truly I’m tired of our hair being a political statement, of whether or not we are Black if we chose to wear a relaxer. Have I not worked out because of my hair? Darn tootin’. I have short hair. I prefer short hair and yes I get my hair done darn near weekly. That is my ME time and how I chose to spend MY MONEY that I have worked hard for is MY business. So no, I’m not going to sweat it out when I just got it done..shoot, even my husband knows he is not messing it up unless he is paying for it to be redone.

I am completely and totally hair challenged so doing it myself is not an option. I can’t even braid..and don’t feel the need to learn quite frankly. I’m WORTH IT for what I spend on my hair.

I don’t question my Blackness; Black is beautiful and so am I. I love the look of “natural” (I hate that phrase like I am unnatural if I don’t do what you do) hair on other women, it simply doesn’t work for ME. So many websites make what we do with our hair or don’t do some sort of statement. It’s not that deep, it’s not that serious. DO YOU.

Erika January 17, 2011 - 10:56 AM

Hold up.

Not ONCE do I mention relaxers in this post. Why? Because women without relaxers straighten their hair, and there are women WITH relaxers who don’t and get along just fine.

I couldn’t care less about a “political statement.” The point of my ENTIRE post was that we cling FAR TOO MUCH to hair and ignore MUCH more important (and, in some cases, equally vain) issues like our bodies. Sounds an awful lot like what you just typed, here:

“Have I not worked out because of my hair? Darn tootin’.”

“I can’t even braid and don’t feel the need to learn quite frankly.”

That’s fine. I CERTAINLY won’t be high fiving you for that attitude. I’ll just simply hope you’re taking care of yourself regardless of what your decisions are for your hair and go on about MY business of being fit and happy.

Coming to this post and acting like I made some big political fuss about hair is silly. I question why women who are OBVIOUSLY uncomfortable with their bodies can say “I’M WORTH IT” when it comes to effort put forth in hair, but can’t say “I’M WORTH IT” when it comes to their bodies. I don’t know you from the next GaNeane, so I can’t say whether or not you’re letting your own health slide just so you can keep a fly hairstyle.

But… in the end, you’re right. It’s not that deep, and it’s not that serious. It’s only as deep or as serious as the diagnosis from the doctor, really. *shrug*

Zee May 15, 2011 - 1:18 PM

I agree with you that the question of what we do with our hair should come down to personal choice. Nowadays society politicizes every little thing too damn much.

But having said that, this is a blog on healthy living and weight loss, and naturally, from time to time, it will touch on the things that hinder us from achieving our health-related goals. As far as I can tell, this particular article was very much on topic. It’s not preaching on what every black woman should do with her hair, it’s talking about getting our priorities right IF WE WANT TO LIVE HEALTHY. So I disagree with your statement that it’s not that serious. The choices we make are indeed serious if we make them in such a way that they affect our health negatively.

T.W. July 19, 2012 - 12:29 PM

I’m with you. I get my hair relaxed every 6-8 weeks, and I do actually do my hair. But I still go to the gym in the morning, wrapped and with a sweat band and am good to go. I never knew hair actually was a “legitimate” reason to not work out regularly.

Savannah July 29, 2010 - 11:56 AM

Great post Erika!

As someone who has been natural most of her life, I’m not one who has let my hair keep me from being active. I dance, swim, and workout regardless of what state (relaxed, natural, braided up) my hair is in. For me it’s more about my butt (getting off it and being active) than my hair.

While I can understand wanting to look good, I agree that their needs to be a priority shift so that health becomes more valuable than a hairdo.

Ilyasha July 29, 2010 - 12:11 PM

Wow! You are on point! I too can identify with busting the “kitchens” in the kitchen!

This has struck a nerve with me because I can identify with not wanting to work out and sweat out my hair. I have been chemical free for almost two years and I was so tired of being tied to my hair and how I wanted it to look. I had to learn, with some difficulty and much trial and error, to wear my hair naturally and not be held to that long, straight standard. I desire to be healthy and fit. My hair is now also healthy and fit because I have chosen to treat it right! Now this new found knowledge has also come with age!!

Thank you for this article today. It hit home with me and I am sure many other readers are shaking their heads and “um humming” all over the place!

Blessings!!

P.S. I love the pics and the hair is all that!!

Tammie July 29, 2010 - 12:16 PM

Thanks for the article and shedding light on this situation of our HAIR. I got my first relaxer in the 12th grade so I’m very aware of getting burned w/the hot comb. It’s a staple in my house today because we have 3 girls with lots of hair.

I became fed up with the salon years ago and went natural – all the way to a boy cut. My head is beautifully shaped, perfect. I received compliments all the time. But I grew tired of the look and decided to grow my hair out and have been wearing short cuts, spikes, etc. I go to the salon every 5 weeks or so for a relaxer. My problem is the work it takes to manage my girls’ natural hair. They have a lot of hair – like you did at 4yrs old. Now the the 6th and 8th grader want relaxers but we simply can’t afford it. I’m looking for ways to style their natural hair to fit their ages. I’ve kept it braided and in pony tails for years but they want something different and I don’t blame them.
Thankfully I can braid and I’ll have to find ways to be creative with their looks.

Crystal July 29, 2010 - 12:18 PM

Wonderful Post. You are telling my story

cjbrownsc July 29, 2010 - 1:13 PM

Bravo, Erika!!
Wonderful post!
I have been natural for about 6 years now and I can remember the issues that I had with not wanting to exercise and mess up my hair when I was permed. I always seemed to be doing something to protect the style I was wearing – running from the rain, not wanting to get in pools, and definitely not wanting to sweat.
Since going natural my mind is free as far as my hair is concerned. Sure, it shrinks up a hella lot when I sweat, but to me that just adds to the beauty of natural hair. I’m okay with it.
My 14yo daughter, on the other hand, is totally different. She has been natural since birth and has hair like yours. When it’s twisted, it’s blow-dried first and then twisted. She is not as appreciative of the shrinkage that occurs after exercising or swimming, but I’m constantly trying to reinforce to her that it’s beautiful whether her twists are flowing down her back or “puffed up” at her jawline. Her health is what’s important. And after being told by her pediatrician that she’s gained 30 pounds since her last physical in May 2009, we’ve both made a pact that our health will be our top priority – later for the hair!!

Lisa July 29, 2010 - 1:18 PM

I’m fine with your hair but STOP making those crazy behind facial expressions! LOL

I feel sorry for the women that have issues with maintaining their hair and working out. I’ve been fortunate enough to deal with my hair AND working out without having to sacrifice much (I don’t really sweat in my head and if I’m wearing my texlaxed hair blown out and straight, a wrap or a ponytail is sufficient; otherwise, I’m in a wet bun). I think it’s a comfort level thing for most women – hair is something that is relatively easy to become “obsessed” with; body togetherness is MUCH harder and takes a great level of sacrifice and commitment.

Ladi Ohm July 29, 2010 - 5:03 PM

I rock a short relaxed ‘do (ala Nia Long) and I workout between 4-5 days a week. I also go get it done once a week because it grows like weeds and my stylist maintains the length I like. I don’t care about sweating in the gym (or yoga studio) because heck, I live in Dallas, I could sweat my hair out walking to the mailbox. I do like to maintain my flyness though, which, as of late, has included adding really cute shorts to the wardrobe!

Jade Ali July 29, 2010 - 5:06 PM

First, I just want to say, I love your blog and you’ve inspired me to do push-ups situps at home, as well as use gallon weights!

Anyhow, this topic really hit close to home. I’ve been chubby since I was about 8 years old. Since then, my mom has closely watched what I ate, took me running and to see dieticians, yet I’ve always dealt with weight issues. My sisters think I’m being overly judgemental of my mother’s parenting, but I wonder how much of my issues with self image stem from being told to diet at a young age.

In all I just wanted to play devil’s advocate here and engage your thoughts on women who’ve paid (perhaps) too much attention to body image for most of their lives.

BAnjeeB July 29, 2010 - 6:50 PM

The question about hair always comes up when discussing working out. I played sports throughtout my middle and high school years, so I tell folks that sweating my hair out has never been the catastrophe that it was for others. When I got older and decided I still wanted to be physically active, I like Reecie, learned how to do my own hair. I purchased a quality flat iron for a very reasonable price on ebay and a good blow dryer and make the time to straighten it when the need arises. This curly, wild mess on my head is not going to keep me from my mid-workout endorphin rush!

Rita July 29, 2010 - 7:22 PM

I love it!

My “come to fitness moment” happend coincidentally after I went natural. I’d been learning about proper maintenance of natural hair when it ocurred to me that I’m taking better care of my hair then of myself. It made no sense to me! And I couldn’t even begin to trace the events that led me to that point but I was too through! I quickly started learning about clean eating, healthy living and even improving my spiritual self. This journey has gone from hair to improving my total self, inside and out.

Tiffany July 29, 2010 - 9:38 PM

Your pictures are inspiring, lol.

Peace, Love and Chocolate
Tiffany

KP July 30, 2010 - 9:59 AM

I love all your blogs but I am really feeling this one. I have recently made the decision to go natural and am excited about my journey. You go girl! I’m proud of you!

Madame July 30, 2010 - 10:54 AM

Not even a month after getting serious about my weight loss journey, I went natural. It was a logical move for me, as perms and daily flat ironing – trying to manage this tough Nigerian hair (literally, lol) after workouts, was wreaking havoc on my locs. There were some transitional challenges – I even worried how my fiance would take it (he was actually my biggest supporter, knowing the motive) as well as those in my professional/social circles. But, it was a hit! Now, I workout and swim freely, with no concerns of messing up a style or compromising straightness … and I still look good, lol.

One thing that’s grossly overlooked by black women, is that HEALTHY hair, is a reflection of a health body.

Lovebabz July 30, 2010 - 3:03 PM

What Black woman in America doesn’t have a story of hot combs, perms, relaxers! I must say that after a certain age (atleast in my circle of sister-friends) we have given up messin’ with our hair. I have done every hair style on the planet. I haven’t chemically done anything to my hair in 20 years and last year (divorce finalized) I just cut off my 13 year old waist-length dreds. My razored hair to my scalp is liberating in ways I can’t begin to tell you. At 47 I realized trying to save the world can’t compete with keeping my hair coiffed. So it’s delightful and erotically short….to my scalp.

Besides I can work up a mean sweat and not give a damn about my hair! Now that is owning my own power. I am the boss of me…not my hair…anymore 🙂

CJM August 2, 2010 - 10:49 AM

One of the most exilerating exercise experiences to date…NOT hightailing it to someone’s porch to wait out a light rain when I was a mile and a half from home. I just kept on jogging and didn’t think about my hair. It wasn’t until later that day that I realized that the high that I experienced after that jog would have been impossible if I was overly concerned about my hair. Yes, I was only two days into my straight style. I have thick, longer than shoulder length unrelaxed hair. It kinks, curls, naps, coils, waves all over my head. I split my styling into two days if I want to do straight (wash and blow out on day one, flat iron the following day). But if its a fall day (b/c straightening my hair in the summer is not happening) and I wake up feeling like taking a jog around my neighborhood, I am not going to let my hair and a 30% chance of rain stop me from doing that.

nettid October 27, 2010 - 5:47 PM

Thanks for writing this!
As a kid my mom never really did my or my sisters hair-she would just pay some one to do it. I didnt learn the”joys ” of walking to school with burn marks from pressing combs, curlers and hot grease till I was in Junior high school. Ive been through my bouts w/ relaxers and perms in college,since I went to school in Miami(thought I had to get permed every week-FAIL!!)But now, as a grown woman I ve said *&^% it! And havent had a perm since.(side note-If i want a straight look Ill flat iron from time to time but thats very rare)

Natalie November 10, 2010 - 5:36 PM

Great Post!!!!

I like to think I am a pretty active person, regular yoga, cardio, I tone, through riding horses with my best friend, (best butt/inner thigh workout I’ve ever had.) I am a very competitive person and love sports.

because flat irons were “too expensive” growing up, I never had one, therefore when I wanted straight hair, it was gained in the laundry room with my mom wielding the iron and my head on the iron board. When I want straight hair I have to do it myself now, I have a chi, and well it takes around 2hours of work. To be ruined by, humidity, rain, snow, sleet, or heat. One minor sneeze in the weather and my 2hours of work go down the drain…or sweat that always ruins straight hair…I used to do this battle at least 5 days a week.
Until Finally, I embraced the curl so I could go out on my dirt-bike without fear of “bad hair”, ride horses, play tag football, soccer. I have thus enjoyed my life far more. Embrace the Curls if you have em, its easier to go with em’ than against.
I love saying this to people who tell me to straighten them.
I love my curls the way they are because when every day is a bad hair day, it is therefore really a good hair day.

RL February 7, 2011 - 7:56 PM

Having had your hair did seems like a pretty lame excuse for not hitting the gym. I’ve never had a problem with my hair post workout despite my straightened pixie-cut. I just slap on a baseball cap and I’m out the door. It’s a pretty simple solution and, in my experience, relaxers don’t “sweat out” after the first wash.

Lauren March 1, 2011 - 3:52 PM

Lol. I def have avoided working out to not mess up my hair. But I have in recent years cut all my hair off and just decided to rock a very low cut that allows me to do whatever i want. I now have a two year old daughter with very thick hair. Im going to keep it braided and natural just like my mother did for me. But its just hair, that is my motto. Who cares if its weaved, permed, or a fro? Whatever works best for you.

Zee May 15, 2011 - 12:50 PM

While we’re on the subject of priorities, I’ve often wondered why some black women spend so much on expensive hairstyles but don’t have money to buy their kids decent food or for savings/ investment/ education/ whatever. Extreme vanity will be the undoing of us.

Fran May 15, 2011 - 1:32 PM

Awesome blog! And this is a hard subject to discuss. I agree with one of the previous commenters that a lot of black women who wear natural hair turn their nose up to those of us, yep- including me, who wear relaxers. You did not do that! The whole point of your blog is to get us to see that some of us are choosing vanity over health!

And, yep, that’s me also!

But I got your point and THANK YOU!

HOWEVER we choose to wear our hair, don’t let it stop you from working out! =)

Lisa May 16, 2011 - 11:43 AM

Hi, I love your blog. I am so glad you’ve taken on this issue.

I wonder how many of these cases of people caring more about hair than health are actually choosing one over the other, or just ignoring health altogether, regardless of the hair issue. Hard exercising that produces a hair messing sweat is only one part of the equation of health and fitness. It is very well possible to become reasonably fit by eating well and moderate exercise, such as brisk walks and simple toning moves, neither of which mess up hairdoos, right? I see beautifully coiffed women every day grubbing on chicken wings and french fries and soda instead of making better food choices. I think that the hair (and fingernails, for that matter) at some point become compensatory beauty measures when the weight gets so out of hand that it seems impossible to overcome.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 16, 2011 - 12:05 PM

Don’t get me wrong, mama – I’m not saying that every woman with a dope hairstyle has it because she actively chose to neglect working out. What I’m specifically saying is that there is a flaw in priorities that exists out there, and we need to check ourselves to make sure we aren’t contributing to this.

Rainy Day Diva May 17, 2011 - 2:25 PM

Bravo! This is a wonderful post. Even though I grew up getting a relaxer, I never let it stop me from exercising, going to the pool, or being physically active. I have heard many women use their hair as an excuse to justify not exercising-I’m just not convinced that is the real reason. I have to agree with the previous commenter. Too many of us, whether natural or relaxed, are ignoring our health altogether. And you’re right, it’s time we reset our list of priorities.

fitness » Blog Archive » Straight Hair Or Fitness? | Afrobella May 17, 2011 - 3:59 PM

[…] articulating any of this coherently right now, though we review an extraordinary essay over during Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss (one of my fave aptness blogs, dontcha know) that done me consider prolonged and tough about myself and my values, and a priorities as a […]

Deneen Lindbo May 22, 2011 - 5:54 PM

I have less than wavy hair, and when i try to curl it like that, the curls fall out by the end of the day. To keep them curled, I have to use an EXTENSIVE amount of hair spray! Does anyone know a solution!

V. May 28, 2011 - 8:20 AM

Erika, I was wondering what you thought about this article: http://www.thegrio.com/health/how-to-get-fit-while-keeping-your-hair-in-shape.php

It seems to me there is something really out of balance about it! Like they’re encouraging women to cut corners on their health (oh, wait, work out “less intensely”) so they won’t sweat their hair out? It almost seems like the article is just enabling us to be slaves to our hair instead of hopefully managing our hair care in a way that actually frees us to be active and do the things we want to do. I don’t get it.

Delia October 4, 2012 - 8:01 AM

Wow. You couldn’t be more right, V. Great catch. Bt , its something we’ve already known. There’s unfortunately so much negative influence among us when it comes to health. Hair care advice is just one.

milaxx June 21, 2011 - 3:12 PM

I’ve been on my hair journey longer than my health journey sad to say. Ironically the thing that started me on both boils down to the same 2 things; time and feeling better about myself.

With my hair it simply became ridiculous. I have uber thick hair. Hair that breaks combs. To maintain straight styles meant a touch up every 4 weeks, and weekly salon appointment. Who has that time or money? Then there was the usually making sure it didn’t get wet, or that I didn’t sweat it out. One day I had had enough. I was working full time and in grad school part time. I couldn’t deal anymore. That was in 1999/2000. I know natural hair is popular now, but my decision to go natural was simply a need to simplify. My biggest regret is that I never learned to swim as a child because of the need to keep my hair straight.

Since I’ve been taking water aerobics as my primary exercise, I realize I want to swim. I look at the folks who do laps after class and I am jealous. My goal for this summer is to learn how to swim.

Dominique August 2, 2011 - 1:28 PM

SO effin glad I stumbled upon this article of yours. Just yesterday, I looked in the mirror at my impossible do, and let out the slightest groan at its expense. My hair takes a licking for my workout routine, and for that, I give it kudos. I gripe about it definitely. I’ve turned down the thought of relaxers since they sweat out easily, and flat-ironing? Pssssh! To begin with, I sweat very easily, so BEING in the same room with lukewarm flat-irons? Just think of what would happen to that beautiful hair in the gym after… saaay, and hour? Two? A waste of energy for me.

Dreads and twists are some things I’ve given a thought or two too (get it, two-too? Because it’s sounds like I’m saying….errr.. y’know what—nevermind). Any little thing that can help me stay decent looking and still work on getting a better bod. is probably the right way to go. I’ve already become a weight loss fanatic/social recluse about it.

Oh! I read this the other day in the newspaper here. It’s a local little ditty, but the article made me go straight into SMH mode. Thought you’d like it too.

http://birminghamtimesonline.com/SITE/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6213:the-dos-and-donts-of-dos-and-exercise&catid=62:health&Itemid=119

misscmb August 7, 2011 - 3:52 PM

thanks for this post! ive been working out regularly this summer. and ive been perm free for about 3 months now. thanks to sew ins i have been able to work as hard as i want to. but once the school year starts, these tracks are coming out and i’ll be at a cross road: to continue to transition, or get me a perm??

Cherished131 November 5, 2011 - 1:25 PM

It’s not just hair. It’s nails(clothes, etc) too. I wish that we would round out the self care for ourselves right now it is out of balance.

Kimmie November 27, 2011 - 11:43 AM

I have to admit at one point in my life I was there too. I was fat and sitting in a stylists chair for more than three hours hoping to get my hair straight and shiny. I didn’t realize that the best investment that I could make was health / body. I grew my hair out naturally and started working out and yes, I do have the curly fro on days that I put in extra work, but now I look at it differently. I’m not white and my hair isn’t straight and there’s nothing wrong with my hair being thicker, fuller and even nappier than other people. The biggest critics do not come from White people it comes from other Black women that are outraged when they see a woman with wild hair. I’m not seeking anyone’s approval. I’m just loving my lion mane and my new size six!

Crystal January 9, 2012 - 12:07 PM

I just came across this blog today and I am sad that I did not know about it sooner. I was about 2 years into a healthier lifestyles before I decided that I had no choice but to go natural. I have always sweated like crazy especially through my hair. My mom had actually gone “natural” years ago and encouraged me to do the same but I was too afraid of how crazy I would look. Now I can never go back now it just feels too good not to have to even think about my hair at the gym.

Jacquie January 31, 2012 - 4:58 PM

Growing up in a by and far predominately white community, an almost entirely white school district, it wasn’t until college until I realized all of the effort black women put into their hair. I was a camp counselor in the dorms my first summer at school, and met a wonderful black girl who was my nearest counselor neighbor. A few weeks into the summer, she was debating about when she was going to wash her hair, and I asked her why it mattered… dude, takes five minutes. Then she explained what she does every time she washes it… I don’t remember the procedure, other than the fact that it sounded like a procedure. If you she skipped a step her hair would break off??! I had no idea! I mean, her hair looked great, but wow! that is a lot of dedication. But it also meant no to swimming in Lake Superior on the weekends or chaperoning the kid’s walk to the cafe if it looked like it was going to storm.

Maybe it is a want what you don’t have sort of thing, but I absolutely love black women’s hair. It’s beautiful. No white women will look anywhere near so dignified with a short short cut. Little girls with their little poofs tied up on top of their heads. And most especially the last two pictures Erika posted. Gorgeous. My flat, straight, boring hair is jealous.

Laurie July 11, 2012 - 3:36 PM

Funny the point of the article was shifting priority from your hair to your body but my first thought was how jealous I am of your hair’s texture in the last two photos. I’d kill for not having my ponytail slowly slide down the back of my head while I’m working out or my buns slowly unraveling because my hair has no texture. My hair doesn’t take perms very well, they tend to fizzle out and I go straight again but on the rare occasion a hairstylist gets me a good head of curls I pile those suckers as high as I can while they last and enjoy them!

I wouldn’t consider what you are doing with your hair putting your hair on the back burner in any sense. Just my two cents.

kaye February 14, 2012 - 3:26 PM

Ok..just a hint for everybody trying to go natural..I stopped relaxing my hair..and I will admit I hate it..but on a realistic note I am trying to be a fitness instructor..So now two things are going to happen..one I will be doing my own personal workouts..so I will sweat..and two I will be practicing routines to teach..so I will sweat even harder..I bought this stuff made by Garnier Fructisse..yes I know it may be seen as for ‘white people’ only but I decided to give it a shot..its 14 bucks..and i used it to not straighten my hair..but to relax the curl..I used a blowdryer, round brush, and a flat iron I had forgotten I had because I was going to the salon all the time..I did a good job and it helped my hair dry super fast! Try it..It is good for 7 shampoos..I had to make a choice..gym memberships are not cheap and I need mine because I am not someone who can workout alone..I tried to enlist friends..they dragged me down something fierce..Hope this helps!

Crystal March 16, 2012 - 6:16 PM

Well, I just want to comment that I think a short or big natural afro is beautiful. If I had that hair I would probably walk around with my hand stuck in it because I love the feeling of it’s soft fluffy texture.

Paris Aimeé May 21, 2012 - 5:30 PM

I love this post! My scalp sweats, a LOT but there are several options I use during my workouts. When I had a relaxer I would wrap my hair tightly, spray a little oil sheen on my wrap, tie a scarf around my head & wear a cap to the gym. Afterwards I’d simply blow dry & style my hair, EASY! With a sew-in weave things are much easier, sweating a lot doesn’t bother me. Again I blow dry the braided hair underneath the weave and any of my own hair that is exposed, a quick tap of the flat irons to the roots of my exposed hair and I’m DONE! Whether you have relaxed, natural or transitioning hair THERE IS ALWAYS a way to keep your hair looking well kept as your work on that fabulous body. Don’t let your hair be your handicap.

SC July 1, 2012 - 12:16 PM

My mom had me with the hot comb and readers but luckily she wasn’t fanatical about it. I went to summer camp with braids and I ran and I swam. My hair would mat up and I didn’t care either. Around college I had a good stylist who did my hair good. I was never one for weaves, braids, French rolls or excessive hair styles. I relax and will always relax because my hair texture in the back goes straight to mat. I used to always wash my hair almost daily or run around in conditioner and my hair stayed growing. So now at almost 40 I smile at all these hair journeys, texlaxing, cowashing..stuff I have done for over 20 years and folk realizing it’s okay to sweat with black hair, natural or relaxed, and swim too. You just have to learn to take care of your hair AND your body. There’s no special challenge to being Black and we need to dead that nonsense and take care of selves. BTW I hope we stop burning our lil girls heads up one day and wasting their days worrying about some hair.

ejh August 1, 2012 - 12:55 AM

Oh the irony…I have very straight, fine hair and braid it tight at night (damp) when I want it to have some body. I would love natural curl…tried perms so many times as a teen, never took. I guess we all need to learn to appreciate our unique features. That part at least is universal. 🙂

JazzFest August 1, 2012 - 12:38 PM

Yeah. 🙂 I guess it’s an important thing for everyone to get into. I’m slowly coming to terms with my body shape (not to be confused with my clothing size/body weight) I am not curvy the way I want to be and there isn’t anything but surgery that can change that. So I’m just gradually letting it GO 😛

JazzFest August 1, 2012 - 12:35 PM

I really liked your approach to this topic. I think you challenged common views without shaming or dismissing anybody. I some ways I do think hair CAN be “political” but you didn’t even bring THAT up in your article,So it’s a non issue here. The whole “political hair” things is COMPLICATED (but that’s another train of thought best saved for articles that actually talk about that stuff…)

I think it’s also ironic that health (nutrition, exercise, and sleep) affects hair and nails. If people aren’t eating nourishing food they will just have brittle hair and nails ’cause the body is focusing the nutrients on the organs, muscles, etc and can’t be bothered to shuffle any to hair and nails! It makes sense overall to focus on health first, it can just be a hard leap, and for me, needs to be done gradually. For me it’s been reading your blog and others like it for inspiration, filling my brain with the info, letting it sink in, and making small gradual changes that are doable for my situation. It’s also planning: I live with my family and don’t do my own groceries and there are other things I can’t control. So I’m making a plan for when I am in more control, and just focusing on changing the things I AM in control over.

I love your blog, thank you.

Delia October 4, 2012 - 7:57 AM

Another point I find interesting: you could put the exact amount we spend on our hair every month into an investment account for just 8 years starting at age 20 and stop. Never put in another cent and just allow the compound interest to accumulate. In other words, do nothing after age 28 but just let it sit and accumulate. That money would turn into $1 million dollars by retirement age.

Yep. That’s how much we waste on our hair, trying to make it look like the folks we hate — and think hate US — so much. Funny.

Thora October 4, 2012 - 9:10 AM

The most telling part of the article is, as is evidenced in real life, our definition of what “long hair” is.

Erika Nicole Kendall October 4, 2012 - 9:55 AM

Hmmm…what do you mean?

christine January 24, 2013 - 3:34 PM

roflmao..not the grease and the stove..flash back!! never had a weave, been doing some sort of braid or twist for 20 years..i’m a tomboy and never was one to get up and put on alot of makeup or fuss with my hair..i’d rather sleep

Damita Harrell August 2, 2013 - 4:53 PM

9 years ago when I cut my hair into a TWA (teeny weeny afro) my mother looked at me with complete and total disdain and said “It looks like you woke up this morning mad at the world and chopped off your hair, I hate it.” Well luckily for me I was 42 years old at the time and gave less than a damn what my mother thought about my hair. I told her “Well, you just continue to fry and dye those 3 strands you have left and don’t worry about me.” I still love my hair, and I don’t miss one strand of what I cut off.

Erika Nicole Kendall August 4, 2013 - 12:16 PM

Had to have a talk that resembles this with MY Mom, as well. As much as I love her, I had to drop the hammer ONE good time for her to leave me alone. ROFL

Cathy August 25, 2013 - 1:07 AM

Ok Wow. This I love. I’m natural and the funny thing is, it’s not some huge political statement and not even an empowerment type thing on my part, i just kinda fell into it. I have had people question me about my sister locs when I work out or when the weather is hot. (my mom in particular says… “It just looks so HOT. Aren’t you HOT?”) and I finally just had to say, “I do not have a problem with it.” Heck….it’s my hair, when I exercise or just basically LIVE in a hot environment….I still have my hair. I was born with it, and i was designed to have this hair. Feel ya girl 🙂

PoliSportsGuy September 30, 2013 - 11:23 PM

Whoa, wait. You forgot to mention that even after “giving up” on worrying about straight hair, you wound up having great, healthy (and perhaps also healthier?!) hair anyway.

Erika Nicole Kendall October 1, 2013 - 5:11 PM

LOL! Very true. To date, my hair is the longest it has ever been in my life. Well down my back, at this point.

Shamontiel October 2, 2013 - 7:49 PM

I’ve had a relaxer since I was 6 years old but I’ve also been doing workout routines and dance aerobics since I was around 16. I never quite understood putting my hair over my health, but I did it a little bit backwards. I just hawk-eyed beauticians so I could memorize what they were doing and do it on my own instead of dragging myself to salons every 2 weeks. Only time I’d show up was to get my hair cut (I’m not that brave yet, even at 31).

I have seen countless women who are obese with hair beautiful enough to photograph and it makes me sad. Because I know for sure that their hair is a priority but if I were to talk to them about health and weight, I’d get responses about society’s standards when it comes to weight, never mind the whole blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol risks.

I’m not worried about physical appearance so much as HEALTH repercussions. But I do think it’s possible for your hair to still be laid and relaxed or just as fierce and natural. I’ve never agreed with it being one or the other. I’m a walking talking example of someone who hasn’t gone natural but still works out 4-5 times per week and tries a daily goal of 10,000 steps. Just gotta know when to put it in a ponytail or a bun and when to get your hair magazine pose on.

Either way it goes, I appreciate that you’re encouraging fitness. *thumbs up*

Mary March 21, 2014 - 12:43 PM

I so love this article! Full of inspiration! Keeping a healthy body as our first priority is must and don’t mind what other’s think of our hair! Keep it up! Stay healthy and happy!

Annette April 19, 2014 - 10:50 AM

It’s funny that your weight gain happened at the same time your Mom started straightening your hair. I wonder did you feel not good enough or damaged cause she had to fix it. Or was it just straight out stress of trying to fit into the perfect mold of what was acceptable to your Mom? I know I started to gain weight because of fear of not being taken care off, and also my parents fear and uncertainty. It was just a lot of stress and no one to talk to at age 7.

If my mothers friend wasn’t a beautician that did it for a few bucks I don’t know what we would have done. Some times my Mom did it and resented that we didn’t have good hair by pulling and tugging. Most of the time we resorted to doing the relaxers ourselves cause we couldn’t afford it. The results being scalp damage and hair breakage. Thank God that I have made peace with my hair and know how to care more it better.

Shanna April 19, 2014 - 12:18 PM

As a woman with fine, thin, straight hair, I have to tell you that I think your natural hair is beautiful. You mention some of the responses you are getting are “For get her hair, did you see her body? Dang!” But my response is simply “Dang – you look amazing!”

I love your blog, keep sharing!

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