I will not let my hair hamper my health.

This is the motto I crafted a few years back when I struggled to exercise, and the appearance of my hair was one excuse of many not to.

So imagine my surprise and pleasure when the U.S. Surgeon General herself exposed this issue while speaking at a black hair show in Atlanta. Wow, I thought, Dr. Regina M. Benjamin gets it. Ah, the benefits of diversity in the halls of power.

Benjamin, like myself, is an African-American woman. And yes, hair is a “thing” within the community of black American women: not only a thing of beauty, but a thing of power and politics, a thing of conformity and rebellion.

And the thing is: Black hair can be time-consuming to care for, especially if it is relaxed, flat-ironed or pressed with heat to straighten it. (Watch Chris Rock’s movie Good Hair and you’ll get the idea.)

The concept of getting one’s hair wet with sweat during a workout after many hours and dollars spent in the beauty salon can give many a black woman pause. I used to be one of them. And with the high incidence of obesity among black women in the U.S., Benjamin was right to call attention to it while speaking to people who have almost an intimate nature with those women — their hair stylists.

Hair matters, but it should not be more important than doing what needs to be done to avoid serious health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

I probably have it easier than some of my fellow African-American sisters. My natural hair is long, very thick and curly/wavy, especially when wet. Society may prefer straight to curly when it comes to black hair, but my hair in its natural state is just a little more acceptable than if my hair texture consisted of tight coils plastered to my scalp.

Such attitudes must change. As a society, we need to support one another by being more accepting of our natural hair, whether it’s bone straight, short and tightly curled, a big, frizzy ‘fro or somewhere in between.

Advertisements