Every once in a while, I get into conversations about black women, fitness and hair. Yes, it’s a thing, and a pretty big one: I was even a guest on the wonderful The Start Line podcast recently to discuss the topic and more (have a listen here). Naturally, it got me thinking about my own hair challenges over the years. As an extremely active 90s kid, I was all about two hair styles – braided extensions à la Moesha or beaded braids like the Williams sisters back in the day. Those Mo braids were LIFE, and perfect for the physical, sweaty demands of P.E, climbing trees, or running riot around the neighbourhood. All I had to do was tie it back with a scrunchie and that was me, done. But the second look? Not so much. If getting slapped in the face by those beads mid-jumping jack wasn’t a problem enough, try losing a few rows and facing the wrath of a Nigerian mother at home. Double ouch.
Fast forward to adulthood, and the dilemma of fitness versus hair is far from over. Take the 2014 study for instance, that found 45% of black women in the US avoid exercise altogether (because no one’s trying to sweat out a fresh perm, sew-in, flat iron, twist out, or any other expensive / time-consuming hairstyle that may look fly, but isn’t here for perspiration).
But where there’s a will, there’s always a way
When I first started taking long distance running seriously, I really struggled with my in-between lengths natural hair. It was never long enough for a bun or short enough to look cute-cute, so I resorted to hiding it away – usually under a bandana, baseball cap or some sort of head-wrap. The good news? It looked kinda fly. The bad news? A musty head of hair and dry scalp issues. I’d eventually learn the error of my ways, and now I can say I’ve developed the right habits to keep my hair on point during my training. If I fancy a swim, I wet my hair and oil my hairline before slinging on my swimming cap to avoid chlorine damage, then co-wash afterwards. Off to the gym or going for a run? Time to let my scalp breathe by tying my hair in two flat twists, or wearing a sweat band (if it’s in a protective style). Post sesh, I’ll do a quick clean of my hairline and scalp with baby wipes and freshen my hair with a homemade lavender oil and water spray. Easy.
When it comes down to it – and in the words of the great India.Arie – I am not my hair. At my big big age, I can’t afford for it to be a barrier to my health and fitness, so I’m thankful for the dope resources out there that offer guidance and inspiration. Case in point? The incredible #MyRunningHair series from RunGrl, a US-based digital media and event platform for black women distance runners. And, as the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. It’s always good to talk and ask questions because people have got great tips – and of course, you can always drop me a line. Now, excuse me while I massage my scalp as I do my morning physio exercises. That’s really the secret to great haircare and fitness – multi-tasking!
By: Matilda Egere-Cooper
Photo: Suad Kamardeen