Bringing Up Old Ish: Why Are People STILL Talking About Old Studies On Black Women’s Hair And Exercise?

December 19, 2012  |  

I had my fat-headed intellect insulted yesterday thanks to my Google Alerts when the search term, “African American women” produced all these stories suggesting that the likely reason why I’m overweight, is because of my super-tight hairdo.

From Reuters:

“A number of obstacles may stand between a person and exercise, and hairstyles may be one of them for African-American women, according to a new study.

Researchers found about two of every five African-American women said they avoid exercise because of concerns about their hair, and researchers say that is concerning given the United States’ obesity epidemic.

“As an African-American woman, I have that problem, and my friends have that problem. So I wondered if my patients had that problem,” said Dr. Amy McMichael, the study’s senior researcher and a dermatologist at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

In my Teena Marie voice, I feel like I have been here before. Hmmm…

…Oh yeah, maybe it’s because just last year comments from Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, surgeon general of these United States, suggested a correlation between a woman’s choice of hairstyles and the amount of regular exercise she receives at a hair show in Atlanta. That story circulated around the blogosphere for months, particularly pushing the Negroland Security Advisory level up to Pink – as in Luster’s Pink Oil Moisturizer Hair Lotion — with the black media, who seriously debated the merits of the study. Even the New York Times ran an article about Benjamin’s comments, corroborating her statements with a study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, which found that a third of black women surveyed exercised less because they were concerned it would jeopardize their hair. The Wake Forest University study’s senior researcher, Dr. Amy McMichael said that…

…Wait a minute. Digging back into my Teena Marie bag: Are we talking about the same Dr. Amy McMichael from Wake Forest in North Carolina? The same Dr. McMichael cited in the Reuters article about a “new” study on correlations between a black woman’s hairstyle choice and the amount of exercise we receive?  Well, how many damn studies is Dr. McMichael going to do on this topic?  According to a news release on the Wake Forest Baptist Center website, which is a network of Wake Forest University, the study had been previously presented at the Fourth International Symposium of the L’Oréal Institute for Ethnic Hair & Skin Research in 2008.

Well, why are we labeling a four-year-old study, which has been previously reported on, as new? According to the rest of the article in Reuters, the study has now been published in the Archives of Dermatology. I have no idea what that is, but I imagine in the world of dermatology, getting published in the Archives of Dermatology is probably a pretty prestigious honor. To that I say congratulations to Dr. McMichael. You go, girl!

But Reuters, in my most honest of opinions, tried it! For what? I’ll let you all speculate. But the international news agency often feeds stories to both major and smaller media outlets. And as of this morning, publications from the Huffington Post to the Daily Mail UK to New York Magazine all have started talking about this “new” study that draws a correlation between the hairstyle choices of black women and the amount of exercise we engage in. Gawker writer Hamilton Nolan, citing this “new” study, decided it was time for some “real talk” with the womenfolk in his piece, “Ladies: Exercise is More Important than Your Hair.” And considering the recent uproar around Gabby Douglas, who had to defend herself against some comments made via Twitter, I have no doubt that this story about this “new” study will travel even further through more annoying terrain.

Black bodies are always up for public discussion–even at a time when the national conversation should be on mass shootings in the suburbs and gun violence in the inner cities, assault rifle bans, mass school closings in Philadelphia and the fiscal cliff. I just hope that folks don’t waste too much thought on it. While there is no doubt in my mind that there are some women (including half of the 103 black women cited in this study), who listed their hair as the main reason why they don’t exercise, I also believe that some folks will have one reason or another for anything that they have no interest in doing.  Not to mention, we just had this conversation, like, last year. Can we at least wait until the fifth-year anniversary of the four-year-old study’s induction into the Archives of Dermatology?

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  • scandalous7

    Um this is one of the things holding me back from excersizing though. Its a serious problem. This issue is very salient with black women.

    • Lisa D

      This shouldn’t stop you from exercising. At least walk! It kills me black women will walk around with a $200 hairdo on a $5 body. What is the point! Blacks are dying from heart disease and obesity is out of control. I guess its better to look good at your funeral than to sweat out your hair.

  • heyheynow

    first of all shoutout to Dr. McMichael for studying in NC whoop whoop…and shoutout to my Soror Regina Benjamin oo-oop…but I certainly believe there is some truth to this personally when I sweat my hair gets very curly and it’s wrap from there in terms of flat ironing which isn’t good for your hair its just a mess but the main reason I don’t excercise is because I hate it and I think other black women feel like I do and oh we love to cook and not very healthy food so all those contributing factors have led to this epidemic but I can say hair is truly one of the main reasons
    How long will we talk about our lack of excercise, high aids rates, and why we don’t have a man I’m so tired of this so i’m making changes

    • scandalous7

      ya me too. We must get it together

  • Guest360

    I’m not really getting the issue here. No not EVERY black woman does this but just because everyone doesn’t do this, doesn’t make it any less true. I’ve been around far too many black women who don’t want to “sweat out their perm” or hell, refuse to learn how to swim because her hair doesn’t “act right” in water. It’s the truth for quite a few women. I have no problems with doctors coming out and saying whats what. As a society, we give way too much importance on how our hair looks over the well being of our health, our wallets, our self-esteem. It’s ridiculous. Don’t be embarrassed just because doctors are coming out and showing how crazy it all is. Maybe then we too will see it for what it is and make some serious life changes.

  • Nikki

    I do light things like Pilates during the week and the day before I get my hair done I do really sweaty workouts. My hair appt. is always at 7am, first one in, first one out. I do braids in the summer so I work out hard then.

  • We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full.

  • Nope

    1) it’s statstical fact that most Black women do not work out

    2) even the US Suregeon General (who is a Black woman btw) said hair is a p*ss poor excuse for Black women not working out

    • Nope

      And before I get accused of ‘generalizing’ (in other words not being blindly complimentary, usually towards women) those STATS are from the US Office of Minority Health, and the Minority Women’s Health…..

  • There is some truth to it. I’ve had girlfriends who I’ve told I was heading to the gym tell me. “Nuh uh and ain’t gettin all funky and sweaty. Shoot I JUST got my head done!” Don’t forget the other excuse, “Nuh uh, Reggie likes meat on his bones I don’t wanna get too skinny. “

  • pretty1908

    there is some truth to this… i’ve women say and even phaedra said she wanted women to get a workout dvd without all of that sweating… Ladies if you don’t sweat you aren’t burning fat sorry…I don’t mind sweating out my fro and weave but that’s just me