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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