It's not because they're habit-forming or carcinogenic or a gateway to more dangerous substances. It's because a woman who spent $60 and four (or eight) hours in the stylist's chair is not going to be eager to hit the gym and wreck her hair, and if you don't get that, well, you're probably a guy.
Surgeon General Regina Benjamin gets it. She is a doctor whose mother was a hairstylist. She knows high-maintenance hair can be an obstacle to exercise, especially for African-American women like herself. She's performing a huge public service by calling women out on it.
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"Oftentimes you get women saying, 'I can't exercise today because I don't want to sweat my hair back or get my hair wet,'" Benjamin told The New York Times. "I hate to use the word 'excuse,' but that's one of them."
Earlier this month, Benjamin served as honorary judge for a "hair fitness competition" at a trade show that drew some 60,000 stylists in Atlanta. Contestants were asked to produce exercise-friendly hairstyles for low-, moderate- and high-impact workouts. The event was co-hosted by Bronner Bros., which specializes in hair and skin care for African-Americans, and insurance giant UnitedHealthcare. Grand prize was $5,000.
The focus was on black women, who have a higher obesity rate than any other demographic group. Half of African-American women over age 20 are obese, compared with 36 percent of all women and 34 percent of adults overall. In a study done by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, one in three black women said concerns about their hair made them think twice about exercise.
But the phenomenon isn't limited to black women. Dedicated female jocks tend to have wash-and-wear hair to facilitate their regular visits to the gym, but for everyone else, the post-workout hair regimen is a lot like starting over. Sweat and water have a way of undoing the work of flattening irons, curling wands and blow dryers. Who has time to do all that again? And who wants to haul around all that gear — not to mention all that "product"? Let's not even mention the makeup thing.
Again, you get it or you don't. Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research, doesn't. "The role of the surgeon general is traditionally and appropriately to take on big issues," he told the Times. "I don't know whether the surgeon general's role is to engage in smaller issues like this. It strikes me as bizarre."
Bizarre? What's bizarre about targeting behaviors that contribute to our nationwide obesity epidemic, and the heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure that go with it?
Telling women to eat moderately and get in 150 minutes worth of cardio each week obviously isn't getting the job done. Give Benjamin credit for having the moxie to recognize one reason for that.