I was very particular about when I worked out. I had it calculated down to the day.
It was usually around the 17-day mark, which meant the new growth wasn’t hiding anymore, and wrapping my hair before bed was pointless. Since my hair already made me look like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, sweating it out at the gym didn’t matter.
I’d walk into an aerobics class with no fear or apprehension, and gladly sweat out all the toxins. When I left, I felt renewed, refreshed and revitalized, and my hair? Oh well, that was just its problem.
I would feel a sense of pride. Not only did I squeeze in time to take care of me, but I knew I ultimately was doing the right thing.
But those moments of accomplishment are few and far between, because like most black women, I put my hair before my health, which is no kinds of cool.
According to Womensheart.org, Black women are 35% more likely to die from the silent killer-better known as Heart Disease-than our white counterparts. This disease, which takes the lives of one woman of color a minute, is caused by poor diet, obesity, high-blood pressure and physical inactivity. All these factors can be prevented if we were in the gym half as much as if we were in the hair salon.
My grandmother always told me “Your hair is your beauty” and while I have all of 32 strands on my head because of my short cut, those five words stuck with me. As women of color, it’s fair to say we feel off and out of sorts when our hair isn’t at its best. We can pencil in bushy eyebrows and paint our nails and toes if need be, but our hair requires special attention and a pretty penny, which is why many women opt to preserve it then work out.
But not all women.
Zumba instructors Cristin Wood and Dominique Brown fell in love with the fitness craze and didn’t let their hair stop them from enjoying the benefits of a good workout.
“It’s just hair,” 27-year-old Wood said.
Zumba is a Colombian dance fitness program that incorporates Hip-Hop, Soca, Samba, Mambo, Merengue, and some Bollywood choreography. The aerobics program was created by fitness instructor and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez in the 1990s.
Brown was first introduced to Zumba in January. She attended a class that was packed to capacity and the only room left was in the front near the instructor. The 27-year-old graduate student wasn’t intimidated in the slightest; she just followed the rhythms of the Salsa music.
“I had such an amazing time and it was a really great workout,” said the Delaware native.
The instructor asked if she’d be interested in becoming an instructor herself. Brown, who has been dancing since she was 3 years old, jumped to the idea.
“I had been itching to do something and what could be better than doing what you love and getting paid for it?” Brown said.
Wood’s experience on the other hand wasn’t so love at first sight.
For three months, a friend asked Wood to attend class with her and finally she gave in.
“Well I tried a class and hated it!” the Ohio native said. “The instructors of all of the classes I tried had no rhythm, I couldn’t figure out what all of the hype was about. Then in June 2011, I was in San Diego for work and a friend took me to her Zumba class and I fell in love. It felt like a party and before I knew it, 60 minutes had gone by and it was over.”
Both teach their respective classes twice a week and for 60 minutes each class. While they work up a good sweat, they say their hair is the least of their worries.
Brown, who wore her hair chemical and relaxer free for the past nine years, admits that although she wasn’t concerned with her hair when she decided to become a Zumba instructor, she does enjoy a very convenient perk.
“I wasn’t too concerned. However, I am a little spoiled in this area because my father is an owner and operator of a hair salon. So I have been a client (who doesn’t pay) of his all my life.
Wood, who is also natural, doesn’t have that same luxury as Brown, but doesn’t care because she knows what her priorities are.
“It’s just about deciding what your priority is. Anyone can have a flat iron, I want a flat stomach,” Wood said. “There were many mornings I woke up a looked a hot mess! but I still had to go on with my day. When you have confidence in who you are and the “glow” as my co-workers call it, no one cares that I had an afro puff on top of my head. “People always try to say working out is easier when you have natural hair,” Wood continued. “However, when I was in college I had dance practice five times a week, plus performance, and still managed to have decent looking hair. People make time for what they want to make time for.”
Wood says she has no tricks for women who want to work out and maintain their hair. It’s all trial and error. However, Brown does.
“When working out, most women want to wrap their hair, don’t do it” Brown says. “You are trapping the sweat underneath your cap. It is best to just use a sweat absorption headband, such as the Save Your Do Gymwrap.”