(UN)just Hair: Can we be fit and fashionable at the same time? - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

(UN)just Hair: Can we be fit and fashionable at the same time?

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Has anything changed since we first reported on the dilemma facing women with naturally curly hair?

Research showed they often passed up the gym or healthy physical activity because it would sweat their hair ‘out'--as in ‘out' of style with the sleek, straight (preferably long) hair considered business appropriate and socially attractive.

The fear is, you won't look like Beyonce with her lustrous locks, or any of the countless other superstars whose image is crowned with crazy amounts of silky hair.

"When I asked individuals ‘why aren't you exercising more?' I would get things like ‘well, I don't wanna sweat my hair back,'" Dr. Regina Benjamin explains. "30 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and it's worse with African Americans and minorities."

Just about anyone with curly hair has tried to either beat it into submission with chemical and heat, or camouflage it with weave and wig. Though fashion and advertising images present some rare exceptions, straight hair is as in as thin thighs.

The irony is that keeping curly hair straight can keep you from the very activities that would impact those thighs! More importantly, we need to impact the diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other health conditions that attack African American women more, while we exercise less.

The hair barrier for exercise is so serious that the U.S. Surgeon General has taken up the crusade. Dr. Regina Benjamin judges a competition for the best exercise-friendly hairstyles. This, after a study by Wake Forest University finds that one-third of African American women questioned said they exercise less than they'd like to, because of their hair.

"When I hear, ‘well, I would love to work out but I can't do anything with my hair when it's done,' I say, ‘well, that's okay cause you're gonna look fabulous in a casket," TV meteorologist Rhonda Lee says.

Rhonda Lee went for a close crop so she could work out. It hasn't worked out so well for her career, though. She lost her television job.

"Viewers, more than anything, were fine with it," says Lee. "It was typically a problem with decision makers in the newsroom."

While 50 percent of the women in the study said they had thought about changing to a more exercise-friendly style, the owner of Freedom Salon says they don't really feel free to do so.

"Our mothers have just told us, ‘you know, honey if you wanna be pretty let mommy straighten your hair,'" Nicole Mangrum of Freedom Salon says. "If you're hearing that over and over as a little girl it seeps really deep down into your subconscious mind."

Melanie Mityas regularly comes to Salon Blonde to have her curly locks tamed.  She schedules her workouts around those visits because after all the time and money to get it straight all it takes is moisture to take it back.

"People aren't born with hair that naturally sleek and so that, it takes some time and effort and we all want that," explains Mityas.

I've interviewed smart, savvy, beautiful and successful women about this dilemma. Most have devised hair management methods to accommodate their work out schedule. From the way they schedule their gym time and salon visits, to the styles they choose to wear, they have great insight. They also realize the dissatisfaction with their natural appearance speaks to a crisis in self-esteem.

At X-Sport Fitness in the South Loop, some had strategies for hair survival: wraps, headbands and ponytails. The instructor says there's an encouraging trend.

"A lot more women are just finding other ways to kinda deal with their hair," says Emmanuella St. Juste.

"On Thursdays, I get my hair done so Friday, Saturday and Sunday I won't work out," says Ivy Porter. "Then on Monday I hit the gym hard."

Some have abandoned the straight standard altogether.

"It's manageable for me so I can wake up and go, with my twists," says Bianca Spratt.

"It's awesome for working out," says Donna Ivy of her workout-friendly hairstyle. "I love it; it's given me incentive to come here and be on time for my classes and be fit."

Maybe it takes something big to compete with that constant message that straighter is better.

"Look at our first lady. Look how silky and smooth her hair is, and straight," says Helen Blackwell Scott. "I wanna see her wear an afro puff."

Dr. Benjamin says she'll mention the issue to Michelle Obama.

"She's such a wonderful stylist and anything that she does, if she did, she'd do it very well," Dr. Benjamin says.

WHAT WILL WE DO TO CHANGE THE DEADLY FORMULA? Will you rock a work-out friendly hairstyle? Will your bosses, co-workers, clients, customers and viewers accept a new category of beautiful hair?

Share your feedback:

Television meteorologist Rhonda Lee says her viewers were more accepting of her short, natural hairstyle than the bosses who fired her. Tell us on Facebook: Which of these looks do you prefer and why?

Gabby Douglas got a lot of negative feedback when she won Olympic gold in gymnastics with her hair pinned up and ponytailed. Then she glammed up with a Hollywood style makeover. Tell us on Facebook: What message does that send to other little girls whose natural hair looks like hers "before?"

African-American women are not the only ones who go to great lengths to straighten their hair. L.A. prosecutor Marcia Clark wore her hair naturally curly when she was in the spotlight of the O.J. Simpson trial, but later went for a smooth look. Tell us on Facebook: Do you think straight hair looks more "professional?" Or is it just a matter of preference? 

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