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Do black women care more about hair than health?

FROM FLAB TO FAB: Jennifer Hudson

THE BLACK community is especially susceptible to lifestyle diseases such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and stroke.

But there still lingers a notion that women in particular have shunned getting active which is vital to being healthy.

Statistics from the NHS Information Centre UK claim that 38 per cent of Black African women were obese, along with 32 per cent of Black Caribbean women.

While the food we eat is the quickest way to stay on the right side of curvy, increasing our activity levels would certainly help to reduce the pounds.

A host of excuses why black women are disproportionately overweight range from biological predisposition, a chosen desire to be voluptuous, to even avoiding exercise because it messes up our hair.

But do these myths hold any truth?


It appears that the stereotype does not only beset UK black women. In 2007 a study of African American women carried out by Wake Forest University in North Carolina revealed that 40 per cent of the 103 women who were interviewed admitted to avoiding exercise because they didn't want to ruin their hair-dos.

The research found that more than half of the women surveyed were exercising for less than 75 minutes per week – the US Government recommends 150 minutes. One in four admitted to doing no exercise at all.

But in recent years, high-profile black women like singers Jordin Sparks and Jennifer Hudson – who shed an incredible 80 pounds – have been inspiring others to get into shape.

Bella-Marie, 42, of Walthamstow, east London, has worked as a personal trainer and lifestyle consultant for more than 13 years.

She runs Fit Life, which organises boot camps, exercise classes and offers nutritional advice on health and fitness.

“Not wanting to mess up the hair is an old myth. Had you had asked me five years ago I would have said definitely, but now a lot has changed because there is more information out there. I do know women who do not go to the gym in the week they have had their hair pressed, or have been to the hairdressers. However, there is more information on how to take care of your hair while working out, so that has changed a lot within the last two or three years.”

The mother-of-one believed that more women were making their health a priority.

FLAB TO FAB: Super svelte Jennifer Hudson is the living embodiment that black women do work out

She added: “You Tube has helped because there are women out there trying to promote healthy hair and that has helped change the thinking towards going to the gym. Also because of this stereotype, there’s been a positive side-effect because there are women who think, ‘no, I don’t agree with that I am going to go to the gym, I’m going to do that,’ so a lot had changed in the last couple of years.”

Bella-Marie noted that although attitudes to health were changing. She said “there was still a narrow minded view about with eating” and believed that there needs to be a stronger emphasis on educating people about food. She was quick to point out that her hair has never stopped her from going to the gym.


She said: “I’ve actually gone from the hairdressers straight to the gym. The way I see it is, my hair is done, but my health is more important.”

Toyin Kasali, 30, a legal advisor for the charity Prostate Cancer UK, has been running twice-weekly sessions at Hyde Park over the past two-and-a-half months to encourage women who may feel uncomfortable in gyms to get fit.

The seesions are mainly attended mostly by black and mixed-race women. Kasali also agreed that the myth of black women not working out because they don’t want to ruin their hair does not exist.

She said: “People will look to excuses where they can. Your hair is not a prevention and doesn’t stop you from doing what you can. I must admit with swimming in particular, there is a low uptake, but there are companies who specialise in hats or people who wear weaves etc. I get frustrated about people thinking that black women don’t train.”

Kasali is currently training for the Edinburgh Marathon 2014 to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK.

She added: “I go to Thornton Heath Leisure Centre and see loads of black women of all ages playing netball. I also see black women at the Fitness First in Streatham doing Zumba, which is a very highly energised class.”

She added: “Women are working out, but I think food and nutrition is the problem as I myself have struggled with food.”

Former personal trainer, writer and motivational speaker, Crystal Adell, is another person who has grown weary of hearing that “we don’t work out.”

She decided to do something about it and set up Women “Do” Workout! in 2009 as a campaign on Facebook for promoting and “championing black women around the world who felt determined to not be a part of disparaging statistical data regarding health and obesity.”

She also launched a website a year later.

Adell said: “I knew for a fact that there were other women out there who were working out and I got so tired of people telling me ‘I didn’t know black women worked out.’ So I figured if I turned it around, it would make us all feel differently.”

Since its launch, the page has attracted 410,000 people, acting as a forum where women can encourage other to keep up with their exercise regime, give advice and “share with one another to keep each other inspired.”

She added: “It shows that when we work together, when we care about each other, we can accomplish so much.”

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