America's surgeon general Regina M Benjamin has been having a bad hair week. After claiming too many women – particularly black women – forgo exercise because they're worried it will ruin their hair – she has been slammed from all sides.
To be fair, it sounds like the most ridiculous of excuses. After all it is pretty hard to argue that hairstyling is the root cause of obesity, but despite the uproar, there's a kernel of truth in her claim. Many women I've spoken to have confirmed it with shame and a glint of embarrassment that I've come to recognise because I've had that glint in my eye before too. One admitted: "I avoid the gym and exercising in between weaves." Another said: "When I have a weave, I only do exercises that allow me to do so with my hair down." And of course, the classic: "At school, I never swam if my hair was out of braids."
Dr Benjamin explained: "Being an African-American woman myself, I have to go through those same trials and tribulations when I exercise, so I started to realise that this is probably a barrier for many women."
At the risk of writing yet another piece about black women's oh-so-amazing technicolor dreamhair, black women collectively do spend a lot of money and time on their hair; for relaxed hair, you're chemically straightening hair every six to eight weeks at £30 a pop on average, and that's exclusive of upkeep treatments. A good weave can cost anything up to £200 – so why throw that away in a chlorine-treated pool?
But there's also the issue of time, which affects us all. For lunchtime work-outs there simply isn't enough time to restyle before returning to your desk and the extra minutes in sorting out long hair can be offputting to anyone who feels their life is busy enough. So what's the solution? Personally, I circumvented the drama by lopping all my hair off. Now I have a baby afro I can wet with almost no consequences. Failing that, embrace the sweat. You may look a mess, but with all the endorphins rushing through your body you probably won't care.