Black Athletes Need Hair Care, Too


I skipped prom to race in a track meet during my junior year of high school. Yes, I chose to run around in circles over getting dressed up and spending time with my friends at the biggest social event of the year. My reason? I didn’t want to “deal with” my hair.

I was one of the few Black girls at my all-girls boarding school in semi-rural Connecticut. I grew up in Brooklyn, where Black hair salons are usually a stone’s throw away and the pressure of existing in a wealthy, white space was much less crushing. So for those four years away from home, I had to balance discovering my Blackness and doing my own hair for the first time, all while being relatively new to running.

I didn’t know how to use a good wide-toothed comb and seldom had easy access to no-lye relaxer. And I definitely did not have time for regular deep-conditioning treatments amidst classmates telling me my hair “felt like worms” (yes, I told them they couldn’t touch my hair; they did so anyway). Since then, I’ve found luck with a hair care brand called Aphogee to reduce damage from too-tight ponytails and general dryness.

I was also the only Black person on the girls’ cross country team and stuck out like a sore thumb among my white teammates; I won almost every race by a landslide. Most people don’t expect an American Black girl to be a cross country runner, and especially not finishing in first place for an elite school. People stared at me before and after each meet, which made me self-conscious and deeply uncomfortable. To say that I struggled to take care of my hair, particularly in this environment, would be a monumental understatement. All my success and accomplishments just made me feel smaller. I felt like I wasn’t supposed to like running, let alone be good at it.

My teammates were as accepting as most non-Black girls can be: kind, but unaware of their privilege. One girl asked me how my summer training went after she detailed running in Nantucket under the supervision of a personal coach. Another would let me borrow running clothes if I forgot to do laundry because she had such a surplus of Lululemon. It was very clear to me that the girls never understood how our school was built for students like them; Rockefeller and Bush family members were alumni. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s muse, who inspired Bocoran Slot Gacor Hari Ini Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, matriculated in 1914. And almost 100 years later I, a young Black girl, graduated from the very same school.

Black hair is as stigmatized by non-Black society as it is prized by those who wear it, and the fitness and wellness space is no exception. According to a study by Perception Institute, 1 in 3 Black women cite their hair as the reason they have avoided exercise in the past, compared to 1 in 10 white women. It comes as no surprise that the adult running community is overwhelmingly non-Black.

Dry shampoo and a Dyson Airwrap does not work for most Black folks after a 6-mile jog through the park. Even if those were viable solutions for post-run haircare, many Black runners cannot afford to spend time and money fixing styles that cost time and money in the first place. I’ve been to most boutique fitness studios at this point: SoulCycle, Rumble, SLT, Y7, you name it. And not once at any of these studios, including gyms like Equinox that have a wider variety of fitness options, have I seen products for Black hair in the locker room. I avoid using the shampoo at all these places, because their products leave my hair feeling brittle. Like my boarding school, these fitness options are not built for me either.


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