Study: Hair care might be barrier to health for black women. Should doctors be talking to us about it?

Years ago, I made the kind suggestion that perhaps what could be behind many black women’s reluctance to exercise could be the fact that we are not trying to sweat in our hair, knowing that it is difficult to maintain a straightened hairstyle if we do not do it. I’m sweating.

(I mean, years ago, I was also declaring that I would never be natural… so “years ago” doesn’t mean much, right?)

However, I was reminded of this when I saw this study by Dr. Sophia Tolliver at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center:

African American women face a unique challenge when exercising regularly: their hair. However, it is a problem that is not often recognized by primary care physicians as a barrier to a healthy lifestyle. A new study by researchers from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center finds that while doctors value conversations about exercise with their African American patients, they rarely discuss how hair care affects physical activity.

“As physicians, if we don’t have those specific conversations, we’re not going to do everything we can to lower this barrier and really help African American women overcome what they feel is stopping them from exercising,” she said. [Dr. Tolliver].

The study found that 95% of primary care physicians have had conversations about exercise with their African American patients. However, more than 3/4 have never talked about hair care as a challenge and only about a third feel comfortable talking about it.

“It’s going to come down to increasing education about African American hair care, cultural practices when it comes to hair, and ways to counsel a patient in an office visit on how to lower that barrier,” Tolliver said. [source]

I want to return to a question I asked a few years ago on this specific topic:

There is a lot at stake for black people in this economy. Black unemployment, right now, is in double digits. We saw many of our loved ones lose their homes. Hell, many of us have loved ones who live with us until they recover. Entire households depend solely on us staying employed at our “good jobs.”

And in the midst of all this, we may desperately want to exercise. But, if we never learn how to care for our hair while working out, or if we don’t have time to straighten or re-straighten it as often as we need to… the choice becomes clear: skip the workouts and keep my job; or work out anyway, let my hair suffer, and potentially face harassment at the office for it. —The Beauty Shop: How does your work and love life affect the way you wear your hair? (2013)

I have a theory.

I feel like, in today’s political climate, it’s important to call it like it is, right? Politeness doesn’t do us any favors if it means we’re simply stirring up things that subtly have a damaging effect, right?

The idea that black women must be conscious of maintaining a particular hairstyle (a hairstyle that is expensive and difficult to maintain) in order to maintain their job (or, for that matter, their relationship in case their partner doesn’t like the hair curly and curly). It is a function of white supremacy. Can’t I come to work and earn a living without straight hair? Can’t I use locs if I want? Is the only way I wear my hair in my workplace the way most familiar to white women? That is white supremacy. Is wearing hairstyles that can only be found in the black community prohibited in the workplace? That is white supremacy.

For God’s sake, California Governor Gavin Newsom fair made it illegal to discriminate against black women’s natural hair in schools and workplaces. In 2020. In the year two thousand twenty.

I also think about the research outlining all the racism in the healthcare industry (most of which is chronicled here):how doctors refused to prescribe painkillers en masse to black patients, How doctors ignore black patients’ own assessments of their ailments., How medical students perceive blacks as having the genetic ability to endure pain.—And how that racism also serves as a function of white supremacy. Racism and doctors’ inability to see their own biases are literally killing black women as we speak.

So when you show me research that suggests that the answer to a problem created by racism What is it for doctors with their own racist biases to talk to black women about this topic? Doctors who don’t listen to black women? The same doctors who struggle to empathize with black women?

Are our expectations too high for the healthcare industry right now?

(Not to mention, if a doctor’s basic suggestion will be to “eat less, move more,” is it worth it?)

If racism is already contributing to negative health outcomes for Black women because doctors don’t listen to us, we’re supposed to expect doctors to actually listen to us. hear us when we talk about our problems?

We can barely get the doctors hear us when we talk about the pain of bones hanging from their sockets or other real and sincere health problems. Are doctors supposed to worry about something they probably consider very petty?

Black women face unique challenges in 2020, and it will take people who respect, care, and empathize with us to ensure those challenges are appropriately addressed. Are we being aware of what it will take to doctors be part of that conversation?

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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