Work Out and Protect Black Hair? No Sweat

Single-Minded: This hair wrap takes away African-American women's last good excuse for avoiding the gym.

Nicole Ari Parker (Courtesy of WBLS)

Just writing this column is taking much longer than it should have. Why? Because of excuses.

In college I learned the phrase, "Excuses are the tools of the incompetent upon which monuments of nothingness are built." The oft-repeated axiom was supposed to motivate me to study harder and be a better person in general. In the end it made me feel like a slacker.

I was a fine connoisseur of exemption back then. If a paper was so far past its due date that it reeked, it was because I didn't have time to properly "delve" into the material, not because I'd tried a Long Island iced tea for the first (or sixth) time the night before. Late tuition checks were always "in the mail." And the gym? Don't even get me started on the gym.

For many young professional African-American women, freshman year was when we joined the sorority of hair. There was the ritual of finding your own "stylist" and sacrificing a nice chunk of your work-study paycheck every two weeks at her altar. Your hair quickly became something that had to be "done," like homework and losing your virginity. It was a status symbol that had to be preserved. Exercise, and the inevitable sweat that followed, was the antithesis of looking polished, grown-up and capable.

If you hit the gym, then your hair suffered. All that sweat would wreak havoc on the flat-iron do that you paid good money for. A choice had to be made. And in many cases, women ruled in favor of their hair over their health. I was one of them, until actress Nicole Ari Parker came along.

In August 2011, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said, " ... When you're starting to exercise, you look for reasons not to, and sometimes the hair is one of those reasons." In response to Benjamin's exposure of the dirty little secret that most black women cling to when it comes to choosing a press over the bench press, Parker, like Madam C.J. Walker before her, dreamed up a solution: the Save Your Do Gymwrap. Ladies, we've been outed.

The gym wrap is a specially designed headband that allows its wearer to have a hard-core workout without sacrificing her hairdo. Using Parker's patented "edge control technology," the headband repels moisture, releases heat and helps your hair lie flat while you break a sweat.

"It's really about being part of the solution," explained Parker to ESPN in March when the wrap was released. She added, "We, as women, just want to put our best self forward all the time. Between the kids, the jobs and everything, no matter what color you are, cardio is probably not on the top of your list. You think you need the newest shoe and the newest outfit. We forget exercising is free."

The gym wrap, however, is not, but it is reasonably priced at $24.95 to $29.95. With 10 percent of proceeds going to the Sophie's Voice Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about spina bifida, there's absolutely no excuse not to try out Parker's creation. So I did.

I bought the "full triangle" wrap -- one of three options that also include the narrow band and the wide band. From my days as a professional cheerleader, I knew that short hair that can't be pulled into a ponytail needs wider coverage during a workout to avoid frizzing up your edges, your "kitchen" and your crown. So I tied on my new sweatband, making sure to cover my entire head, and hopped on a bike for a two-mile ride.