Actress Nicole Ari Parker urges fitness
In 2009, comedian Chris Rock supposedly betrayed black women. Rock shed a fascinating, eye-opening and thoughtful spotlight on the extraordinary lengths that black women go through to maintain their hair in his controversial documentary "Good Hair."
Rock caught a lot of backlash -- especially from black women -- but the truth is, whether it is paid for, natural or chemically enhanced, black women don't play around when it comes to our hair.
Some believe that this obsession has had a damning effect on the health and fitness of black women. Speaking at the renowned Bronner Bros. International Hair Show last August in Atlanta -- an event that primarily showcases the newest hairstyles and trends for African-American women -- Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, a black woman, chastised other black women for forgoing exercise to maintain their hair. She also revealed an awful statistic: Nearly 50 percent of black women over age 20 are overweight or obese, compared with 33 percent of white women and 43 percent of Hispanic women.
Benjamin's words angered some people, but they also proved to actress Nicole Ari Parker that she was on the right track.
Parker is the creator of the Save Your Do Gymwrap , which she hails as a lifesaver for women who want to be active but also preserve their hair. The wrap, which she released earlier this month and comes in different sizes and colors, uses edge control technology to absorb sweat and heat while allowing cool air in. So instead of your hair being soaked after a workout, it's dry.
The wrap costs between $24.95 and $29.95. Ten percent of the proceeds go to Sophie's Voice Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Parker and her husband, Boris Kodjoe, to honor their daughter Sophie, who has spina bifida.
"It's really about being part of the solution," said Parker, who will star as Blanche DuBois in the Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" starting April 22 but is perhaps best known for her role as Teri Joseph in the award-winning Showtime series "Soul Food."
Parker's creation might not sound like a big deal, but if we're keeping it real, any woman who spends good money on her hair isn't eager to ruin it by working out.
Parker admits she once used her hair as an excuse not to work out, so much so that she looked up last year and realized she'd gained 30 pounds.
"I would have pancakes," Parker said. "I'd take my kids to school. I'd have lunch. I'd have pasta and mashed potatoes with butter for dinner and a glass of wine and I'm not doing anything. Maybe 20 minutes on the treadmill.
"But my hair was tight."
Parker lost the weight training for a fitness competition -- which she won -- and she tested out Save Your Do as she trained. She said it worked beautifully.
"[With the head wrap] I went through 45 minutes of intense boot camp with multiple circuit training, indoors and outdoors," said Parker, who went through 17 prototypes before settling on the final version. "I washed it. I dried it. I threw it on the floor. I really tried to find a way to make it perfect."
Besides offering a product that hopefully inspires more black women to stay fit, Parker has embraced being a fitness role model. Parker works out daily wearing T-shirts that read "Black Women Work Out Too."
As Parker points out, even though there are scores of celebrated black athletes, fitness isn't necessarily a priority in the black community. It needs to be, especially considering that The New England Journal of Medicine last year released a study that said that by 2020, as many as 70 percent of black women will be obese.
"I think it's one of those things just the image of it hasn't been us," Parker said. "We've cornered the market on the image of a great athlete. That's been extremely powerful, but there hasn't been enough stress on how that athlete got so great."
Although Parker has emphasized improving the health of black women, she hopes all women realize that committing to fitness should be their most important pursuit.
"I'm just going by the patterns I see," Parker said. "And the patterns I see are 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. We forget it only takes a little bit every day."
Jemele Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.