hairy situations

Throw Out Your Hair Ties and Work Out With Your Hair Down

Wonder Woman, sweaty with her hair free. Photo: Courtesy of DC Entertainment/Warner Bros.

Last week, I used a free trial pass at a fitness empire, and every element of the class surprised me: the use of Britney Spears’s song “3,” the fantastic abdominal muscles on people standing right next to me, and the gargantuan mirror that I had to face for the entirety of the class. There I am, running in place. There I am, holding a weight! There I am. Vanity, thy name is treadmill facing a mirror. Anyway, sultry pop was playing and I was running as fast as I can (it felt very fast) with my hair flying behind me. I was like, WHOA, YOU LOOK VERY INTIMIDATING AND POWERFUL. ARE YOU OUTRUNNING AN APOCALYPTIC TOTALITARIAN HELLSCAPE BURNING BEHIND YOU? LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE MAKING GOOD TIME.

Gyms are too Spartan and running in loops is too pointless for me not to create an imaginative scenario that makes repetitive motion into a valiant call to arms. When I’m working out, the life of the mind has never been more active. If headstrong-goddess mode, fierce-ancient-warrior mode, or dystopian-heroine mode appeal to you, I have advice for you: Toss out your hair ties and put your hair down. It’s the wild zone.

When my hair is down during exerted effort, I quickly fall into the delusion that I’m a skilled and untidy warrior, racing into battle. Maybe it’s Braveheart. Maybe it’s Athena, ready to impale an idiot, unbrushed hair running down her back. Maybe it’s this American goddess on the ceiling of the Capitol Building, literally standing on the backs of her enemies, holding a sword, curly hair a-flying. I know this is some cinematic bullshit, but windswept long hair flinging behind you really does add drama.

Jane Fonda worked out with her hair down. Photo: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

I started wearing my hair down while exercising after reading an article in Scientific American a few years ago, which found that cars gave a wider berth to bikers who had their hair down. In a study about biking and helmets, a researcher found that drivers went 3.35 inches closer to him if he was wearing a helmet, the assumption being that drivers were more risky if they thought the cyclist was better prepared. But, if he wore a wig of long brown hair, he was given 2.2 inches more room. The world truly is paternalistic and sucky. Still, I have long hair and I hate when cars are up in my business, so hair down downtown.

I started to keep my hair down in general and found that not only did I love it, my hair loved it. Because my hair isn’t pulled back, my forward motion didn’t make a bouncing resistance against the hair tie. My hair breaks less. Also hair kind of captures sweat? Probably everyone sweats differently, but I find that with my hair down, it’s less likely that during a plank or something, sweat will drip into my eyes from my scalp, like my poor brain is weeping because I’m making it do something it doesn’t want to do when it knows I have a bed and a couch.

Why don’t more people do this? I wondered, staring at neat ponytails, my curls akimbo behind me. I thought I had discovered a liberated secret. Well, it turns out that there is actually a lot of judgment about my freewheeling vibe. Upon trying to proselytize this habit, here is a slew of arguments that people made at me:

1) It gets in your face.

Okay. But truly one (1) hair flip fixes this situation.

2) It’s hot.

It’s not that hot. It’s definitely not hotter than keeping your shirt on, given my very specific calculations. I have a lot of hair, you can trust me on this.

3) It means you will have to wash your hair.

HA. I sweat so much that I am always going to have to wash my hair, so if that’s your deal, I’m jealous, you have amazing gland control.

4) It seems like you’re trying to look appealing or babely at the gym, like wearing makeup or something.

Um, are you complimenting me?! You are so sweet, thank you.

Look, this is not a Baywatch scenario. It’s not a Wonder Woman scenario. Please. If you look like Wonder Woman or like you could be in Baywatch, you’re going to look that way, hair up or hair down. For the regulars, it’s tough and reckless and messy and resilient — which helps a lot with the aforementioned fantasy that you are an unyielding and glorious warrior, which is why we’re here. If you’re trying to keep up your pace, it matters more how you’re feeling than how you’re looking.

These days, during my self-imposed aerobics, I am thinking about The Handmaid’s Tale and whether I would be able to outrun a fascist patriarchy. Specifically, could I run to Canada, while carrying a child? It is a necessity that I feel I could do that. Are we going to have hair ties in the dystopia? AS IF THAT WILL MATTER. Offred didn’t! In this scenario, we won’t know when we will need to run. I will run with my audacious feminine wiles flying behind me. I remember several months ago, when I had to concoct a real rigmarole of a fantasy that involved a beachside alien invasion. I miss those days.

Throw Out Your Hair Ties and Work Out With Your Hair Down