Lack of Swim Cap Options Poses A Big Problem for Black Women
Jutta Klee
According to a recent article in The Atlantic, lack of diversity in swim cap sizes are a contributing factor to the racial and gender disparity in aquatic sports. Based on a report from the USA Swimming Foundation, 64.2 percent of Black adults said they had no or low swimming abilities, versus 39.7 percent of white adults. Moreover, Black children drown at a rate 5.5 times higher than that of their white counterparts. These staggering statistics can be attributed to a few things.
One contributing factor to the low percentage numbers associated with Black people and aquatic activities is hair. For Black women, our hair is a huge part of our identity, so a sport that inhibits the growth and protection of healthy hair is an automatic ‘no’ for many. Swim caps seem like a viable option to combat this issue, but a research and experience proves that they aren’t actually designed to protect some of the most common—and most costly—Black women hairstyles. In fact, swim caps are designed to help with resistance in the water, not to keep the water fully out. While some swimmers with straight hair can rely on the one-size-fits-all production of swim caps for this barrier to entry, swimmers with curly, kinky hair with more volume can’t rely on traditional swim caps at all. Moreover, much like chemically-treated pool water, traditional swim caps with latex can actually damage the hair. “I’ve had Black girls that have had the entire backs of their hair broken off from breakage, or [from] not having the right moisturizers because of the chemicals and the rubbing of the caps,” says Noelle Singleton, a 30-year-old Black swim coach in Georgia. Consequently, there are generations of Black people who don’t know how to swim due to lack of access to pools, and non-inclusive swim cap designs. However, there is now a demand for swim caps more suited for Black hair, as more Black parents are putting their children in swimming lessons. “The parent can’t swim, so they don’t go to the pool or swim,” Singleton says. “I’m seeing a lot more people step off that train of thought and say ‘I don’t know how to swim, but I don’t want my child to not have opportunities.” This shift in Black parenting goals is creating a demand for inclusive swim caps, prompting North Carolina–based hairstylist Stella Walker to create the Lock Journey cap. The larger size caps purport to create a seal along the hairline and are worn beneath the ears for a more secure fit. Let us know, has your hair ever prevented you from going swimming?