To Black people, hair is a source of identity and pride. For others to touch, harm, or violate it in any way is a personal affront to a Black individual’s being. This is why the need to protect the hair of Black women in the pool like Alice Dearing is so imperative.
Dearing, Great Britain’s first Black Olympic swimmer, embodies the pride and frustration felt by all Black women in the pool and in the sport.
She sports a curly afro, a style that demands certain care. So imagine what happens when she enters a chlorine-filled pool. The damaging effect has both a physical and mental impact upon Dearing, so she wears the best protection she can- the Soul Cap.
Soul Cap was created in 2017 after its founders weren’t able to find anything suitable to protect their hair. Since that time, the company claims to have distributed “40,000 swim caps to swimmers globally.”
For athletes like Dearing, the soul cap is a welcome solution to a long-standing problem. It protects and also addresses inclusion and acceptance, two hindering barriers that plague aquatic sports.
But the cap is prohibited at the Olympics where she is competing in the women’s 10k marathon swim.
This past June, FINA, the International Swimming Federation, banned its use from international competition. In their ruling, FINA stated that the larger caps, designed to protect curly hair and afros, did not follow “the natural form of the head.” They also pondered whether the caps could create an unfair advantage through water disruption.
This leaves Black women like Dearing in an uncomfortable position.