One would assume decades years later after the legal end to segregation (1964) which saw African Americans no longer barred from swimming in white-owned pools, that we would never go back to the place. Unfortunately, we did in June of 2021 when FNIA (Fédération Internationale de Natation, International Swimming Federation) barred the Soul Cap from use at the Tokyo Games.
The governing body concluded that the swimming cap designed for Black people’s hair does “not follow the natural form of the head.” As well as “athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require … caps of such size and configuration.” After reading the explanation, one will become immediately outraged.
“A long hair swim cap designed for hair blessed with volume” [Soul Cap]
Why does it feel like we have to fight for everything that we need? The hair that naturally grows from our scalp doesn’t grow the same as people of Caucasian or Asian descent. Why can’t we be accepted for the way we are so that the playing field is level (especially in sports)?
Our hair is either kinky*, coily, or curly as well as a mixture of it all and it tends to grow outwards getting bigger as it grows longer rather than just hang down like Caucasian or Asian hair. Since our hair is different, the hair maintenance routine is not the same as our white and asian counterparts therefore, we cannot use the same swimming caps (hair tools), especially in a competitive environment. Simply put, we need our OWN!
“We’re not just a brand, we’re a movement” [Soul Cap]
The soul cap is designed to hold the length, thickness, and volume of your natural hair, locs, and/or braids. Our hair is thick and bulky which is hard to secure under a “normal” swim cap. Also, these swim caps are extremely tight around the crown of your head which can affect your blood circulation.
Prior to the swim cap, swimmers would cornrow or braid their hair flat so it will be able to fit into a ‘regular’ swimming cap. Some would relax their hair to conform to the perceived “norm” and still others would cut their hair short to remove the issue altogether. These regular swim caps were uncomfortable and not suited for our hair until Soul Cap launched theirs which is specifically designed for black hair.
“We’re on a mission to make ‘swim for all,’ bringing inclusivity and accessibility to the sport we love.” [Soul Cap]
A year later, FINA invited Soul cap to reapply for which their application has been recently successful. We are so happy for the Soul Cap brand as they have been breaking down barriers and encouraging inclusivity for Black men, women, and kids to participate in ‘swimming’.
They no longer can use the excuse of ‘the swimming cap doesn’t fit my head’ as their reason for giving up early on learning to swim or losing interest in a sport for which they may be extremely talented. Swimming is a life skill that should be taught and nurtured especially when you see that your child has taken to it and has some natural talent.
“It’s not a sport that’s open to everyone” – [Soul Cap]
This recent acceptance means so much for the black community. It is another little step to the top which we must keep climbing to continue to fight. It is a bit disheartening that we have to fight for such small things but fight we must until we have a truly equal playing field.
This will encourage a future generation to participate in swimming whether to learn, compete or even for recreational purposes. Vacations, random pool days, and engaging in sporting activities at school become much easier to participate it.
And more importantly, they now have the right tools needed to protect their hair as they glide through the waters.
“And our inclusive swimwear is just the start.” – Soul Cap