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Alice Dearing, the UK’s first female Olympic swimmer, wants the organizers of the next games to approve bathing caps that better fit black hair.
Dearing is one of four blacks who founded the Black Swim Association in the UK to make swimming more accessible to ethnic minorities, and told the BBC in 2019 that she understood why black swimmers would quit because of their hair.
One of the barriers many black women face is the ability to swim while maintaining the health of their natural hair. Many swim caps are too small for protective styles like braids and locs.
“It sounds ridiculous, but it can really damage your self-image and confidence as chlorine destroys your hair,” Dearing told the BBC, “but it’s even harder for girls with thicker hair, which the majority of black girls have.”
The International Swimming Federation (FINA) rejected an application from Soul Cap, which makes swimming caps for black hair, to allow Olympic athletes to wear their caps in competitions. FINA said the caps were unsuitable because they didn’t “follow the natural shape of the head”.
After widespread public coverage and an online rally, FINA reached out to Soul Cap to apologize and offer them help with their application for admission to international competitions, including the next Olympics.
Dearing told BuzzFeed News that she is hopeful that the black swim caps will eventually be approved.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I think this will probably go through and on and be useful in international competitions. I really hope so.
“I know a lot of people want to be on the right side of the story with this. Therefore I am very optimistic that there will be a positive result. “
Dearing said that many organizations need education and she is glad they are listening.
“It’s not just tossed aside as it may have been in the past,” she said. “I’m not suggesting that any organization would do this on purpose, but decades ago this stuff wouldn’t have been so mainstream, it wouldn’t have been seen and recognized that way.”
Dearing said she learned to swim around the age of 5 and started competitive swimming at the age of 8 after her mother saw an ad for a local swimming club.
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Dearing and her brother took swimming lessons together, and she said watching competitions was a family activity.
“We took her in, looked at her again, it was like a real family thing with me, my mother and one of my brothers,” she said.
A few years later, Dearing swam in these competitions himself and qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. Despite finishing 19th, her participation as the first black female swimmer for Team Great Britain is still historic.
Dearing was also a co-founder of the Black Swimming Association, which aims to promote and diversify the people who swim in the UK. Dearing said she wanted to give something back to the sport because it gave her so much good in her life.
“I want other people to know that these options are available to them and not because of their race or because society thinks they should be sorted into something,” Dearing said.
Dearing has also become a role model for many. She said it wasn’t something she thought she could be and said it was surreal. “It’s just like that, I’m just the girl from Birmingham, just a girl from the Midlands, England,” she said. “So it’s crazy. You never really think that you are able to influence or inspire or change someone’s life in such a positive way. “
Although Dearing is one of the few internationally known black swimmers, she said she wasn’t always the only non-white swimmer in the swimming community.
As she got older, she heard whispers from people saying black people don’t swim and people seemed surprised that she was swimming.
“We always laughed about it because my mother, my mother is originally from Ghana, grew up swimming and it was part of her lifestyle,” said Dearing. “This isn’t just a joke like this that affects people’s lives and the decisions they make on a daily basis. That’s why I’m so passionate about it. “
Dearing said that while she is not very happy with her Olympic performance, she has received messages of support.
“Everyone else is literally well done to get there in the first place, well done to stand up and have these conversations as part of something bigger than you and advocate for change,” she said.
Dearing is one of the athletes participating in Procter & Gamble’s Athletes for Good Fund, which donates $ 10,000 to 52 athletes to support initiatives for their local communities.
“It was so overwhelming that so many strangers wrote to me, too many I couldn’t even answer,” she said. “But you know, I can really feel that I am supported and encouraged by all of these people. And it’s a feeling I’ll never forget, honestly it’s just so strong. I’m so honored that people really took the time to support me. “
Dearing said she didn’t get a chance to see any of the live competitions at the UK Olympics, but she is looking forward to the Paris Games as they are so close to home.
“Of course I’m just a little annoyed and I never appreciated London 2012 while it was there, but to have a kind of second chance with Paris… I’m really looking forward to hopefully… being able to compete there as an athlete too. “
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