Is Your Hair a Disadvantage?

By Mariely M.

Competition is already difficult enough. You have to prepare your mindset, your body, your nutrition.

And for some swimmers — your hair.

Imagine standing on the starting block. You enter the water, and, because the standard swim cap doesn’t fit well on a person with curly hair, the cap falls off. Immediately, panic sets in. It’s something I, as a competitive swimmer, have experienced first-hand.

Soul Caps solve this problem. They were introduced so all a swimmer has to worry about is strength and skill, not hair falling out of a cap. The Soul Cap isn’t meant to make swimmers faster or help with endurance. They simply give swimmers comfort in knowing the cap will stay on during a race.

In general, swim caps reduce friction resistance. A swim cap fits closely against the head and creates a smooth surface, giving the water little opportunity to interact with the head while moving through the water. Caps are made without seams because fewer wrinkles reduce friction, and the less friction a swimmer encounters, the faster the swim. If swimmers’ caps fall off, it impacts their time because swimmers then have to use more energy to make up for the drag of their hair that is pulling them back.

The Soul Cap has all of the properties of a standard swim cap. It is snug on the forehead and wider towards the end so the hair has room to fit. According to Vogue, the founders of Soul Cap, Micheal & Toks, applied to the International Swimming Federation, (FINA) for their caps to be worn at the Olympics in Tokyo. But, citing the fact these caps do not follow “the natural form of the head” and that no athletes need “caps of such size,” the Soul Cap was banned from use in the Olympics.

Swim coach Tony Cronin wasn’t happy with the FINA ruling.

“For small swim caps, you have to make sure you have your hair is braided so it can actually fit in them. Then you worry about getting your hair wet because you’ll have to go clean it, condition it, comb it out. It’s like a full-time job, so to see Soul Cap come out with a hat that actually helps us, but then to be told, ‘Yeah, we don’t want you to use them,’ it’s just terrible,” he said.

Many others spoke out against the ban, asking FINA to reconsider, but the organization’s ruling wasn’t changed, so unfortunately for swimmers such as Alice Dearing, the first black female swimmer to represent Britain at the Olympics, the opportunity to wear a Soul Cap has been denied.

There is not one standard one-size-fits-all head shape, a situation that applies for all swim athletic wear. There is no standard one size body type, and swimmers are offered a variety of different sizes of swimsuits, so why is it any different when it comes to swim caps?

Student Bio

Mariely M.

2021 Summer Program

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