Team GB’s only black swimmer has admitted she ‘fully understands’ why a woman would quit the sport because of her hair.
Alice Dearing, 22, of Birmingham, is one of Britain’s top marathon swimmers and is currently studying politics at Loughborough University.
The sportswoman, who is of English and Ghanaian heritage, said she never used to understand why hair would stop someone from swimming, but now she’s older she gets it.
‘I vividly remember a black girl saying at training that the reason black girls don’t swim is because of their hair,’ she told BBC Newsbeat.
Team GB’s only black swimmer Alice Dearing has admitted she ‘fully understands’ why a woman would quit the sport because of their hair
‘I was about 12 or 13 at the time and had never thought of the idea of hair stopping you from swimming.
‘Now that I am older I can fully understand why someone would quit over their hair.’
She admitted it sounds ‘ludicrous’, but pointed out chemicals in the water ruin your locks, which can be ‘really damaging’ to your self-image and confidence.
‘Chlorine wrecks hair,’ she pointed out. ‘But it’s even harder for girls with thicker hair, which the majority of black girls have.’
Alice, of Birmingham, is one of Britain’s top marathon swimmers and is currently studying politics at Loughborough University
Her point was backed up by Shirley McDonald, a consultant trichologist at The Institute of Trichologists in London.
She observed that swimming can be more damaging to afro hair than non-afro hair due to the sodium hypochlorite – otherwise known as bleach – used in many pools.
Shirley explained that afro hair is naturally drier than other hair as it has less cell layers, meaning it doesn’t retain as much moisture.
‘Sodium hypochlorite can cause excess dryness leading to damage if the hair is not washed and conditioned after swimming – and so afro hair is likely to suffer more quickly because of its structure,’ she told Newsbeat.
Shirley McDonald, a consultant trichologist at The Institute of Trichologists in London, said swimming can be more damaging to afro hair than non-afro hair due to the sodium hypochlorite – otherwise known as bleach – used in many pools. Pictured: Alice in the pool
Ebony Rosemond, the founder of Black Kids Swim, a non-profit organisation which provides guidance and information for black swimmers and their families in America, said the two main reasons she hears as to why there are few black girls in the sport is an ‘inherited fear of the water and hair’.
‘Hair is extremely important to young black girls,’ she told BBC World Service.
‘For a very long time, black women have been told that there’s something wrong with their hair, and even today we can see the impact of that message.
Alice, pictured wearing a swimscarf to keep her hair dry, said having dry, damaged hair can be detrimental to a woman’s confidence
‘We lose a lot of girls around 10 years old because they want their hair to look a certain way.’
Alice is currently the only black swimmer on the Team GB squad and only the second ever to represent them in the sport.
She has represented Team GB at several international competitions including two World Championships, placing in the top 20 in the women’s open water 10K race at this summer’s World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.
The Team GB swimming squad enjoyed one of its most successful international competitions ever, finishing seventh in the medal table.
Alice is currently the only black swimmer on the Team GB squad and only the second ever to represent them in the sport
Alice said she likes to think she represents black competitive swimmers in the UK who may often feel ‘out of place’ – as she sometimes did during her early years.
A Freedom of Information request sent by the BBC to Swim England revealed 668 out of 73,000 registered competitive swimmers identify as black or mixed race.
Swim England claims it has seen a rise in the number of BAME people swimming recreationally in the last few years.