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Black Women Don’t Swim

July 26, 2010

It sounds like a bad movie title.  I came across this article on Yahoo! titled “Why Black Women Don’t Swim“, which discusses the assumption (or perhaps even observation) that many African American females ardently avoid pools and other swimming.

While I think the article makes some near-offensive and off-putting generalizations, such as the fact that Madame CJ Walker made her millions by creating products that made black women “respectable” or that black people avoid pools because of their history of encouraging segregationist policies, I will admit that there is some truth to the issue that the article brings up: the black women-pool disconnect is a direct result of their hair.

Of course there are always exceptions and I know MANY black women that swim on a regular basis, such as my mom and sisters.  But I am certain that before these frequent swimmers hop into the pool, they have prepared their hair and have a game plan for dealing with their strands after.

I know this because I’ve been there.  In fact, I’m still there.  Growing up, during our two-month long swimming gym unit, I would do alternate, dry-land activities until the last two weeks and cram all of the swimming in then so that I [my mom] did not have to deal with a 60 day chlorine vs. relaxer war taking place on my head.  In college, I once ran home from the public pool crying, excuse me, BAWLING,  because a friend had splashed my freshly permed hair.  And most recently,  despite 100 degree temperatures in the Central Valley of California, I decided to forgo the pool and continue sweating my a$$ off poolside.

But as I said before, it’s all about preparation.  I remember before a trip to Jamaica my best friend Dani asked me to get braids so that we could go swimming together (she knows me oh so well!).  I did and I swam for days!

Swimming with Bianca in Mazatlan, Mexico

As a natural with loose hair I’ve been swimming in oceans and rivers and know that, as always, the key is conditioner, conditioner, and more conditioner.

Dani and I about to swim in Mazunte, Mexico

Sea salt and chlorine are uber drying so it’s croosh to make sure to get your strands re-moisturized after you’re done swimming.  And if you’re in a lake or pond, well, you just want to get all of the potential grossness out anyways.  Check out’s list of the best conditioners to counteract all of the dryness that may come after swimming.  If you really want to be prepared, put on a little conditioner before hopping in and wear a swim cap.

I do think it’s ironic, though, this aversion to water. As a natural, water has been my miracle in a bottle, saving me many a time from looking like Don King and Jesse Camp’s (remember him???) love child!

The bottom line is I do not think that the swimming issue is anything deeper than the fact that for black women, it’s just a time-consuming and potentially costly hassle.  Is it worth it?  Sure, approximately 2-3 times a year. 🙂

13 Comments leave one →
  1. CupcakeLuv permalink
    July 26, 2010 12:56 pm

    Loved the blog and I would have to agree with you 100%.
    Though I’m only half black I have been swimming all my life and the only thing that saves me is conditioner 🙂

  2. yourfaceandyourmom permalink
    July 26, 2010 1:07 pm

    i remember bianca from an earlier post….what a great hat in that pic! she sure has great style!

  3. July 26, 2010 1:08 pm

    Interesting article. I think the problem goes beyond swimming. I remember some of my friends in Chicago not only unwilling to swim, but also cursing to all hell any sort of precipitation and even humid days. All because of, like you state, a fresh perm…

    • July 26, 2010 2:20 pm

      you’re totally right. when I had a relaxer, RAIN. WAS. THE. WORST. I remember traveling abroad once and having to drop $50 on an umbrella because of an unexpected rain storm. Honestly the lack of fear of precipitation is one of my favorite parts of having natural hair. A quote from my very first post:
      “Growing up, I skipped out on birthday parties at swimming pools and gym classes to protect my freshly straightened strands. As an adult, I performed olympic-worthy acrobatics in avoiding sudden rain storms, and sacrificed many a good nights’ sleep by sleeping on my hands to preserve the styles I had just spent 5 hours and $$$ achieving.” The lengths we go to for length… 😉

  4. Dani permalink
    July 26, 2010 4:21 pm

    Do you remember Vegas when you gave those random kids, who were enjoying the pool like kids are wont to do, a death stare because their splashes were too high?

    • July 26, 2010 5:37 pm

      of course! if they had gotten me, I would have been soooo angry.

  5. July 26, 2010 9:54 pm

    So true. I’m not a swimmer, only because I don’t know how, lol, but man was working out an issue for me when I was rocking a relaxed Fantasia haircut. I could not risk sweating out my $65 hairstyle. Heck, I couldn’t afford to do it, lol. I am SO glad that those days are over now =)

  6. Sarah permalink
    July 27, 2010 11:06 am

    Jesse. Camp. You never cease to amaze me.

  7. July 28, 2010 3:32 pm

    And weaves too! For the year I wore sew-ins, I initially would not engage in any excessive exercise because I didn’t want to sweat out my weave! So sad in retrospect…I eventually capitulated and started doing Bikram yoga (yoga in a hot room) with my weave…that was…something (I always left class looking like a damp version of Jesse Camp)

    • July 28, 2010 4:02 pm

      that’s what it is… all of the times I skipped out on stuff is “so sad in retrospect”… but alas…whats a girl to do when she has $$$ sitting on her head?

  8. August 5, 2010 10:21 am

    I am ashamed to admit that I quit the swim team my freshman year in high school because we had 6 am practices and there was no way I could prepare my hair to go to class after practice. I have been natural for 10 years now and got Sisterlocks about 4 months ago. I will once again be able to swim freely once my hair locks and I cannot wait. When I was a kid, my mom called me her little fish because I loved to swim and was good at it too. I plan to go scuba diving, water skiing and swimming once my hair locks.


  1. Can’t Swim/Won’t Swim « Cherchez la Curl

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