All going swimmingly?
Did you feel like you fitted in as a child? Children in general don’t like being different; they tend to want to be part of the larger group, which means in terms of looks and style they prefer invisibility.
And it’s not just looks. My children were brought up as vegetarians because both their parents were. We felt we were doing the right thing, and I can say that it never occurred to me that I was in effect branding them as ‘different’. When he grew up my son confessed that he had hated being the odd one out. At birthday parties, the concerned parents of the birthday boy or girl took pains to ensure there was a vegetarian option for him, which of course only served to highlight the fact that he was different. It was of course the last thing he wanted. So much for doing my bit for the planet.
I hated having curly, unruly hair. I used to gaze across the classroom at the other girls’ long, straight, floppy locks and wonder how I could have been cursed with a completely different barnet. When I was about fourteen I persuaded my mother to pay for my hair to be straightened. I sat in the salon as a mysterious product was applied and sat under a hair dryer for what seemed like hours while the stuff dried, feeling bored and wondering why I had bothered. Nevertheless, I walked away tossing my new, straight, swishy hair.
The joy was short lived. I have no idea what product was used, but a week or so later clumps of hair started appearing in my comb. I did not end up bald, but along the parting line my hair broke off, and as it grew back, straight up away from my scalp, I inadvertently became the owner of what may well have been the first punk mohican, long before it was invented.
So we conform at our peril. Nowadays diversity rules, except that I have just learned of a hair related issue that is all about diversity, but for the wrong reasons. It concerns swimming caps. I have enough trouble getting my curly hair into a swimming cap, but it had never occurred to me how much more difficult it would be if I were black and had an afro. It has been pointed out that black people’s hair ‘defies gravity’ and grows away from the scalp. So black women have a real problem squeezing their locks into the standard swimming cap.
Fortunately a company called Soul Cap has spotted a market opportunity and designs and manufactures swimming hats that are more voluminous and can accommodate an afro so that its owner can swim unimpeded. Job done you would think, except that these types of caps are not easily available in your average leisure centre or sports shop. Nevertheless, they can be found – except they will not be seen at the Olympics in Tokyo. The brand has been rejected by the International Swimming Federation. The reason? They do not fit ‘the natural form of the head’.
I am lost for words. According to Swim England only 2% of regular swimmers are black. 95% of black adults and 80% of black children in England do not swim. While 79% of Asian adults and 79% of Asian children do not swim, black children are three times more likely to drown than white children. You would think that any vehicle for redressing this inequality would be deployed with enthusiasm. The Olympics would have been the perfect showcase. Instead, a lost opportunity.