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Jul 12, 2023

Why Many Black Women Don’t Swim

I was a member of my high school swim team.  My membership only lasted one month, as I did not want to attend swim practice and get my hair messed up.  After all, I would chance running into my boyfriend after school during his football practice and would’ve just died if he saw my hair messed up, let alone wet from swimming.

The woes of so many black women and their hair is the number one reason why so many black women do not swim.

Swimming is not only a great recreational exercise activity, but it is an important life skill.

African American women seem to be, less than enthusiastic about the activity and there are many reasons why.

For women that wear their hair relaxed, the chemical called sodium hydroxide to re-shape black hair into a straighter form is used and pool water, (chlorine) can be detrimental to that chemical and the process. Chlorine can cause breakage and hair shedding.  Taking extra care of the hair is essential when you participate in swimming or water activities and some women just don’t want the hassle of having to put in the extra work of caring for their relaxed hair.

Smaller numbers of African American swimmers can also be traced back to segregation. Public pools were off-limits to black people.  There were underlying secret hush-hush if you will, unspoken reasons that pools were too much of an intimate place for blacks and whites to mix.

I was taught to swim at a very young age, about age 5, and have always loved the water.  I also ensured my children knew how to swim and enrolled them in swimming classes as young children.  Knowing how to swim is a safety measure and a life skill everyone should have.  Not knowing how to swim can put you in danger even as a passenger on a leisure boat trip or visit to the beach for some rest and relaxation.  I always wore my hair relaxed, and it was a normal routine for me to wash my hair more often in the summer and include a conditioner more often as well.


It is important to conquer any fear one may have of the water.  A woman’s hesitation to overcome any fear of the water may have more to do with a fear of not knowing how to swim than it does with hair.

Hair Care.

For those of us who do swim, play in the water, splash, whatever you want to call it, swimming and natural hair can play havoc on your natural tresses.  Chlorine and salt water can be extremely drying to our hair.  It is important to use the right hair products and wear a swim cap to protect your hair.  Washing and conditioning your hair regularly and keeping it moisturized and hydrated is the best thing you can do for your hair during swimming.

  • Invest in a quality swim cap. Brands like Soul Cap and yougonatural, swim turban are great options.
  • Saturate your hair with regular tap water or a moisturizing spray before heading to the pool. This helps your hair not absorb as much saltwater or chlorine. Also, remember to rinse your hair immediately after swimming.  Then it’s off to wash your hair!
  • Use a clarifying shampoo and a leave-in conditioner.

When summer is upon us, we want to make sure we don’t limit our experiences because we’re too afraid to get our hair wet, or because we don’t know how to swim, or are afraid of the water.

For those of you who know how to swim or are adventurous and not afraid of the water, take care of your hair and hit the pool and beaches!  For those who want to conquer their fear of the water, stay tuned for my next blog where I will explore ways to overcome your fear of the water.

Preserve the Sexy around the pool and beaches my sistas!

By: Eden Barbee-Mabry / (@gardenonthegram – IG/ @EdenJBe – Twitter)
Eden Barbee-Mabry is an Education Support Analyst with the State of Georgia. Eden is a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and was led to relocate to Atlanta, Georgia after graduating from Clark Atlanta University in 1988. Eden joined Black Girls Run! in the Spring of 2016 and graduated from the Walk B4 You Run program in June of 2016 and is currently Run Lead for the Fairburn, Georgia group. Eden is a purse lover and strives to inspire every woman because her belief is that although the circumstances may be different, every woman can extract strength from another woman’s story.