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Please Don’t Make Me Get In The Water This Summer. And Here's Why

Here's why I just can't do it!

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Jackie Ferrentino
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In honor of summer, I feel the urge to get a load off my back. Or is it that I want to get something off my chest? OK, I can’t nail this metaphor so here it is in plain English: Please don’t make me get in the water. I know you mean well when we’re hanging by the beach and you suggest that I cool off with a refreshing dip in the ocean — and when I’m perched on the edge of the backyard pool and you nudge me to come in because “it will feel soooo good.” But I just don’t want to. I. Never. Want. To. Actually, I’ll specify so there’s no misunderstanding ever again: I’d sooner drink my sunscreen as a snack than dunk my head in that water so lay off me.

I’m equipped with a reason, and it’s not that I’m still scarred from some childhood swimming trauma. (Though I still haven’t 100 percent forgiven my twin brother for shoving me into the deep end of the neighborhood pool when we were seven.) I haven’t taken a swimming lesson since the 1980s, but my doggy-paddle is top-notch. I’ve reluctantly accepted that I will never have the celluloid-free body nor the sun-kissed complexion of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. I can’t stand the teeth-chattering sensation of going from hot to cold, but that’s not my M.O. either. The truth is that I have a kryptonite. And that kryptonite is wet hair.

You see, it’s one thing to be blessed with a thick mane of hair — it’s another for that hair to overpower your face and be your signature physical characteristic like a stupid human trick. Daily physical maintenance is required, and amateurs need not apply. Decades ago I gave up on standing in front of a foggy bathroom mirror and holding a hairdryer because I lacked the arm strength, not to mention the monk-like patience. Now my weekly salon blow-outs are as ritualistic to me as brushing my teeth. (During the height of the pandemic, I bought one of those all-in-one dryer-brushes and was aghast at the lackluster results.) This level of grooming isn’t merely a matter of vanity; I’m certain my brain functions better when it’s protected by a controlled coif.

When that hair meets water . . . well, let’s just say that every time The Wicked Witch of the West howls about melting in The Wizard of Oz, I feel seen. Left with an unmanaged, tangled, shapeless poof on my head that’s practically visible from space, I must rein in my anger and stress so I can focus on how/when/where I can revert to my sleeker look — thus recovering some semblance of normalcy. Just shut up and ponytail it, you say? Pffft, I wish. I get a headache when I attempt to secure it in a holder, and my hair is so heavy that it inevitably comes down to Earth anyway (never mind the lumpy-looking after-effects). A bun is a futile effort; so is a swimming cap. No. The only fool-proof plan is staying high and dry.  

Adhering to this policy requires the strictest of disciplines. A few summers ago, I took a family trip to Iceland and put on a shower cap fit for a nanna before I walked into the famous Blue Lagoon. I’ve also been fortunate to visit the most exotic islands in the world. Right before the flight lands, my travel partner tends to stare out the window at the majestic South Pacific and swoon, “I can’t wait to get into that water” while I furrow my brow and strategize about how to avoid looking like frizzy-haired Monica Geller in that Barbados Friends episode. Closer to home, I refuse to swim and play with my niece and nephew because they will for sure splash me into oblivion.     

I realize this all sounds shallower than the local kiddie pool. But I’m not alone in this, so there. My friend Jen, who possesses gorgeous funnel-like curls, just confirmed to me in a text, “I protect my hair a lot. If I’m on vacation, I keep it in a braid the whole time. If my hair is styled and I’m in a pool, I have to say I don’t want to get it wet because it just takes too long to upkeep.” She, in turn, consulted one of her curly-haired friends, who messaged her, “Yes!!!! I hate getting my hair wet and won’t go underwater. It just means more maintenance immediately to follow.” Fine, that’s a small sample size. That’s only because I have a lot of friends with wispy hair. No offense.

I must admit there was a recent-ish exception to my rule. This was in Fiji, on the last day of a trip. My dry-shampoo-and-baseball-cap combo proved a godsend, and I was hours from a clean getaway. These thoughts were jangling around my head on a cruising speed boat when I felt it glide to a stop in the middle of the ocean. The water was the color of Windex, and my friends were giddy at the idea of swimming in it. I spent a solid minute alone on that boat, watching them frolic in the South Pacific. To hell with it, I thought. I yanked off my shoes and jumped in feet first, shrieking all the way. I still cringe looking at the photos, but I’ll always remember how I felt in the moment. I think the word is joy.