Wild Swimming isn’t Just For White, Bikinied Bodies
Moving through open water is magic. Feeling the silky blue-green liquid glide through your fingers, weightlessly floating on the surface. Water doesn’t always mean swimming, and the experience of swimming stretches a lot further than the four corners of a leisure centre pool. Azeema teamed up with Nike Swim to break down the prejudices and cultural exclusion associated with water: after all, wild swimming isn’t just for white, bikinied bodies.
Founded by Jameela Elfaki, Azeema started as a one-off print publication and has since evolved into a cultural force operating now with a core team including Sunayah Arshad, Evar Hussayni, Dalia Al-dujaili. The creative agency-cum-collective is rooted in representation; amplifying the voices of women and non-binary folk from the West Asia, North Africa, South Asia and beyond, through visual storytelling, music, workshops and events. When chatting about Azeema, Jameela tells us, “We don’t come from a marketing background, we come from a community background which is at the source of everything we do. We want to share people’s stories and represent our community.” For this project with NIKE Swim, Azeema brought together five Muslim women from their community to show that open waters – and all the holistic, therapeutic and health benefits that come from it – are for everyone, no matter what you wear.
When it comes to swimming, everyone brings their own set of experiences to the water. Feeling comfortable is closely tied to privilege – learning to swim is a luxury that not everyone has access to. We talked with Jameela about how the Azeema community perceives swimming. She told us, “Not everybody is experienced with water. It depends on your upbringing, where you grew up, whether you had access to swimming lessons, if you experienced water from a young age or whether you're experiencing water now. It's so varied. I wouldn't say it’s one size fits all with how our community experiences water. Everybody has a different experience.” This diversity of experience is represented in the shoot that took place at Diver’s Cove, Surrey. Each of the five women had a different relationship with water and modesty, so creating a safe space was central to the project. Jameela adds, “We really wanted to give these women an opportunity to be with nature in this way, with others they feel safe with.” Brought to life by a team of women, creating a comfortable environment came first, and photographer Jameela documented what she saw from the water alongside them.
Open waters offer a sense of freedom that swimming pools don’t. Unlike a pool – where you can see straight through to the bottom – jumping into a lake feels like diving into the unknown; there are more elements at play, but that’s also what makes it more of an adventure. Wild swimming is as much about the journey as the swim. Here, it’s also about escaping the city with friends in search of a vague destination and stumbling upon a glistening water hole fringed by overgrown reeds. Swapping the cityscape for greener scenes is a failsafe way to recharge, reset and reconnect – with yourself, friends and with nature.