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Exploring the rituals of synchronised swimmers

For the latest in our Rituals series, photographer Hazel Gaskin explores the getting ready routines of teenage synchronised swimmers

Rituals is a monthly column that looks at the obscure beauty routines and sacred acts of self self-care different professionals practice as they prepare for a typical event. Christina Maciejewski, Soraya Mojdehi, and Gaia Maralla, all 17, train seven hours a week alongside attending school, and take part in competitions for the Seymour Synchronised Swimming Club in London. From how they found their passion for the sport, to their complicated relationships with beauty as young women, here they share their experiences.

Gaia: Synchronised swimming is sometimes seen as a bit of a joke by those who don’t understand it. Everybody makes fun of me for doing it. But you have to work at a bunch of different skills at the same time; you work on your breathing, your stamina, your dance moves. You also have to be creative and sporty at the same time. It’s a lot harder than it looks. I actually hated it at first. My Mum basically forced me to do synchro and used to drive me to training while I’d cry all the way. That lasted for about two years, and then after that, I just started to develop a passion for it. 

Soraya: I was more of a natural born swimmer since I was born and loved synchro straight away. I used to live in Dubai, and I did competitive swimming for a very long time, and then I got bored of just doing laps and competing on my own. So I found a club in Dubai, and just became passionate about it, and then carried on in London. 

Christina: Make-up and hair preparation for a competition usually takes between an hour and two hours, depending on how many routines we have to do, and how many of the little ones we need to also help out for their routines.  We tend to do each other’s make-up and hair though to save time. We have a huge input in the kind of make-up looks we do, and even what kind of costumes we want to wear. With make-up, the coaches actually say we know better, because of our generation’s love for beauty and fashion trends.

Gaia: I’m usually the one doing the make-up as I’m very passionate about it. Because there are so many of us and we really have to pack on so much product at once, we normally use more affordable drugstore brands from Superdrug or Boots. We also try and find make-up that’s as waterproof as possible; our routines aren’t very long, but we do everything we can to help maximise the staying power. One thing that helps with this is using vaseline under make-up; the colour sticks better, and vaseline repels water. With eyeshadow, it’s not about clean blending, it’s about packing on colour so it looks super vibrant and pigmented. 

Soraya: For our hair to stay in place when we get into the water, we use gelatine. We don’t wear a cap when swimming in a competition, so it has to be firm. First, we put up hair into a very tight plain or plaited bun with as many hairpins as possible to keep it in place. Then we put on a hair net, and heat up powdered gelatine with hot water, before applying that with a brush. This is what makes the hair hard so it won’t budge.

Christina: A lot of people probably think being in the pool all the time can negatively affect your hair, but I actually find that the gelatine makes your hair softer after you wash it out. You do have to use really hot water to get it out after a competition though, otherwise, bits can stay stuck in your hair.

Soraya: The chlorine also does dry your skin out, but I honestly think my skin is actually better for it, and I don’t really suffer with acne because of the pool. We will spend whole weekends swimming, so we won’t wear make-up and our skin can breathe and feels fresher. 

Gaia: As well as in the pool, I also really love beauty and make-up outside of synchro. I love brands like Benefit, Marc Jacobs and NARS, and my favourite palette at the moment is the Jaclyn Hill x Morphe one. That said, I do feel a pressure to wear it these days, even at school a bit. Influencers have had such an impact on the way we put make-up on now. We are 16-18 year olds, and we’re all putting on a bunch of contour and highlighting our faces. 

Soraya: I agree with that. Maybe not at school, but when you’re going out, people go all out with their make-up and I feel like that can sometimes be pressurising. Everyone is getting so good at make-up, it’s so hard to keep up with that at such a young age. 

Gaia: Outside of school, being in a synchronised swimming team feels like being in a family. We feel like the big sisters to the little ones, and the coaches are our swimming parents and mentors. We all get along so well. 

Soraya: A very big aspect of why people enjoy synchro is because they’re having fun. I have so much fun doing it. I like it because it’s a team sport, and everyone gets to collaborate and become best friends, and in that way, it’s one of the most fulfilling things you could do.