Get It Right! Military Revises Hair Regulations

August 14, 2014  |  

Earlier this year, the Army came under fire for their new rules regarding tattoos, grooming, uniforms and particularly hairstyles. The hair regulations banned women from wearing twists, dreadlocks and multiple braids, and cornrows that are bigger than a quarter of an inch.

Black military members spoke out about the rules saying that they were racially insensitive and they also objected to language which described natural hairstyles as “matted” and “unkempt.” Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard started a petition on the White House’s website writing: “These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent.”

The story caught the attention of several congress men and woman and even news sites and blogs, particularly Black women’s websites, like ours. 

After all of the backlash, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Tuesday, of this week, that the military is revising the ban to include a wider range of hairstyles.

Hagel’s review comes after female members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to the defense secretary calling the guidelines discriminatory and targeting “soldiers who are women of color with little regard to what is needed to maintain their natural hair.”

In a later to the Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge, Hagel wrote:

At my direction, over the last three months, each Military Service reviewed its definitions of authorized and prohibited hairstyles, and eliminated offensive language, including the terms ‘matted and unkempt’ from both the Army and the Air Force grooming regulations. Additionally, each Service reviewed its hairstyle policies to ensure standards are fair and respectful while also meeting our military requirements.”

CBC member Barbara Lee praised Hagel’s announcement saying that while she was a daughter of a veteran and understands the need for uniformity in the military, they need to recognize that “natural hairstyles do not reflect or create a lack of professionalism or respect for the Armed Forces’ high standards.”

She said that she was pleased that words like “unkempt” and “matted” were being removed.

The hair regulations were actually keeping one military officer from being promoted. Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Jessica Sims, 32 said wearing her hair in locs, pulled in a bun, while on duty. Her superiors told her to cut her hair or wear a wig and when she refused, her commanders processed her for separation for “serious misconduct.”

Here are some of the changes being made to the regulations.

Army

  • Determined the terms “matted and unkempt” are offensive and will eliminate them
  • Authorized temporary two-strand twists
  • Increased size of authorized braids, cornrows and twists; removed spacing requirement
  • Authorized a ponytail during physical training

Air Force

  • Determined the terms “matted and unkempt” are offensive and will eliminate them
  • Changed the name “dreadlocks” to “locs”
  • Authorized two-strand twists, French Twists and Dutch braids

Navy

  • Determined no offensive language in the current policy governing hairstyles
  • Removed some dated terms and descriptions on the Navy’s “Frequently Asked Questions” website, including “‘Twist’ hairstyles are not authorized because they fall within the guidelines of being faddish.”
  • Authorized a two-strand twist and multiple braids may hang freely if above the collar and must encompass the whole head

Marine Corps

  • Determined no derogatory or discriminatory language in current uniform regulations
  • Convening a special uniform board this summer to consider the expansion of authorized hairstyles

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