“Female Unauthorized Hairstyles” and the US Army

Political Science Doctoral Candidate and guest blogger Dilara K. Üsküp discusses the U.S. Army’s controversial new grooming regulations for women. The US Army’s new grooming regulations for women has caused quite the stir. Immediately when observing the widely circulated images entitled “Female Unauthorized Hairstyles” I was immediately struck by the lack of diversity in the photos themself — the majority of models in the photos were Black and Hispanic Army women.

female unauthorized hairstyles 1

Image: US Army

female unauthorized hairstyles 2

Image: US Army

female unauthorized hairstyles 3

Image: US Army

Twists, multiple braids, thick hair was not in regulation; was Black and Hispanic hair not regulation? Seemingly, the Army’s intent of the updated Army Regulation 670-1 is to standardize and professionalize soldiers. However, as I read through the summary of changes I couldn’t help but feel disquieted by the consistent emphasis of hair thickness and the measuring guideline “1/4 inch” and 1/8 of an inch space between the scalp and the braids or cornrows.  I immediately thought of one of best friends who had just graduated from basic training and was currently in AIT (Advanced Individual Training). I had been corresponding with her through letter and email and enjoyed the Instagram updates by her proud husband. He posted a series of photos and videos throughout her graduation as she proudly donned Army regalia and Dress Blue uniform. There she was jubilant, absolutely gorgeous, and proud. Her hair was Senegalese twists neatly pinned back. Her graduation had occurred prior to the outset of the new regulations. Having known her for many years she had began embracing the natural hair movement and was moving away from chemically treating and straightening hair —not to mention the fact that her hair would be the least of her concern during basic training she would be too busy getting her Demi Moore on as G.I. Jane, obviously!

African American female soldier

Image: live.huffingtonpost.com

I had a chance to contact my friend (as I shall refer to as Chloé) to get her thoughts on the matter. She and her Army friends were deeply disappointed that there would be no changes to the policy no matter how many signatures were on  the White House petition. While Chloé could understand the reduction in bulk and the aim of professionalization she could not understand the racially targeted language of thickness. For her she remarked the most frustrating part was the continued emphasis in the regulation and marketing materials regarding hair “thickness” and not hair length. Women of color have had an entire history regarding hair thickness and the need to “professionalize” and “conservatize” their hair to meet “American” standards of beauty within the workplace and beyond.  Chloé reflected “buns cannot exceed 2 inches but you [Commissioned Officers] have personally stopped [NCOs] on several occasions for [measuring] braids, but no one stopped you [women who wear buns] to measure buns to see if it is two inches.” I couldn’t even imagine an officer stopping me and measuring my hair with a ruling how degrading. She remarked that much of the interpretation of the Regulation was up to the officers, which in most instances are men. Women of color already have much ado about hair, finally, in this modern period women have freed themselves from chemical processes, constant hair straightening, and are embracing their natural roots. Women in the military put their lives on the line every day on the front lives for our freedom but why can they not wear conservative protective styles while serving our country? Are Black, Hispanic, and Indian hair not conservative and professional; what does say about women of color within the Army — are they not regulation? When reading the regulation “long hair is defined as hair length that extends beyond the lower edge of the collar. Long hair will be neatly and inconspicuously fastened or pinned, except that bangs may be worn” again there was not inch provision regulation for length of hair.  What is the Army saying exactly [excessively] long hair could be regulation while thick hair could not? The answer to me seemed obvious the Army is regulating a politics of respectability a sobering reminder that women of color were not respectable, professional, or conservative in their natural states.  “I’m annoyed, severely, I have to wear my hair in protective styles (such as braids) because I try not to straighten my hair because we work out so much and straightening my hair isn’t practical. I wear two French braids pinned back—it’s not very flattering—but it’s in regulation.”

army hair cartoon

Image: dailytitan.com

I find it fascinating that in a world where we have ended the practice of DADT, where unauthorized investigation and harassment of suspected servicewomen and men existed the Army has taken regressive steps back. Doesn’t the Army have more important things to worry about regarding women service members:  sexual trauma and violence, perceptions of women as hormonal, whiny and weak, suicide rates, and mental health services? But apparently not, apparently hair and tattoos are the most pressing issues facing the Army. As Chloé reflected, “This isn’t just about black hair though. Another controversial ban was tattoos. Tattoos were always documented when entering the military, but they’ve taken it one step further now and stated that you are not allowed to become an officer if you have tattoos that are visible in the PT uniform of shorts and a t-shirt. When these soldiers risked their lives in service to our country in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and wherever they found themselves, they were good enough. But now they are not eligible to further their career because of pictures on their body? I found this highly offensive. Black women and tattoo enthusiasts were the hardest hit with the new regulations, but everyone else has nothing to worry about. I’m praying they change their minds about the twists and at least the already enlisted soldiers with tattoos, but I’m pretty positive they won’t. I love the military but that’s the military though.” *This post is dedicated to my Specialist Army Barbie Chloé, even with your two braids you and your colleagues serve our country proudly and fearlessly. I know without the sacrifice of women and men like you our freedoms would not be defended. You go girl, hooah! Dilara K. Üsküp is a second year Doctoral Student in Political Science at the University of Chicago. Her broad interests include public opinion at the intersection of religiosity, race, gender, and sexuality.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: