*Disclaimer: this is going to be a longer than usual blog post, but the subject calls for more commentary than we usually give.
AR 670-1, the Army regulation covering the wear and appearance of the Army Uniform and Insignias, is undergoing some major changes, some of which are, ” controversial” and will have a tremendous bearing on the way that our fellow textured hair wearers in uniform can style their hair.
Although these changes have not taken effect yet (updated reg is scheduled to be released at the end of this month), the Army Times reported on March 7 that they have been approved by SECARMY McHugh.
Below are the images illustrating the specific hair grooming standards that will apply to females:
Braids: “multiple braiding (more than 2 braids) is authorized, must be of uniform dimension, small in diameter (1/4″), show no more than 1/8″ of scalp between braids, must be tightly interwoven to present a neat, professional, well-groomed appearance”
Twists: “defined as twisting two distinct strands of hair around one another to create a rope-like twisted appearance, including twists formed against the scalp or worn in a free-hanging style”. Per the image above, twists are unauthorized.
Locs (the term dreadlock is used): “defined as an matted or locked coils or ropes of hair (or extensions), any style of dreadlock (against the scalp or free-hanging) are not authorized, any unkempt or matted braids or cornrows are considered dreadlocks and are not authorized”
Cornrows: defined as hair rolled (not twisted using two strands) or braided closely to the scalp producing a continuous, raised row of hair, must be of uniform dimension, small in diameter (1/4″), show no more than 1/8″ of scalp between cornrows, must be tightly rolled or braided to present a neat, professional, well-groomed appearance, must start at the front of the head and continue in one direction in a straight line and end at a consistent location of the head”
Wigs/Extensions: “must have same general appearance as individual’s natural hair & otherwise conform to regulation, must look natural”
Most of the appearance and grooming standards will be punitive, so violations can result in adverse action.
Needless to say, there is a petition in circulation to reconsider these pending changes to AR 670-1 to allow professional ethnic hairstyles, you can read and, if you are inclined, sign it, here.
We’ve solicited responses from our sisters in arms regarding these changes, here’s what we heard:
I think it targets women of color or that have textured or curly hair. I don’t like it!
“I can’t be myself, which is to be natural and be in uniform..no choice but to wear a wig but what happens when I get deployed in 100+ weather? ??”
It seems to directly target those of us with naturally curly hair. Textured hair is naturally “bulky”, I would have to load my hair with mousse or gel to make it not stick out more than 2″ from my scalp.
“I’ve worn locs for 12 years in uniform, and it’s never interfered with my ability to do my job. I don’t know what I’m going to do, I can’t get a protective mask on while wearing a wig, I may have to cut my hair off.”
Cornrows got me through basic training, and now I’m going to have to check the width of my braids to make sure I don’t have more than 1/8 inch of scalp showing. Really? In the grand scheme of things does my hair really affect my ability to lead soldiers? I am proud to serve my country and I always present a professional appearance. I’m having a hard time understanding this.
To some degree, some of the requirements are understandable, every soldier needs to be able to properly fit their chemical mask and/or Kevlar, and any hairstyle that makes it difficult for any type of military headgear for be worn in a professional manner should be unauthorized. However, there are certainly hairstyles do not work against the natural kinky, coily,curly texture of hair, look professional and do not interfere with the wearing of any headgear.
Rather than a sweeping rule making specific styles unallowable, would outlining specific requirements that can be applied to ANY hairstyle have been a more diverse option? If a soldier’s hair doesn’t interfere with her ability to shoot, move and communicate, and she maintains a professional appearance, what is the issue with how much scalp is showing between or whether her cornrows are going back on a diagonal angle?
Some have said that women in uniform are being overly sensitive to these new rules, or they volunteered for the military life and should suck it up. Isn’t our country a “salad bowl” of different cultures, ethnicities and traditions, and our military is a reflection of that? Isn’t the diversity of our fighting forces one of the aspects that makes it so great? For many women, hair is (or was) the only allowable form of self-expression while in uniform.
Maybe we’re just partial….maybe we’re just inclusive.
UPDATE: The uniform policy has been released on the U.S. Army website, 25 March 2014
Images credit: Army Times