I Am Not My Hair, Except in the Military

Staff Sgt. Latrisha Skinner, 35th Aerospace Medicine Squadron optometry technician / U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jose L. Hernandez-Domitilo /Misawa A

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While the military was one of the first institutions to integrate back in 1948, it wasn’t until 2017 that U.S. Army grooming policies were changed to permit a common hairstyle amongst Black women soldiers: the loc.

Army Regulation 670-1 details the regulations for “Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia.” In updating the grooming policies for women soldiers, the directive sought to clear a previous discrepancy that differentiated between locs, cornrows, and twists -- allowing some while barring others.

Now, locs are permitted so long as they are “of uniform dimension; have a diameter no greater than a half-inch; and present a neat, professional and well-groomed appearance.”

Under the old rules, hairstyles that “twist[ed] two distinct strands of hair around one another to create a twisted ropelike appearance” were previously banned.

The change was a long overdue and welcomed accomplishment by women soldiers who were forced to resort to harsh chemicals or expensive treatments in order stay within regulations.

The Army is not the only division of the military that has delayed just and fair treatment through regulating Black hair. It wasn’t until late 2015 that the Marine Corps approved loc and twist hairstyles.

However, its regulation of those styles still creates challenges for Black women. For example, according to the Marine Corps’ Hair Regulation video, “entwined” hairstyles (meaning braids, twists or locs) can be no more than 3/8ths of an inch in diameter (or the size of a standard paperclip), can be spaced no more than 3/8ths of an inch apart, and locs must be parted with only a square or rectangular shape.

If you want to pull your “entwined” hairstyle into a bun, that bun cannot extend more than three inches from the scalp nor be wider than the wearer’s head.

But the regulation of Black women’s hair is nothing new. Couched in a narrative that favors straight, blond tresses over coarse coils, Black women have sought to chemically straighten, heat-damage or otherwise alter their natural form in order to ascribe to a Eurocentric style of beauty.

In recent years the natural hair movement has transformed this - resulting in hundreds of thousands of Black women relinquishing the ‘creamy crack’ and opting to wear and style their hair in ways similar to those of our ancestors past.  

However, even within this movement, there is still debate over a “preferred curl pattern” or texture that places a hierarchy on certain hair types. Like colorism for hair, these debates and preferences reinforce Eurocentric standards of beauty that are counterproductive to our collective identity.

While our military sisters have more freedom to rock their hair in its natural glory, let us continue to celebrate Black beauty in its many forms and textures; styles and lengths; coils and coarseness. 

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