Military

The U.S. Army's Racially Biased Hairstyle Guidelines

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U.S. Army/The Washington Post

In a move that's being labeled racially biased and nonsensical, the U.S. Army has nixed cornrows, twists, and multiple braids wider than a quarter-inch for female members. These now-prohibited hairstyles aren't just disproportionately favored by African Americans, they're some of the best options black women have for keeping hair both natural and unobtrusive while in the field. 

"Natural," in this context, means hair that's not been chemically relaxed, straightened, or permed. Natural hairstyles are much easier to maintain than more processed dos, obviously an important consideration for women in the military. 

An Army spokesman told the Washington Post the regulations are "necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population." But that uniformity seems to come at the expense of military women of color.

"Most black women, their hair doesn't grow straight down, it grows out," said Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs, of the Georgia National Guard, who wears her hair in two twists (hair that "exceeds more than 2″ from scalp" is also banned). "I'm disappointed to see the Army, rather than inform themselves on how black people wear their hair, they've white-washed it all."

Jacobs launched a petition asking the Army to reconsider, which so far has gathered more than 11,500 signatures. "More than 30% of females serving in the military are of a race other than white," the petition notes. Yet the "lack of regard for ethnic hair" in the new regulations is apparent. 

"Females with natural hair take strides to style their natural hair in a professional manner when necessary; however, changes to AR 670-1 offer little to no options for females with natural hair. In the proposed changes, unauthorized hairstyles include twists, both flat twists and two strand twists, as well as dreadlocks, which are defined as 'any matted or locked coils or ropes of hair.'

U.S. Army

As you can see, the guidelines get incredibly specific. Aside from potential racial bias, they also just seem needlessly detailed. Other prohibited hair moves include having more than one inch difference in length between front and back of hair, wearing a scrunchie that clashes with hair color, and parts that are not in a straight line. 

I understand the need for the army to issue broad guidelines on acceptable hair styles, as it does in other areas of appearance. But, beyond that, it could be left up to individual unit commanders. The current regulations do include a waiver system, under which women can appeal and be granted exceptions on a case by case basis. Why not start from a place of allowing women and their immediate supervisors to make those determinations? Surely people smart and capable enough to fight and die for our country are smart and capable enough to assess for themselves which hairstyles are an interference and which aren't. 

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  1. I don’t see a libertarian dog in the fight.

    1. It’s time to abolish the military. What was it that our Founders thought about having a standing army?

      1. I think that what they thought was prescient.

      2. What did they say about the DEA, FBI, and ATF?

  2. How ’bout the Army’s gender bias in hairstyles?

    1. I don’t think you will have much luck challenging the patriarchy in the military.

      1. On the contrary. Is is the ideal place for equality. As a taxpayer who is forced to support a standing army I require only 1 thing: That they kill people and break shit which are enemies (obviously I don’t want to be an enemy but that is another discussion topic). As such the requirements to join should be: can you kill people and break shit effectively according to these simple guidelines about strength, endurance etc.; Are you capable of not endangering fellow soldiers, missions, innocents, etc.; Will you be a near blind robot (exceptions to not breaking the const./law) following orders. If yes then the Army should say whatever GENERAL rules it wants. No body hair, no weaklings/fat people, no bad shots, no morons (threshold to be set low). I don’t care what gender and I only barely care what species you are. If you want to fight then prove your ability to do so…including becoming a generic cog in a large wheel.

        p.s. I would never run a company or private organization that way but if you want government privilege you get government generality.

        tl;dr

        Bald girls, gay men, don’t care just be effective.

    2. They should just go to an all-shaved policy and be done with it. No exceptions. Anyone or anywhere.

    3. That was my first reaction. Why should women be allowed long hair and not men? If there is a good reason to make men cut their hair short, then the same reason would apply to women as well, no?

      1. Especially if they are now going to be allowed combat roles.

        Shave your head. End of.

    4. Exactly. They should all get buzz cuts.

  3. “Why not start from a place of allowing women and their immediate supervisors to make those determinations? Surely people smart and capable enough to fight and die for our country are smart and capable enough to assess for themselves which hairstyles are an interference and which aren’t.”

    Ha! Apparently you are not familiar with the military. The premise of everything it does is that low-level soldiers are NOT smart enough to make decisions for themselves.

    1. If they were, they wouldn’t move towards the people trying to shoot them.

      1. Why do you think they have an age limit for recruits? 27 is it? After that age people are likely to tell you to go fuck yourself if you told them what their job in the army is.

        1. 35.

          And the reason is the mandatory discharge age is 55. So for an enlistee to reach retirement (20 years) they can’t be any older than 35.

          If one doesn’t want to be told what to do in a fairly rigorously-defined hierarchy, the military isn’t for him. If they choose to enlist anyway, they’ll be weeded out PDQ.

          1. Depends on branch and component, and officer vs enlisted. AF cutoff is 26. Marine cutoff is 27. Army Guard and Reserve will take through 42 sometimes.

            Retirement age is when it costs more to fix you than replace you.

            Army’s standards are lower than the others because they need more numbers.

    2. I think it more that ANY time a CO didn’t let a Soldier do whatever they wanted, the EO and IG offices phones would be ringing. [8BOSS – DSN]

      1. yeah, see my comment down below about the MSgt

  4. If it’s racially biased that means these guidelines don’t apply to other races? That would be wrong.

    1. That’s stupid, even for you

  5. You don’t like the rules? Don’t sign up.
    And then we need to get rid of the gender bias and make women in the military conform to male grooming standards for hair.

  6. I have a solution. Baldness for both sexes.

    1. Seconded. It also solves Tarran’s safety gear issue below.

      1. Thirded, although I’d allow 1″ hair length. But I’d agree to “bald” to reach consensus.

        1. Fourthed. There is no freedom issue at stake so long as it’s a volunteer force.

        2. No pubes, either.

  7. You know, the military likes to dictate the cut of people’s hair. They just do. It’s kind of a military thing. I’m having a hard time getting my hackles up over this.

    1. These standards have been in place with the other branches since at least 1980. The Army relaxed hair and tattoo standards to get the bodies it needed for Iraq. Now they need to conform to the professional standards of the rest. Waaah.

  8. One issue to consider, CBR gear.

    In the Navy, they used to allow facial hair. Then there was the Forrestal fire, and the guys with beards couldn’t fight the fire because their breathing equipment wouldn’t seal around their faces. Rather they became casualties needing rescue, and whose loss degraded their fire-teams’ ability to fight the fire that was threatening to kill them all.

    I know that the gas masks they issued in the Navy wouldn’t seal very well if I had lots of hair.

    Moreover you have the inevitable admin headaches for the chain of command when the rules are not clear. Far better to have a simple, lowest-common-denominator set of rules that can be easily adopted and enforced, and leave the chain of command to focus their energies on getting people to put bullets where they want them to go.

    1. Also, try putting on a ACH (helmet) with a whole shitload of hair.

      1. These are women, so that will never happen.

        1. Oh, I saw plenty of behelmeted women when the 107s and 122s started coming in. Funny how little they cared about their hair when explosives were falling out of the sky.

    2. We have this rule at work. You wanna be on the ERT? You’re clean shaven – exactly for the reason you note. We can’t fit you for breathing apparatus w/a beard. Period.

      1. Clear religious bigotry!

    3. When I was in, it was pretty easy for black navy guys to get a waiver for facial hair if they got razor bumps. The Marines, just told the black guys with razor bumps to get used to it.

      I never knew a white guy in the navy who got a facial hair waiver.

      One of the things I hated the worse about my stint in the Marines was the total obsession some people had about haircuts. We even had one warrant officer who was a dick about it in the field.

      It was also a time (late 80s) where the dark green Marines could wear a tight fade and fit right in with the civilians, while us light green Marines were stuck with short, short Opie haircuts which made us stick out like a sore thumb. (I was in the air wing, so we didn’t wear high and tights like the infantry).

      1. Oh, you touched a nerve. I totally get shaving waivers and understand that black guys have a harder time with it, but all too often they just it as an excuse to grow a damn beard… that just happens to be neatly trimmed at the edges. I was constantly counseling folks that having a waiver means every day you’re knocking your beard down to 1/8″ while the rest of us are shaving.

        1. Wait, black guys have a harder time shaving? Or am I misunderstanding you?

          1. Because black hair tends to curl, when it is cut too close to the skin without keeping the skin clean and hydrated, the hair follicle will curl back into the skin instead of growing straight out, resulting in an ingrown hair, and irritation, and possibly infection.

            1. Interesting. I guess that makes sense in a situation where you don’t have access to lots of skin care products. I don’t see all that many bearded black men in ordinary situations, so that didn’t occur to me.

              1. Yeah, in garrison, not so much a problem – in the field, it can be.

      2. When I was in the Marines, I assumed the WM grooming standards were “whatever”.

      3. Do women marines still have to wear that godawful ruby red lipstick, if they wore any at all, that they had to wear when I was in 40 years ago?

      4. The military shaving regulations are retarded anyway. It’s long past time for everyone to look like a Civil War general again.

        1. Beards save lives.

  9. “…they’ve whitewashed it.”

    RACIST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Buzz cuts for everyone, then?

    1. Perhaps not that far, but how about a single, mandated hairstyle for women?

      1. Why not that far? Plenty of women cut their hair short by choice and manage to survive the experience. It’s not like you are asking them to lop off a tit or something. Either there is a good reason for requiring short hair in the military, or there isn’t. In either case it seems to me that the standard should be the same for everyone.

    2. Females are prohibited from crewcuts or flattops also.

      1. Female Soldiers (can’t speak to the other branches) can have any haircut that a male Soldier is authorized. At least, that was the determination made by the Corps SJA (lawyer, basically) in response to some threatened administrative actions toward women that had shaved their heads in solidarity with a Soldier with cancer.

  11. An Army spokesman told the Washington Post the regulations are “necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population.” But that uniformity seems to come at the expense of military women of color.

    And since the Army is supposed to be there to be a big taxpayer-funded social-engineering experiment, then….

    Maybe both men and women should simply be compelled to shave off their hair to the very scalp and have a bar-code tattooed on the back of their heads. You know, for uniformity.

    1. They did volunteer

  12. There are no hairdressers in foxholes.

  13. they’ve white-washed it all.

    RACIST!

  14. I think they should have to comply with the same standards as the men.

    If not, they are sexist.

  15. Libertarianism is nothing if not the freedom for R’Shonda the liberated black womyn Marine being free to express her unique culture in any way she chooses.

    1. These are army regulations. I’m betting that the WM’s have stricter regs than this. When I was in, the WM’s had alot more freedom than the men, but they were still pretty tight on what was allowed.

      Every WM with hair that reached past her collar pretty much wore it up in the same style bun (at least that I can remember).

      Shit, the Marines had all sorts of grooming regulations that were sort of fanatical. I knew guys who got extra duty because they didn’t shave on the weekends.

    2. Completely fair portrayal there.

      The kneejerk reactions in this thread are ridiculous

      1. Oh god shut the fuck up.

        1. Fuck off

      2. Spoken like someone not in the military. The number of regulations restricting personal expression in the military are simply staggering, and always have been — unlike some, this one has some basis in rationality. It is pretty damn stupid to suggest that this is based on RACISM or that the military needs to allow its employees full latitude to express themselves.

        1. “It is pretty damn stupid to suggest that this is based on RACISM”

          Which I didn’t do. In fact, I didn’t even give an opinion on the matter.

          “or that the military needs to allow its employees full latitude to express themselves.”

          Which I didn’t do. Nor did Elizabeth, nor did the people complaining. The entire point of my comment was pointing out your strawman, which you doubled down and expanded upon. If these hairstyles are dangerous, fine, make the argument. “Pfft, silly idiots thinking the military has to let everyone have full expression” isn’t much of an argument.

          1. Elizabeth absolutely did do that. A “racially based hairstyle guide” would be a guide based on racial standards. “uniformity seems to come at the expense of military women of color”, “‘lack of regard for ethnic hair’ in the new regulations is apparent”, and a red herring about “potential racial bias” are obviously intended to give the impression that these guidelines are extraordinary in some way or unduly harsh due to the race of the persons being impacted. They aren’t, and the regulations in question are not difficult to comply with compared to others.

            It is as idiotic a complaint as if someone were making the case that the military is anti-Orthodox because men aren’t allowed to grow out their beards. Anyone who has been or is familiar with the military is already aware of the many ways in which the military enforces a rigid dress code, and in a volunteer military this is simply not a problem in any way. “Suck it up and deal with it” is in fact exactly the right answer for people who volunteered for the job knowing full well that they would be required to adhere to the military’s dress code.

            1. “Elizabeth absolutely did do that.”

              Reread my post. Note what I said Elizabeth did not do. See if the word race or racism is mentioned in that paragraph.

              “It is as idiotic a complaint as if someone were making the case that the military is anti-Orthodox because men aren’t allowed to grow out their beards.”

              “If the standards are necessary for safety (and note that I have not given my opinion on whether or not they are. I don’t know enough to make that judgment), then sure. But if it’s just based on “uniformity” (which is how the Army spokesman defended it) do you not see the how such a policy implies that natural black hair is not normal and/or unprofessional? And do you not see why some people might be upset or offended by that?

              Anyone who has been or is familiar with the military is already aware of the many ways in which the military enforces a rigid dress code, and in a volunteer military this is simply not a problem in any way. “Suck it up and deal with it” is in fact exactly the right answer for people who volunteered for the job knowing full well that they would be required to adhere to the military’s dress code.”

              Since when does an organization being voluntary preclude criticism of its policies? You didn’t have the same response to people criticizing Mozilla in the other thread. In fact, you criticized “mobs” for “enforcing” thoughtcrime (Note that I don’t think he deserved to get fired for that, but there was no mob forcing anyone to do anything).

              1. The quotation mark at the beginning of the fourth paragraph should be at the beginning of the fifth.

              2. Note what I said Elizabeth did not do. See if the word race or racism is mentioned in that paragraph.

                Then what is your point? My initial snark was directed at her, not you.

                Since when does an organization being voluntary preclude criticism of its policies?

                It doesn’t. The fact that the military has a rigid dress code that has been a well-known (and standard) part of Western military discipline dating back to Napoleonic times, makes the complaint a stupid one. Uniformity is not an arbitrary need in the military; it is a vital part of discipline and professionalism in which the standard uniform may not be to everyone’s liking. If in an African army or the French Foreign Legion they have a particular hairstyle, it’s the same damn thing if a White African starts complaining that he has to part ways with his mullet to serve in the South African military. The standard is not meant as a universal statement of the ‘goodness’ or lack thereof of any particular hairstyle, so yes, it would be silly to take offense just as it would be silly for Orthodox to take offense at the military’s beard policies.

                You can of course criticize this policy and argue for standards more in keeping with an irregular military, but the fact is that this is SOP, rather than some sort of racist or extraordinary policy.

                1. “Then what is your point? My initial snark was directed at her, not you.”

                  I made my point pretty clear in the next paragraph. And that post was still a response to mine, so I was unclear as to whether that accusation was against me, her, or both of us (I assumed both).

                  “If in an African army or the French Foreign Legion they have a particular hairstyle, it’s the same damn thing if a White African starts complaining that he has to part ways with his mullet to serve in the South African military.”

                  I don’t see how the mullet example would be a valid comparison, unless the army allowed black soldiers to have long hair. And, again, do you not see the problem some people might have with your implication? That America is a white country and therefore enforcing a uniformity based on white standards is totally cool and black people have no reason to complain?

                  Again, if this is truly and honestly necessary and proper for safety, then I personally don’t have a problem with it. There seems to be arguments for and against that notion, and I would have to do more research to come down on one side or the other. It’s puzzling, however, that you seem to be bewildered as to why people would take issue with that, even if it was just based on “uniformity.”

                2. “You can of course criticize this policy and argue for standards more in keeping with an irregular military, but the fact is that this is SOP, rather than some sort of racist or extraordinary policy.”

                  Is allowing everyone to grow their hair naturally un-uniform just cause some of them grow hair differently? It’s not like the Army has one approved hairstyle for everybody. I think the “racist” label is subjective, and I wouldn’t use it myself, but I don’t see how Elizabeth’s characterization of the standards as being “racially-biased” is not objectively true, at least in terms of effect, regardless of intent or whether or not its a good thing.

        2. Can I cry racism at “R’Shonda”?

          1. Knock yourself out, buddy. I don’t give a shit what you think about me or my posts.

          2. That depends. What race have you determined R’Shonda to be?

    3. Huh? Most people seem to be saying quite the opposite and everyone should have the same grooming standards.

      I don’t think it’s much of a libertarian issue either way, but it is possible to have an opinion on such things anyway.

      1. In the comments?

        Agree.

        In the OP?

        Not so much.

        I do agree that it’s not much of a libertarian issue either way, but the reportage is… pretty silly.

        1. Gotcha.

          As usual, I stopped reading the OP once I formed my opinion on the subject, which was why not have the same standards for everyone?

  16. OK – next subject: deep-dish or thin-crust homebrew, with circumcised or uncircumcised, home-schooled or public-schooled brewers? Go.

    1. homebrew Q: i’m doing small 1 gallon batches. made a porter from a kit that turned out pretty well. it’s not flat, but could use a bit more head on it. thoughts?

      1. Did you bottle it? If you want naturally carbonated, you usually need to add a bit more yeast food when you bottle (but not too much or you get nothing but head).

        1. yes. bottled. with maple syrup a priming sugar.

          1. Odd. With a triple priming, it should be uber-fizzy.

        2. yes. bottled. with maple syrup a priming sugar.

        3. yes. bottled. with maple syrup a priming sugar.

          1. The squirrelz apparently like your recipe too.

  17. Reminds me of a black Master Sergeant (AF) at base X who had a short ‘fade’ I guess they’re called, similar to a guy’s style, but the difference being she bleached her’s blond. It drove everybody nuts since the regs said dying is only allowed if it’s a ‘natural’ color. Well, it was natural all right, just not for someone of her skin tone. A few folks tried to correct her, but you can guess how that went.
    It’s easy to criticize these policies from the outside, but sometimes it’s a bit trickier actually enforcing them on the inside.

  18. I hate “fixing” my hair, and I only get it cut every couple months when I don’t have too much going on. If I was black, I would have a Ben Wallace fro.

    1. That’s how I deal with my facial hair. Trim it to 1/4″ a couple times a year.

  19. Since when do regulations apply to minority women?

    We weren’t even able to enforce things like “show up on time” without an EO shitstorm.

    I think the problem is that hair has to fit under the beret, and not be perched ontop of 8″ of cornrows like a sad misshapen yamaka.

    1. “Since when do regulations apply to minority women?

      We weren’t even able to enforce things like “show up on time” without an EO shitstorm.”

      It is a real tragedy that this kind of statement is spot-on. As a new NCO I got my pecker smacked a few times by the EO (that’s “Equal Opportunity” for the non .mil folks) OIC for trying to enforce basic military grooming standards and discipline, since those who tended to fall outside the regs weren’t always the same color or gender as I am.

      As plenty of people have noted, joining the Army is a voluntary association. We can argue all day as to whether or not there should BE an Army, but the fact is while it remains, no one’s forcing you to join it (at the moment, anyway). Don’t like the conditions? Don’t join, or suck it up like the rest of us.

  20. The Army exhibits no racial motive when it bans hairstyles that will impair a soldier from properly utilizing their issued military equipment. The hairstyles claimed to be racially biased are hairstyles that interfere with a soldier’s ability to properly wear their Kevlar helmet. And at $400K a pop, I don’t fault DoD for not wanting to pay out life insurance benefits because a soldier decided to style her hair in a way that saps the effectiveness of her headgear and causes her death.

    1. Which is why the same standard for men and women is the only thing that makes sense if there is a practical necessity for the regulation.

    2. If this is purely about safety, I don’t see why men and women should have different standards, or why the Army is emphasizing the necessity for “uniformity” in justifying the move.

      1. If this is purely about safety, I don’t see why men and women should have different standards, or why the Army is emphasizing the necessity for “uniformity” in justifying the move.

        That’s because you are being intentionally obtuse.

        Hair length doesn’t really matter to PPE/armor fitment, but hair style certainly does, and while I agree that men and women in the military should be held to exactly the same standards in every aspect, they simply are not.

        But to imply, as the article you are so vociferously defending does, that this is a sign of racial bias is pure bullshit.

  21. Why not just shear all of the non-coms like sheep and call it a day?

    1. …and Enlisted (don’t bite my head off for forgetting that Enlisted and non-coms aren’t the same thing).

  22. “Other prohibited hair moves include having more than one inch difference in length between front and back of hair, wearing a scrunchie that clashes with hair color, and parts that are not in a straight line.”

    The whole point of having a uniform is to look, well, uniform.
    (a) The hair length is to prevent faddish hairstyles that are not conservative. The soldiers are not Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago nor Audrey Tautou in Amelie. If soldiers want to have the hairstyles of showgirls or artists, then they can elect to not join the military and opt to go do those jobs where those hairstyles are available.
    (b) A prohibition on color-clashing scrunchies is to not give enemy eyes a contrasting color that exhibits movement, since it stands out as a target.
    (c) Single, straight-line hair parting, again, avoids faddish hairstyles.

    I don’t think the people complaining about this are going to get a lot of sympathy since, you know, they voluntarily joined an organization infamous for substantially controlling myriad aspects of one’s life.

    1. Yes, this is the bottom line. The military is as close as any voluntary organization gets to a company town; a fact that everyone (especially women) should be aware of by now. I have no sympathy for anyone who joins with the intent of expressing themselves fully and who gets slapped by the hard reality that the US military is not an irregular force and that it maintains professional standards.

  23. Are these hairstyles still permitted?

    (Google images)

    http://bit.ly/1jbIZfr

    1. Oops, Warty beat me to that joke.

      But contrast that to Army regs today:

      “Males will keep their face clean-shaven when in uniform or in civilian clothes on duty. Mustaches are permitted; if worn, males will keep mustaches neatly trimmed, tapered, and tidy. Mustaches will not present a chopped off or bushy appearance, and no portion of the mustache will cover the upper lip line or extend sideways beyond a vertical line drawn upward from the corners of the mouth. Handlebar mustaches, goatees, and beards are not authorized. If appropriate medical authority prescribes beard growth, the length required for medical treatment must be specified. For example, “The length of the beard will not exceed 1/4 inch.” Soldiers will keep the growth trimmed to the level specified by appropriate medical authority, but they are not authorized to shape the growth into goatees, or “Fu Manchu” or handlebar mustaches.”

      http://usmilitary.about.com/cs…..ming_2.htm

  24. From a libertarian perspective, I pretty much agree that all should have the same standards. From a practical perspective, as a female veteran (10 years as a Navy officer) I have some pretty strong personal opinions. My personal standard for my female sailors was pretty straight forward; your hair couldn’t get in the way of wearing your cover or any safety gear, and it had to be neat and above the collar. These get a little too nitpicky, and agree that they unfairly target African American women. Face it, on board a ship for 9+ months, there aren’t a lot of options as far as keeping your hair chemically treated, and twists were relatively easy. Even if the ship’s barbers couldn’t do them, there were always at least one or two women in berthing who could.

    And for God’s sake, the word scrunchie should NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER be associated with being in uniform. Ever. No scrunchies.

  25. This is what happens when you try to be nice and accomodating.

    Just tell everyone: no hair longer than one inch (half an inch, if you’re a Marine, because semper fi).

    Compliance will be checked by running a trimmer set to the regulation length over your head.

    There. Fixed.

  26. “Surely people smart and capable enough to fight and die for our country are smart and capable enough to assess for themselves which hairstyles are an interference and which aren’t.”

    HA! Clearly you haven’t spent much, or any, time around American Soldiers.

    1. HA! Clearly you haven’t spent much, or any, time around American Soldiers.

      Soldiers everywhere tend to make stupid decisions (re: combat/military discipline) the farther away from any actual fighting their MOS takes them.

      And it isn’t just American soldiers. The most asshatted bumblefucks I’ve ever seen were Royal Logistics Corps. The fact that US Army ended up being charged with resupply and convoy duties for British units in Iraq is condemnation of both the capability and competence of the RLC.

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