|Captain Deshauna Barber, U.S. Army, photo courtesy of Vogue|
In 2014, Army Regulation 670-1 mandated that soldiers were banned from wearing most natural hairstyles—including “twists, dreadlocks, Afros and braids”– along with hijabs, religious beards, and turbans while in service.
But in January of 2017, after receiving numerous complaints that the ban was discriminatory from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the military to review its policies. The United States Army revised their regulations, allowing cornrows, braids and locs to be worn. The Army’s new rules state that each loc “will be of uniform dimension; have a diameter no greater than a half-inch; and present a neat, professional and well-groomed appearance.”
Because of this new change, more servicewomen are feeling comfortable rocking their hair in its true natural form. The new mandated rule inspired this series of photos below from Vogue.
“When I first came into the military, people would always say, ‘What’s the problem? Why can’t you just straighten your hair?’” says Army Captain Deshauna Barber, in an interview with Vogue, who, like her peers, has wrestled with regulations that were diametrically at odds with her springy, breakage-prone coils. “
The recent change in regulations has given me more options,” Lieutenant Colonel Junel Jeffrey says. “It also says a lot about how the Army feels about inclusion. I feel like now it’s okay to be me.”
“Hair is a complicated thing for women of color,” says Barber, who still remembers struggling with the discomfort of wearing wigs under her helmet. “The new regulations show they did the research; there’s an understanding and appreciation of just how diverse our backgrounds are.”
|Captain Faren Campbell, U.S. Army, photo courtesy of Vogue|
“We understood there was no need to differentiate between locks, cornrows or twists as long as they all met the same dimension,” said Sergeant. Major Anthony J. Moore, the uniform policy branch sergeant major at the Army’s office of the deputy chief of staff for personnel. “Females have been asking for a while, especially females of African-American descent, to be able to wear dreadlocks and locks because it’s easier to maintain that hairstyle.”
“When you first cut off your hair, it’s like, ‘Oh, man, I’m stuck!’” says Campbell, who wears her natural hair at a fourth of an inch from her head, the shortest possible length for women in the Army. “But then you embrace it, because there’s nothing to hide behind anymore. I’d say the shorter my hair is, the happier I am.”
|First Lieutenant Whennah Andrews, Army National Guard, photo courtesy of Vogue|
“We wanted to dispel the myth surrounding them, this idea that the style is somehow unhygienic,” says Andrews, who submitted the clip to the uniform advisory board at the Pentagon last year. “We literally put the hair under a microscope to show that’s not the case, to show that locks can belong in any place of business and certainly in the military.”
|Lieutenant Junior Grade Arabia Littlejohn, U.S. Navy, photo courtesy of Vogue|
“I know that as a woman of color, I have to lead from the front and be a model for other black junior officers,” says Littlejohn. “It’s a responsibility that’s on my shoulders, but I’m grateful for it.”
|Major Tennille Woods Scott, U.S. Army, photo courtesy of Vogue|
“It’s refreshing to see women up and down the ranks embracing their natural hair,” says Scott. “I think my mom would be pleasantly surprised.”
The Army now allows Muslim women to wear hijabs and male soldiers to wear beards and turbans, as long as it’s a religious requirement.
All images courtesy of Vogue.