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Loosened hairstyle standards for Army women bring out critics on social media

The Army this month updated its grooming standards to permit female soldiers to wear ponytails and braids on-duty in all uniforms after some troops argued a standards reform implemented earlier this year did not go far enough.

U.S. ARMY

By ERICA EARL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 14, 2021

One week after the Army changed its policy to permit female service members to wear their hair in something other than a bun, the verdict from social media is anything but unanimous.

The change allows women to wear ponytails and braids in all duty uniforms, but a common complaint on social media forums like Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, particularly from men, is that the change makes unfair concessions to women.

Out of more than 200 comments on the Stars and Stripes Facebook page, several commenters, mostly men, pointed out the change as a softening of Army standards.

The hairstyle change follows another the Army made in January to provide relief to soldiers suffering migraines and traction alopecia, a hair loss condition caused by repeated pulling and tension on the hair and scalp. The changes come from a uniform policy board helmed by Sgt. Major Brian Sanders that met with female soldiers in December.

The Army in January said the change was also meant to be more accommodating for Black women and permits “multiple hairstyles at once,” including twists, braids, locs and cornrows.

Men aren’t the only ones taking to social media to attack the Army’s new grooming standards for women. A retired Army master sergeant posted a video on TikTok recently that shows her in uniform with her hair in a ponytail.

“Yeah right, this is a terrible idea. They should have let the guys have beards instead,” she says while securing her hair in a bun. “C’mon ladies, it isn’t that hard.”

The video had over 25,000 views as of Thursday. A barrage of comments attached to it accused the creator of being an unsympathetic leader, inconsiderate of Black women and a “pick me” — a term used online for women who align their views with men to receive their attention or approval.

The video’s creator, who goes by jelly.bags_ on the video-sharing app, declined an interview with Stars and Stripes.

An active-duty soldier who goes by Princess Nadia on Twitter said videos like these are discouraging for women in the military whom the new policy helps.

“I think the main reason why people disagree with the pony is simply due to lack of information,” she said in a Twitter direct message to Stars and Stripes on Wednesday. “If they sat down and saw the effects of the buns on curly and coily hair I feel as though they would think twice.”

Nadia, 22, said she needs biannual shots to help with her traction alopecia.

“It’s from brushing it back and slicking it into a bun,” she said. If critics like the retired master sergeant could see the thin patch of hair on Nadia’s head, “she wouldn’t have made the video and she would understand why the regulation is necessary.”

The Army policy follows similar moves by the Navy and the Air Force. The Air Force in March started allowing women to wear braids and ponytails; the Navy has permitted these hairstyles since 2018.

The Navy in April removed subjective words like “faddish” and “eccentric” from its grooming regulations.

The Marine Corps Headquarters Public Affairs Office did not respond to phone and email queries from Stars and Stripes Wednesday and Thursday about their female grooming regulations.

Army veteran Celeste Flaherty told Stars and Stripes via Facebook Messenger on Friday that she would like to see male soldiers stop counting a win for women as a loss for men.

“Let’s be supportive of our professional counterparts and colleagues,” she said. “Changes to come may address the outdated standards of male grooming. But this change isn’t about male grooming, it’s about female hair standards. Not everything revolves around males. Be happy for your female counterparts, this is a productive change.”

erica.earl@stripes.com
Twitter: @ThisEarlGirl