Army eases hairstyle restrictions to let female soldiers ‘feel like a woman’

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Army leaders on Tuesday announced the easing of some rules next month concerning the grooming and hairstyles of female soldiers, following longstanding complaints, namely from women, The Associated Press reports.

While female soldiers will now be permitted to wear their hair in long ponytails or braids and tuck it in their shirts, or wear non-”extreme” nail polish colors, male soldiers can only wear clear polish and are still required to shave.

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“These aren’t about male and female,” Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston, the Army’s top enlisted leader, said Tuesday during a Facebook Live presentation on the reforms. “This is about an Army standard and how we move forward with the Army, and being a more diverse, inclusive team.”

As part of the looser rules, which will take effect late next month, there will be greater flexibility for the wearing of more natural hairstyles such as braids, twists, and cornrows.

Letting female soldiers wear stud earrings — still banned for men — in combat uniforms also allows them to “feel like a woman inside and outside of uniform,” Sanders explained.

“At the end of the day, our women are mothers, they’re spouses, they’re sisters, they definitely want to be able to maintain their identity and that’s what we want to get after.”

The looser rules follow former Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s directive last summer, in which he called for a new review of military policies concerning hairstyle and grooming, in an effort to increase the military’s diversity and limit prejudice following global Black Lives Matter protests.

The announcement came on the heels of Lloyd Austin being named the country’s Secretary of Defense last week, making him the first Black person to have the title.

Cultural, health, and safety issues were among the factors considered by the panel responsible for recommending the changes, Army Sgt. Maj. Brian Sanders told reporters Tuesday. He noted that the previously required tight hair buns could lead to scalp problems for women, including hair loss, while larger buns for thicker or longer hair could affect the way a helmet fits and negatively impact one’s vision.

Women going through Ranger or special operations training must still get their heads shaved like their male counterparts, though there will no longer be a minimum length requirement post-training.

Women and men alike can dye their hair “natural” shades.

With News Wire Services

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