WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Army is facing criticism for its new appearance and grooming regulations, which some soldiers say unfairly target black women's hair.
One of the new regulations, which applies only to women, is a ban on twists, dreadlocks and multiple braids/cornrows that are bigger than a quarter of an inch. Army spokesman Paul Prince told the Army Times that twists and dreadlocks have been barred since 2005, but these regulations go into more detail about specific hairstyles.
Women with these banned hairstyles will need to get rid of them or cover them with wigs or extensions, which can damage hair.
A Power Point presentation from mid-March, before the regulations officially came out, shows the unauthorized hairstyles:
Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard has started a petition on the White House website calling on the Army to reconsider its changes to "allow professional ethnic hairstyles." From her petition, which needs 100,000 signatures in order to trigger a response from the White House:
More than 30% of females serving in the military are of a race other than white. As of 2011, 36% of females in the U.S. stated that they are natural, or refrain from chemically processing their hair. 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 as well as two strand twists; as well as dreadlocks, which are defined as "any matted or locked coils or ropes of hair." These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent. This policy needs to be reviewed prior to publishing to allow for neat and maintained natural hairstyles.
When asked for comment on the criticism, Lt. Col. S. Justin Platt, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said, "The requirement for hair grooming standards is necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population. Many hairstyles are acceptable, as long as they are neat and conservative. In addition, headgear is expected to fit snugly and comfortably, without bulging or distortion from the intended shape of the headgear and without excessive gaps."
"Unfortunately, some hairstyles do not meet this standard or others listed in AR 670-1," he added. "The publishing of the 2014 version helps to clarify the Department of the Army policy for proper wear and appearance of Army uniforms and insignia, as worn by officers and enlisted personnel of the Active Army and the United States(U.S.) Army Reserve, as well as by former Soldiers."
In an interview with the Army Times, Jacobs said twists are a popular style for black female soldiers because they are "easy to take care of in the field."
“I’ve been in the military six years, I’ve had my hair natural four years, and it’s never been out of regulation. It’s never interfered with my head gear," added Jacobs, who wears her hair in two twists and doesn't know what she'll do now.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler has also been hearing criticisms on his official Facebook page, where he wrote, "The Army is a profession, and one of the ways our leaders and the American people measure our professionalism is by our appearance."
"The new 'hair' regs is all against ethic [sic] hair," Shanay Jeffries, whose Facebook profile photo shows her in her military uniform, wrote in response. "It's sad that I can't wear my short natural hair out anymore, then I can't cut it either because that's out of regs. I feel like I'm being pressured to have a 'white' appearance. I thought the army was about diversity. Maybe I'm reading into it wrong but that's what it's giving off.."
An Army veteran named "Tonya" (whose name was changed to protect her identity) told Al Jazeera's "The Stream" that in her experience, most black women in the military wear their hair natural, and they often don't have the tools needed to straighten their hair when they're deployed.
"I don't think they see the health behind it. Getting these extensions, these braids, can put a lot of stress and strain on our hair," Tonya said. "When you're in Iraq, these hairstyles serve the purpose to protect you."
This article was updated after publication with comment from an Army spokesman.
Correction: This piece originally stated that the White House petition on the issue was close to 100,000 signatures. It is actually at only about 7,000 signatures.