In this Transformation Day post, we salute the U.S. Navy, which finally updated its grooming standards, allowing servicewomen more flexibility in hairstyles. The policy shift has been a long time coming, and it’s not perfect, but it’s a start and step in the right direction that recognizes the diversity and beauty of all hair types and textures.
Lt. Tiffany D. Pearson shares her view on this change as a woman of color in the Navy.
We can wear ponytails and locs in uniform tomorrow?! I couldn’t believe what I was reading — the U.S. Navy was finally allowing the heretofore unimaginable, a new shift in hair regulations. Though I’ve recently opted for a low fade, I celebrated with black women throughout the fleet when I learned yet another style intrinsic to my heritage and conducive to healthy hair was no longer deemed “unprofessional.” For me, this policy shift was a détente of sorts — an easing of tension between my natural hair and Navy regulations. Reconciliation between my service and myself has removed the burden competing factors once presented.
The new Navy policy sets forth the most significant changes to the hair grooming regulations I’ve seen in my eight years of enlisted and commissioned service. The policy seems to take into consideration the multicultural diversity of the U.S. Navy. It offers a broader and more inclusive version of what it means to “look professional.”
The chief of naval operations (CNO) made the announcement regarding this ambitious policy change surrounded by black female sailors who took part in the policy working group. In many ways, that video symbolized for me a shift in perspective. It showed me a Navy comprised of sailors from all walks of life, socioeconomic statuses, and backgrounds. By including a number of diverse voices in the policy process, the Navy was able to produce a far-reaching policy that brought about more equity — a recognition that there is nothing inherently unprofessional about my hair in its natural state. Valuing core facets of each sailor elicits a sense of dignity, as they serve with honor, courage, and commitment. No need to sacrifice personhood to do so.
I entered Navy training in 2011 with a low-cut fade and a desire for adventure. One year, a few relaxers, and many days of “hat hair” later, I decided transitioning back to my natural curls was a must. The response was not good. “Did you stick your finger in a light socket?” asked a senior officer. I’d planned to take a year in transitioning, but the constant negative feedback resulted in a swift cut — a small Afro that drew fewer comments and less scrutiny.
While the new regulations aren’t perfect (still no faux locs!), they do provide an expanded vision of what “professional” can look like, including hair that looks like mine. Truthfully, this has removed an unnecessary stressor from my life and opened up a world of possibilities. Who knows, I may eventually start locs of my own or opt to wear a wig. I may go back to styles I’m familiar with. Whatever I choose to do, the options have expanded, and while not perfect, the tension between my hair and Navy regulations has eased.
What do you think of the Navy’s new hair policy? Share your thoughts or thank the women who serve in the comments section below.