The United States Army is facing criticism after releasing new appearance standards that essentially ban most of the hairstyles that black women with natural hair wear. The regulations ban twists, locks, and braids thicker than one fourth of an inch.
Women of color in uniform – who make up a third of women in the military — are pushing back on these restrictions with a petition started by Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard. As Jacobs says, “I’m disappointed to see the Army, rather than inform themselves on how black people wear their hair, they’ve white-washed it all.” The soldiers most affected should definitely speak out for more cultural sensitivity around issues of hair. And we should definitely still be questioning why we continue to define our norms of “professional” appearance against aesthetics that are more likely to be naturally presented by white bodies.
But cultural sensitivity has to come from some sort of understanding. This is where these regulations — and even some of the criticisms of them — are truly lacking. Reading up on this story, there are several things that I would like to clarify.
- The rule requiring the “bulk of hair” to not exceed 2″ clearly does not take into account shrinkage, which can take 10″ hair to 3″ with just a few spritzes of water. Most black girls also have these things called “edges” which account for a variation in hair length.
- “Dreadlocks” is a historically offensive term to many people who wear them.
- While it’s cute that folks are thinking of the potential damage that braids and weaves can cause, black women who wear and prepared these styles know that wearing weave can actually be a great protective style and help grow your hair.
- And the most important point about weave: it isn’t cheap. (Well, some weave is cheap but that kind of weave certainly wouldn’t survive a long tour of duty or even basic training.) If wearing weave is the only way to meet these regulations for many black women, that represents a significant additional expense. Unless you can do it yourself or have some kind of hook up on salon services, you will also have to pay for the installation of said weave. Weave has to be maintained. Weave has to be removed (so that you can treat your real hair) and re-installed. It simply isn’t a viable option for many of us.
This is just another example of why we need to trust people to know what works best for their bodies. The ramifications extend far beyond being “cute.”
Sesali only purchases weave once every 2 years or so for these very reasons.