The U.S. military is loosening its hairstyle requirements to allow more styles that are popular with black women, responding to criticism from some service members and lawmakers that black recruits had been treated unfairly by new restrictions.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in a letter this week to the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, wrote that all the military branches except the Marine Corps would expand their definitions of acceptable hairstyles to include cornrows, braids and other common black hairstyles.
Hagel also said that military regulations in all branches would eliminate “offensive language, including the terms ‘matted and unkempt,’ from both the Army and Air Force grooming regulations.”
In April, Hagel ordered the secretaries of each military branch to conduct a policy review after the 16 women of the Congressional Black Caucus complained about new Army regulations banning large cornrows, twists and dreadlocks.
“As a result of these reviews, the Army, Navy and Air Force determined changes were necessary to their service grooming requirements to include additional authorized hairstyles,” Hagel wrote.
Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, the chairwoman of the black caucus, thanked Hagel in a written statement Tuesday.
“These changes recognize that traditional hairstyles worn by women of color are often necessary to meet their unique needs, and acknowledges that these hairstyles do not result in or reflect less professionalism or commitment to the high standards required to serve within our armed forces,” Fudge said.
Hagel’s letter said that the Marine Corps would review its hairstyle policy this summer.