Female soldiers in the U.S. Army can now wear their hair loose and wear lipstick and nail polish when wearing their daily combat uniforms, officials announced. Male soldiers still must shave, according to the announcement.
The new directive that goes into effect in late February also allows female soldiers to wear earrings, have their hair highlighted, or dyed, in braids, twists, cornrows, officials said. The recent changes were implemented as Army officials addressed long-standing complaints, particularly from women, the Associated Press reported.
“These aren’t about male and female,” said Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston, the Army's top enlisted leader explained, during a Facebook Live presentation. “This is about an Army standard and how we move forward with the Army and being a more diverse, inclusive team.”
In July, Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered a new review of military hairstyle and grooming policies that were part of a broader order to expand diversity within the military and reduce prejudice, in the wake of widespread protests about racial inequality last summer, the Associated Press reported.
The announcement was made a few days after Lloyd Austin, the Pentagon's first Black defense secretary, took over. Part of Austin’s agenda is to root out racism and extremism in the ranks and foster more inclusion. Esper and many of the service leaders have also been taking steps to make the military more diverse, particularly in the higher ranks, AP reported.
The new grooming changes were based on various factors that included cultural, health and safety issues. Army Sgt. Maj. Brian Sanders told a panel of reporters that “tight hair buns previously required by the Army can trigger hair loss and other scalp problems for some women, and larger buns needed to accommodate thick or longer hair, can make a combat helmet fit badly and potentially impair good vision."
Male soldiers are still not permitted to grow a beard or wear earrings. They can dye their hair, but the colors are limited to “natural” shades, the rules state. Both men and women are allowed to wear nail polish. Men are permitted to wear clear polish, while women can wear any color, with the exception of “extreme” shades such as purple, black, blue, or “fire-engine” red.