The Military, My Hair, and Me

“YOUR HAIR IS FALLING BELOW THE COLLAR”


I was 19 years old attending my first drill weekend. As I was walking down the hall at the NOSC, a fellow African American service member said these words to me. As irritated as I was, I turned around and said, “Do I have to put my hair in a ponytail?” She replied, “Yes, it is falling below the collar.”


I attended boot camp the previous year and my hair had been damaged due to me being a swimmer. At the time, I was still doing perms on my hair, but I was contemplating going natural/chemical free because it was becoming “a thing.” Growing up, I never cared for perms and I felt that they never worked on my hair. My hair has always been very thick, and it would never get “straight.” I would have to get perms and do additional heating, such as flat ironing my hair, which was causing major heat damage.


Before Transitioning

The military did not have regulations for black women having natural hair at this time, so I mostly wore weaves or braids to maintain the standards. However, no matter what I did to my hair, someone found something to say about it. Plus, I was a bit rebellious about it in the beginning because I truly felt that no one understood the essence of my crown. But things would soon make a BIG CHANGE.


I begin transitioning in 2013. For those who are unaware of what transitioning is, I stop putting chemicals in my hair, but I did not do the big chop immediately. The maintenance for sustaining my hair during the transition phase begin to get very frustrating for me. I decided March 2014, I would do the big chop and completely allow my hair to be FREE! I wanted LIBERATION! I wanted to be ME! I chose to be FREE!


"YOUR HAIR SHOULD LOOK LIKE HERS"

Big Chop!!

I had a friend to cut my perm ends out of my crown, and no one could say anything about my “short afro.” It was technically not in the hair regulations, but it was not against it either. I remember going on annual orders with braids in my hair. They told me that my “bun” was too big, so I had to take my braids out. The next day I went to the administrative office on base to complete my check in package. As I walk in, the Hispanic Senior Chief looks at me and says, “your hair should look like hers,” pointing to another African American service member with “perm hair.” At this time, I decided to not get upset in this moment but to teach him on the difference between my hair and hers. I believe it was very racist of him to say that “every black woman’s hair” should look the same or a certain way. After I educated him, he did not have much of an argument. I simply put that “my hair will never look like hers because I am natural, and she is not.” Period. And I decided to take a stand and go against the grain to never straighten my hair, anymore!


“I WILL NOT TAKE YOUR PHOTO”


A few months after I went natural, the Navy finally updated the hair regulation policy. African American women could finally wear their hair in a natural state while in uniform. I was so ecstatic that finally our hair would no longer be referred to as “unkempt.” This drill weekend I made the choice to teach my unit on the new hair regulation, with myself as an example, because I was wearing my afro at this time.


During this period, I was due to get a new military ID updated as well. I went to the Army’s ID office, and the Caucasian Sergeant refused to take my picture. I asked her, “Why is she not taking my photo for my new military ID?” She says, “Your hair is not done.” I asked, “What do you mean by my hair is not done?" She replies, "It is not done and it is not fixed.” I replied sharply, "My hair is done and the regulation's state that my hair can be 2 inches in bulk." I knew this for a fact because my hair shrinks at 90% in the natural state so I knew it did not exceed the 2 inches. She says, “I will measure it with my ruler.” I told her to do just that. She gets up from her desk, measures my hair which fell below 2 inches, and she still refuses to take my photo. Although her and I were the same rank at the time, she felt the need to challenge me because I proved her wrong. Nevertheless, I had to report the incident to my command and the issue was taken care of. When I went back to the office a few weeks later to finally get my military ID updated, the same Caucasian Sergeant had to take my photo. I was able to laugh at the fact that she reaped what she sowed.


FROM FREE NATURAL TO LOCS!

From 2014 to 2019 I embraced the free natural journey. I wore it proudly and I vowed I would never go back to chemicals or perms again! In June 2019, I decided to embark on a new journey which was..... LOC my hair.


The military dropped a new hair instruction that women could have LOCS and I have taken full advantage of it. Being LOC’D for one year and 4 months now has been one of the best decisions ever!


My reason for loc'ing my hair is simple: IT IS A CULTURAL STATEMENT AND LESS MAINTENANCE.


Thank you for tuning in to my hair journey while serving in the military. I am open to answering any questions about natural hair, LOCS, or being a woman in the military!


Please feel free to comment, like, share, or direct message me.


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