Natural Hair in the Armed Forces

In Honor of Veteran's Day

More than 200,000 women are in active-duty military, which makes up about 14% of the United States Armed Forces. Of that, about 31% are African American women. Everyday, these women sacrifice to serve and protect us, and we celebrate their contributions to our armed forces and society on Veteran’s Day.

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I talked with four ladies, two Veterans and two currently serving, about their experiences in the military in regards to hair care, motivation for enlisting and their future goals.

 

After high school, Zippy did not want to go straight to college. Jokingly, she told her mother that she should join the Navy and her mother called her bluff, set up an appointment for her with a recruiter, and now she’s almost done with her Master’s and did not pay a dime for her education. She says, “This was one of the best decisions I made in my life.”

Jokingly, Zippy told her mother that she should join the Navy after high school. Her mother called her bluff and set up an appointment with a recruiter. She says, “This was one of the best decisions I made in my life.”

Zipporah “Zippy” served in the U.S. Navy for 6 years and was a Hospital Corpsman/Dental Technician (HM2). She was stationed in Quantico, VA with the Marines and then in San Diego, CA before leaving the service. She is currently working on a Master’s degree.

Mo: Tell me a few things about yourself!

Zippy: I am a Trinidadian born and raised in New York City. My interests include traveling, hair and makeup, reading, acting, all kinds of water sports and spending time with friends and family. I love seafood, my favorite color is pink and my favorite thing to do is have FUN while making money.

Mo: Were you natural while serving? If so, what kind of styles did you do?

Zippy: I actually transitioned to natural while serving. I would either flat iron it and wear a slicked back bun on workdays or rod set it if I wanted curls on my off days. I also wore braids and sometimes weave and wigs; I have done it all!

 

 

Tahmeka is a wife and mother who LOVES books and writing. She is currently working in higher education and working on writing her first novel.

Tahmeka is a wife and mother who LOVES books. She is currently working in higher education and writing her first novel.

Tahmeka served in the U.S. Navy as a Sonar Technician (Surface), Third Class Petty Officer. She was stationed at 32nd Street Naval Base in San Diego and the USS Bainbridge. Three years into undergrad, she was ready for a new experience and decided to join the Navy as a way to travel and pay for the rest of her education.

Mo: Did you have natural hair during your time in the military? If so, how did you manage? If not, do you think it would have been easy or difficult to do and why?

Tahmeka: I did not have natural hair; I wore a relaxed, pixie cut. It was just as much work, maybe more than natural hair because I had to get it done weekly. In the Navy you wear a cover (hat) every time you go outside in uniform. You also work out every morning. A TWA would have been perfect, but I don’t think longer natural hair would have been practical at all. When you’re on a ship, water is kind of rationed so you wouldn’t always be able to do a thorough hair care routine.

Mo: What’s your hair type and current favorite style/regimen?

Tahmeka: My hair type is a mix of 4a/b/c. I wash my hair about every ten days with Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Shampoo. I condition with Aussie Moist conditioner or whatever I’m experimenting with at the moment, and I always add a few tablespoons of coconut oil to my conditioner. I prefer braid-outs, which I’ll wear until it’s old, then I will do up-do’s or puffs.

 

Shina: Shina is currently earning a Bachelor’s degree in Business, Human Resource Management and is considering continuing to serve as a civilian after completion of duty.

Shina is currently earning a Bachelor’s degree in Business, Human Resource Management and is considering continuing to serve as a civilian after completion of duty.

Shina is a member of the United States Air Force, currently stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana. She is a dental periodontal therapist (hygienist) with additional administrative duties.  Her dad was in the Air Force, which influenced her decision to enlist.

Mo: Tell me about you!

Shina: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is my home. I love being creative; I enjoy sewing, knitting, scrapbooking, photography, and even making homemade hair and beauty products. Marvin Gaye is my all-time favorite artist, Martin is my favorite TV show, and the Friday series, along with Boomerang and Baby Boy are my top movie picks.

Mo: How do you manage your hair so you are compliant with military rules on dress code and appearance? Do you think it is challenging having natural hair in the military?

Shina: Managing my hair usually consists of making sure it stays right at or above my collar and trying to keep it within requirements while maintaining a neat appearance. Since I have to wear my hair up, I use a lot of product at times. I wash my hair three to four times a week by co-washing and deep conditioning. I have type 3C/4A hair, so my staple product is Cantu Shea Butter Leave-In Repair Cream to keep it hydrated and I rely more on protective styling as my hair has gotten longer. Acceptance of my natural look has been mixed. I have to interact with people from all corners of the country and in some cases the world. I have gotten stares from people, some of which may just be an interest in how my hair looks and other times I feel it’s viewed negatively. It does feel like people are more willing to speak to me when my hair is straightened, especially here in Montana where the African American population is very small. This was not the case at all when I was in Japan. The women there were very interested in my hair being that it was different from what they were used to seeing.

 

After three years of college, not really knowing what she wanted to do with a degree, Carla decided to join the Air Force because of the career benefits. She plans to re-enlist and is leaning toward making her career in the military.

After three years of college, not really knowing what she wanted to do with a degree, Carla decided to join the Air Force because of the career benefits. She plans to re-enlist and is leaning toward making her career in the military.

Carla is currently stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska as a member of the Air Force. Her department is responsible for managing the development and maintenance of various “Air Force curricula.”

Mo: Tell me a little about yourself!

Carla:  I was born and raised in Florida, so you can imagine how my first Alaskan winter treated me…I’d never seen snow before my move here!  On weekends I like to go shopping and have drinks with friends. I like my food spicy and foreign (must be the Jamaican in me), but I cannot live without pizza. Sandra Bullock and Sanaa Lathan are my favorite actresses and I absolutely adore the colors cream and hunter green.

Mo: How do you manage your hair so you are compliant with military rules on dress code and appearance? What is your care regimen?

Carla: Before I joined the military, I’d been natural for two years. During my first year and a half in the military I mainly did wet styles or wore my hair in a bun. I was focused on presenting the utmost professional military image, sometimes at the expense of my hair. I kept it trimmed and moisturized, but it never grew past shoulder-length. Lately, I’ve been paying closer attention to my hair. I shampoo every two weeks, with a co-wash in between, depending on the amount of product I used during the week. And I always deep condition with every wash. As far as my look, I’m always compliant. Now that I have a better regimen, my hair is growing and it’s looking better than ever. As far as others in my unit, they’re just amazed that I can go from Saturday night big curly hair, to Monday morning professional bun!

 

I would like to extend a sincere thank you to all of the women and men of the United States Armed Forces. Your willingness to serve is both admirable and courageous. I truly appreciate all of the sacrifices you make and the things you do to protect our country.