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US Navy Gives Women Permission to Let their Hair Down

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The United States Navy is giving female service members more choices with the shape and look of their hair.

The Navy has approved changes to let servicewomen wear a ponytail or have other hairstyles. The new rules – announced during a Facebook Live event – went into effect on Wednesday.

The Navy has long barred females from letting their hair down, including tying long hair in a ponytail.

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said the changes aim to make the Navy a more “inclusive team.”

The new rules came about after several servicewomen suggested changes to the hairstyle policy.

A group of Navy women was asked to consider different proposals, some of which were eventually approved by military officials.

In this April 26, 2017 file photo, U.S. Navy Ensign Megan Stevenson, right, of Raymond, Maine, trains at patching high-pressure pipe leaks during a class at the Naval Submarine School, in Groton, Conn. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
In this April 26, 2017 file photo, U.S. Navy Ensign Megan Stevenson, right, of Raymond, Maine, trains at patching high-pressure pipe leaks during a class at the Naval Submarine School, in Groton, Conn. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

Captain Thurraya Kent was a member of this working group. She said they supported an expansion of approved hairstyles to make it easier for women to carry out their duties. It would also prevent the need for women to keep processing their hair with chemicals.

Female service members will also now be permitted to wear what the Navy describes as lock hairstyles -- pieces of hair that are tightly pulled into rope-like strands.

Kent has served in the Navy for nearly 26 years. She noted that her hair has been an issue throughout her military service. Kent told the Associated Press that she spent a lot of time deciding how to wear it when deployed. She said it could also be a problem trying to make sure she did not violate policies after doing an exercise or other non-work-related activities.

Kent said she was pleased that Navy leaders listened to the suggestions and tried to understand the needs of female sailors.

At the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island, some women said they looked forward to moving away from a bun hairstyle, which is sometimes too large for a helmet.

U.S. Navy Legalman First Class Tamatha Schulmerich works at her desk at the Naval War College, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Newport, R.I. (AP Photo/Jennifer McDermott)
U.S. Navy Legalman First Class Tamatha Schulmerich works at her desk at the Naval War College, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Newport, R.I. (AP Photo/Jennifer McDermott)

Legalman First Class Tamatha Schulmerich told the Associated Press she has been forced to keep her hair in a bun because it goes down to her lower back. She said it was especially difficult when she had to wear a flight helmet.

Lieutenant Commander Jess Cameron said that while the hairstyle changes might seem like a small thing, she thinks they send a larger message.

“I think it’s a step forward,” she told the AP. “They’re getting more female feedback in the service, and updating what I think are somewhat antiquated guidelines that maybe no longer serve their purpose in today’s society, today’s military,” she said.

Navy officials say hairstyle rules are important for safety reasons and to make sure all service members present the same look. Even though the new rules permit a ponytail most of the time, the hairstyle will still be banned when women are working around heavy machinery.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English. His story was based on reports from the Associated Press and other sources. George Grow was the editor.

Do you think some hairstyles should be banned for military women? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

ponytail n. way of arranging hair by gathering it together at the back of the head and letting it hang down freely

hairstyle – n. a way in which someone’s hair is cut or organized

strand n. a thin piece of hair

bun n. way of wearing long hair by twisting it into a round shape at the sides or back of the head

helmet n. a hard hat worn to protect your head

update v. add new information

antiquatedadj. very old, not modern

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