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Air Force improves readiness for a diverse force

The U.S. Air Force has made various changes to the service’s dress and appearance guidance during 2021, one of which being female hair grooming standards.

The Air Force has made changes to the service’s dress and appearance guidance during 2021, including changes to female hair grooming standards. These changes improved the health and well-being of Airmen while ensuring a diverse force that can be ready at a moment’s notice. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Senior Airman Cheyenne Lewis)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) --

Throughout 2020 and 2021, the U.S. Air Force rolled out several changes to the dress and appearance Air Force Instruction (36-2903). Most of the changes have been seen in female-specific regulations.

Significant changes to the restrictions on women’s hair early in 2021 included allowing braids and ponytails in all uniforms, operational safety permitting.

Women’s health is one of the primary reasons for making this decision. In November 2020, the Air Force Uniform Board reviewed recommendations from across the Air Force. The Air Force’s Women’s Initiative Team provided the board with detailed research along with feedback from thousands of women across the Air Force stating the current standards for female hair grooming resulted in migraines.

“I know personally I get headaches with the bun, but no headaches with the ponytail,” said 2nd Lt. Jessica Cleaver, 325th Contracting Squadron services flight officer in charge. “I can attest to the increased comfort I now have every day.”

The research brought to the board also showed the long-term styling of a bun can lead to hair damage and even hair loss.

“I’m happy to not have a raging headache until the moment I’m off duty,” said Senior Airman Kirsten Watson, 325th Communication Squadron knowledge management journeyman “These changes have also saved our hair. Wearing a bun every day, you’ll notice hair loss and red bumps on your hairline. Due to this new change, I will not be showing signs of balding in my 20s.”

An equally important reason for making the change to female hair standards was to ensure the regulations are inclusive and accommodate all personnel across the Air Force. The previous standards were more difficult for some women to adhere to than others, depending on their hair type.

“In addition to the health concerns we have for our Airmen, not all women have the same hair type, and our hair standards should reflect our diverse force,” said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass, in the Air Force’s announcement of the change. “I am pleased we could make this important change for our women service members.”

Watson described the approved hairstyles as “the regulation change every female is thanking leadership the most for.”

This update to the dress-and-appearance AFI has been well received from women across the Air Force, but for women who didn’t want or need to change, buns are still authorized. This change simply allows Airmen to have more choices to take better care of their health.

While discussing the importance of recognizing diversity within U.S. forces, “these changes are significant because it shows the Air Force is listening to the concerns of its people,” said Staff Sgt. Denise Ntow, 325th Comptroller Squadron commander support staff.

These updates to female grooming standards weren’t the only regulations to be adjusted in order to stay current with the forces’ needs and preferences. Specific maintenance Airmen may now wear shorts and duty identifier patches are currently in the works for all career fields. Airmen should stay current on all updated regulations to understand what is now authorized.

“I think the Air Force is doing a good job with looking at the items that don’t make sense,” Cleaver concluded. “These are the conversations happening now sparking great change. I encourage everyone, both male and female, to continue to have the conversation on what right looks like to them in 2021.”

Members may submit uniform suggestions to the Air Force Uniform Board for consideration by visiting the Airman Powered by Innovation page on the Air Force Portal.