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The Marine Corps appears to be gradually moving toward the day when women in the service will be allowed to wear unsecured ponytails and not have to tie their hair into tight buns.

Under the latest changes to approved hairstyles for women in the Marine Corps, women with medium-length hair can wear a half-ponytail or two half braids when not conducting physical training, Corps officials said.

Prior to these changes, female Marines with medium-length and long hair could only wear half ponytails during PT.

Women in the Marine Corps are still only allowed to wear full ponytails when they are conducting PT, unlike female soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardians, and women in the Coast Guard.

Hairstyles for women in the military have long been a sensitive issue. While approved military hairstyles are ostensibly intended to ensure that female service members can wear their helmets and other headgear, these regulations have not taken into account different types of hair, especially for black women.

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Prior to allowing female soldiers to wear long ponytails in January 2021, the Army found that tight bun hairstyles required by the military put black women at severe risk of Traction Alopecia, a medical condition in which people lose their hair due to constant pulling on the follicles.

Marines may be inching closer to allowing women to have ponytails
(U.S. Marine Corps)

“Direct result of pulling hair tight,” an Army panel presentation on traction alopecia found, “Affects 1/3 of [African American] women who wear prolonged, tight hairstyles.”

Army Lt. Col. Andrea M. Peters wrote in an August 2020 letter published by Military.com that as a black woman, she had to go to great lengths to meet the Army’s hair regulations when she was a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

“I was rushing to straighten my hair with a home no-lye relaxer made of calcium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide as the active ingredient,” Peters wrote. “The relaxer burns the scalp, often leaving sores or irritated, tender skin. But this was all we had to meet the service regulation and the desire to look professional, ‘squared away’ and ‘beautiful’ at the Academy and in the Army.”

While the Marine Corps still allows female Marines to wear their long hair in a tight bun, the latest uniform changes also make clear that they can also have their hair styled in another way so long as it is professional, the ends of their hair are not exposed, and their hair does not extend beyond 2 inches below the base of their back collar.

“Marines are encouraged to avoid alcohol-based styling products, styling wet hair, and hairstyles that cause undue tension on hair follicles,” according to Marine Corps Administrative Message (MARADMIN) 615/22, which was released on Nov. 23. “In order to minimize potential damage from daily hairstyling, Marines are encouraged to avoid alcohol-based styling products, styling wet hair, and hairstyles that cause undue tension on hair follicles. There is no requirement to have tightly pulled back or slicked back hair at any length.”

Retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Julianna Zarogoza told Task & Purpose that she feels the updates to approved hairstyles for female Marines are a needed change.

“The grooming standards are meant to maintain a professional appearance,” Zarogoza told Task & Purpose. “The new standards improve practicality and functionality in many aspects, allowing more hairstyles that are easier to maintain, and permitting greater comfort and flexibility without sacrificing professional appearance.”

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