In the Military, Not Even Our Hair Is Safe!

We all know the military loves rules! Most of these rules are in place in order to protect, guide and lead our soldiers. Not even your hair is left sacred! But for a girl who loves highlights, layers and colour, these rules can be that much more difficult to live by, even if you know the reasoning behind them.

Photo by Jessica Dozois

A lot of women identify themselves with their hair, don’t they? Some like it long and flowing. Others like it fun and short. Some like wild colours, richness, and highlights. Readers…I love all of these things. But reality is, I can’t always have them.

One thing you have to know about me is that for the most part, I live by the rules. And living outside of the rules makes me nervous. The second thing you need to know about me is that I’m what I like to call a “hair chameleon”. Every two months, I like to make some kind of drastic change to keep things interesting. Ah, the joy I get from a visit to the hairdresser’s chair!! I’ve been everything from platinum blonde and super short (as you can see in my blog photo) to chocolate brown and way past my shoulders. I’ve included all these photos of my hair throughout the years so you can get an idea of all my changes. So when I went to basic training and discovered that there were rules governing the smallest detail, even my hair, I was aghast. How could hair be an issue that required a documented order?

One question I get asked often by civilians is, “Did they make you shave all your hair off like the movies?” Well, yes and no. The men certainly had to and many of them did it begrudgingly. But the women didn’t have to shave their heads. When it comes to women’s hair, your hair has to be long enough for a tight bun or a braid, or it has to be short enough to be above your collar. It also has to be “conservative in style and colour.” Sigh. Not words I like to hear when it comes to hair.

And oh, how I suffered in basic training with my hair! Despite my best efforts, I often had dangly bits trickling down my face (this would be considered pretty in civilian world…frowned upon in military world) and so I would shellac it to my head with hairspray and cry when I tried to remove my elastic at night. When we went into the field for 8 days without a shower, marching 20 km a day and nearly carrying your body weight in gear, my hair looked like a had a small family of birds living in there. At the very least, it was conservative in colour…it was covered in mud! To say that we were all a little unattractive (and SMELLY) by the end of that week would be the understatement of the century. So try to imagine my surprise when I got written up in the field for having messy hair. Yes. Really. I remember thinking….”Really? Does the Taliban care if my hair is messy?” The reality was that we were training for war and I couldn’t understand why the state of my hair mattered.

But as I get older and spend more time in the military, the regulations make more sense to me. We have those rules in order to provide us with the structure that is necessary in war. And all those rules, even the smaller ones, make for the structure and processes that make us run efficiently in situations that more often than not, are not at all structured. And when I think about it, when the taxpayers are paying our salary, do they want to see us with purple streaks and messy texture? No. They want to know we are professional. Organized. There to defend them and others. We have an image we need to project.

So yes, now I have come to make peace with the military and their hair rules. Don’t get me wrong…I often push the envelope a little further than some people at my unit have been comfortable with. But at the end of the day, I know my job is to be professional and be an officer. But that femininity is something I hold on to tightly. Because ultimately, I am both woman and officer. The trick is to finding balance in them both.