A hairy issue: Sailors tell the US Navy, 'We want beards'

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Now that women in the Navy can wear ponytails, men want beards.

The Navy said last week that servicewomen could sport ponytails, lock hairstyles, or ropelike strands, and wider hair buns, reversing a policy that long forbade women from letting their hair down.

Servicemen immediately chimed in on social media, asking the Navy if they could grow beards. A sailor's Facebook post with a #WeWantBeards hashtag was shared thousands of times.

Beards were banned in 1984. The Navy wanted professional-looking sailors who could wear firefighting masks and breathing apparatuses without interference.

The Navy says that's still the case. Still, some hope the change in female grooming standards opens the door.

Travis Rader, a 29-year-old naval physical security officer, said allowing beards would boost morale for men, just like allowing ponytails and locks has for women. There are two things that would make many Navy men happy: beards and better boots, he added.

Rader had a 6-inch-long beard when he joined the Navy after high school.

"You take something away from somebody, and they want it more," said Rader, a master-at-arms assigned to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.

The Navy announced it was adding grooming options for women during a Facebook Live event. Many black women had asked the Navy to be more inclusive of different hair textures. The Navy had the standards in place because of safety concerns and to ensure everyone maintained a uniform, professional look.

Rader was one of several sailors who wrote in the comments section of the Facebook Live event to press for beards. Bill Williams, a 20-year-old naval information systems technician, commented too, asking why sailors can't have beards if bearded civilian firefighters wear masks.

Williams said he thinks a nice, well-groomed beard looks professional.

"It'd be great because I know that when I shave for multiple days in a row, it starts to really hurt," said Williams, who works at the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station Hampton Roads in Virginia.

Sailors can get permission to grow a beard for religious reasons or if they have a skin condition that's irritated by shaving. Mustaches are allowed as long as they are trimmed and neat.

"Handlebar mustaches, goatees, beards or eccentricities are not permitted," the policy states. The Navy isn't currently considering changing that.

Safety continues to be the primary concern, said Lt. j.g. Stuart Phillips, a spokesman for the chief of naval personnel. He referenced a 2016 study by the Naval Safety Center, which concluded that facial hair affects the proper fit and performance of respirators.

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