In the 1970’s beards were in — and they were very in at the Navy. At the time, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt began issuing his famous “Z-grams” regarding initiatives that he hoped would help reduce racism and sexism in the Navy while improving its image.

In addition to allowing longer hair, beards and sideburns, Zumwalt dropped many uniform regulations. Zumwalt also recognized the importance of the Afro as symbol of black pride and identity, so African-Americans were no longer ordered to keep their hair “high and tight.”

According to the U.S. Naval Institute, Zumwalt’s relaxed rules were a little too relaxed.

“Navy ships began to look like they were crewed by hippies who had crashed their bus into a military surplus store. Even Zumwalt realized that the liberalization of grooming standards had gone too far and needed to be scaled back. Hair and beards were ordered to be neat while “eccentricities” such as mutton chop sideburns were outlawed.”

By 1984, the shaving pendulum completed its swing in the other direction, when CNO Adm. James D. Watkins banned all beards. Mustaches were allowed, as long as they did not extend below the upper lip line.

Fast forward to now. As part of the increased national sensitivity to racial biases and injustice, even this grooming policy is now under scrutiny.

In October 2019, the Navy stopped issuing permanent shaving waivers for sailors diagnosed with razor bumps because whiskers can hinder the effectiveness of breathing devices.

Instead of shaving waivers, the Navy announced last year that Tricare would cover laser therapy for active duty personnel who suffered from shaving bumps that could not be alleviated with conventional creams or other treatments, such as waxing or electrolysis, which can be painful. Laser treatments can thin and destroy the hair, reducing the chance of recurrence.

Of course, just being able to grow a beard also alleviates the problem, but since beards have been banned, that’s not an option.

However, shaving bumps disproportionately affect African American men, making beards an issue of race.

After the death of George Floyd, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that he had ordered all of the military services to examine their grooming and hairstyle standards for any racial bias.

A special “Task Force One Navy” was established that month “to help identify racial barriers and other forms of discrimination in the Navy so that we can address them head-on,” according to Cmdr. David Hecht, a spokesman for the Chief of Naval Personnel.

This week, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said regarding the policy on beards, “We’re going to take another look at it… if people are complaining about it, I’m not going to play deaf ears and think that I have all of the answers in my beautiful office in the Pentagon.”

“Some would argue that I moved too fast with (the decision to stop issuing shaving waivers) and that some are disadvantaged by it,” Gilday added.

The Navy is expected to make a final ruling sometime before the end of the year.

One Response

  1. Carl

    I suffered from PFB really bad and hated shaving because of it. My CMC refused to allow the medical officer on my ship issue me a temporary no shave chit because “there’s no way in hell two white people at this command have PFB.”

    Reply

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