General Question

whitecarnations's avatar

Why does the U.S. military give a damn about physical appearance for their recruits?

Asked by whitecarnations (1635 points ) March 23rd, 2012

I never quite understood why in the U.S. military people have to shave their hair off, and maintain a clean look. Why is this? Is it rude to have a long hair? Does it make one less capable? Are women required to cut their hair? Are they hiring the physicalness of the person, or their brains and combat skills?

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71 Answers

janbb's avatar

It’s all about discipline and depersonalization; making the individual subordinate to the whole group.

ragingloli's avatar

To prevent lice. Those filthy creatures would be infested by lice otherwise.

gailcalled's avatar

Short hair makes hygiene, delousing, and grooming on-the-go easy.

Long hair gets tangled up in machines, blades and the hands of the enemy when he is looking for a good purchase.

There are hair restrictions for women also…the Lady Godiva look is frowned on.

(“physicalness” is not a word. Use “physicality”.)

whitecarnations's avatar

@gailcalled Physicalness is a word it’s a noun as a matter of fact. Is that your best liberal answer by the way? Come on, in war time, hygiene, delousing and grooming really a concern?

trailsillustrated's avatar

I just read your other hair question. With all due respect and nothing about you, you might want to re-think entering the military. Doesn’t sound like a good fit.

whitecarnations's avatar

@trailsillustrated With all due respect I’m not interested in killing people.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Almost every army has attempted to achieve a look of uniformity for its soldiers. Uniformity accomplishes a number of things: it inculcates a sense of interchangability, it makes supply and resupply easier, it reduces the cost of uniforming and outfitting the organization, it builds unit cohesiveness, and it makes the job of insuring the soldiers are clean and clean shaven easier.

thorninmud's avatar

I’ve never been in the military, but I’m a Zen priest. On the day of my ordination I had to say goodbye to my hair, as priests and monks have been doing for thousands of years. Aside from all of the practical considerations that @gailcalled mentioned, there really is a profound sense of transition that goes with this shearing. It’s like leaving your old life behind. You now look very different. Every time you look in the mirror, you’re reminded that things are no longer as they used to be. Clothes and hair are ways we use to express our particular identities, and those means of self-expression are stripped away.

gailcalled's avatar

@whitecarnations: It’s very hard to concentrate on the battle if you are itching unbearably and need to use at least one hand to scratch. (And impossible to sleep.)

whitecarnations's avatar

@gailcalled :P @CaptainHarley I can understand that. @thorninmud I can understand that too.

Blackberry's avatar

Besides looking professional, you need to shave and have less hair if you want a gas mask to fit.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I don’t think they should. It’s archaic. Soldiers don’t need to look uniform or be depersonalized. They just need to be dedicated, well training, and good at their jobs. If very long hair poses a safety risk, then that is understandable, but beyond that it should be an individual’s choice.

gailcalled's avatar

Without the uniform, imagine getting up in the morning and trying to decide what outfit to wear?

jerv's avatar

@Blackberry You forgot about OBAs. I don’t know about you, but I wore them often enough that I could put one on almost as fast as most people could don an MCU-2P gas mask.

For those that don’t know, OBA stands for Oxygen Breathing Apparatus. For firefighting and certain toxic atmospheres (especially those low in oxygen), you need to wear an OBA. The mask portion of it won’t seal with a beard or too much hair either.

jerv's avatar

@gailcalled Easy; steel-toes, coveralls, and ball cap. (underwear optional) Then again, many places I have worked in the civilian world do the same thing. Why ruin regular clothes?

gailcalled's avatar

@jerv: Coveralls ironed or unironed?

jerv's avatar

@gailcalled Rolled up in a ball in the bottom of the locker. Note that Navy ads never show Engineering department, and there a reason for that. Real engineers tend to be a little… rough-looking. The only people with clean, ironed coveralls were the officers that didn’t actually work in the pits.

King_Pariah's avatar

easier to maintain, neat professional look (this DOES matter), less likely to be caught in something (branches, wire, etc.), stays out of your eyes, and significant Facial hair (like a beard) + Gas mask = you’re fucked because your mask is no longer capable of being air tight, long blonde/red/light brown (not so much this one) stands out like a sore thumb when in concealment.

Also to maintain a sense of uniformity.

On another note, a soldier represents their nation similar to how a corporate employee represents their company on a business trip. Thus the military tries to maintain a crisp, clean, professional look of the troops as our troops are, in a manner of speaking, representatives of their respective nations and as any corporation or company will tell you, unkept, messy, unclean employees are a BIG no no.

I would also like to point out that in Conventional warfare, troops on the front line do not have to worry as much about personal appearance and hygiene (though they are still very important). I remember reading a few stories and being told stories from veterans of time on the frontline such as an armor company in the Gulf War which spent it’s entire time during those 100 hours pretty much on the tip of the spear just going and going without pause. When they finally got to get away from the front, they were a bunch of grime covered, grizzly, smelly men. Of course they had to clean up, shave, and whatnot, but they made their first order of business to plop down and eat in the chow hall. Anyway, point is, when on the frontlines of a conventional war when you don’t have time to shave or whatnot, then you don’t. However, we’re not in conventional wars, thus once back on the FOB, you better get you and your gear nice and clean to the best of your ability.

whitecarnations's avatar

@King_Pariah You’re telling me in 2012 there are no gas masks that can accomodate a beard? I feel like people who are anti beards in the military don’t know the difference between volume as it relates to hair and solids. And your analogy for representing America is just so off in my opinion. If that were the case, looking a pig is how U.S. soldiers should go to war. Because we’re mean, we’re nasty, and we imperialize and etc. Cleaning a body part didn’t help win world war two.

This is what won World War Two

Not this

Oh how I long for the day when the masses of America puts aside it’s lust with appearance and realizes inner emotions and jobs come from within.

majorrich's avatar

An American Soldier is an Ambassador to the United States every time he dons his uniform and meets the public. He must be clean in body and in mind, and professional in appearance. Believe it or not studies have shown that when dress codes are in force, the quality of work increases because the workers take pride in their appearance.

The Soldiers Creed says: I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values.
(snip)
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
Being a member of a team, and maintaining yourself as a member of that team implies uniform hygiene and appearance.

WestRiverrat's avatar

It is far easier to get a good seal on a gas mask if you are clean shaven with short hair. There may be gas masks that can accomodate beards, but they are not what the US military buys.

Beards and long hair also make easy hand holds for an enemy soldier.
Clean up is easier with short hair and clean shaven. This is important when you have been in the field for several weeks without access to any but the most primitive bathing facilities.

Face and scalp injuries are much easier to treat if the person has short hair.

The civilian leadership of the military thinks it is important for the US Soldier, Airman, Seaman or Marine to maintain a professional appearance. This is probably the most relevant.

jerv's avatar

Note also that hair burns easier than flesh; kind of non-optimal if you are fighting a mainspace fire, and it can make a corpman’s job more difficult.

And no, making a mask that can seal over a beard is harder than you think. There is a reason that gaskets are made of solid material instead of sponge rubber; sponges are not airtight (unless you put them under enough pressure to break someones jaw). Solid rubber to smooth skin is the only way to ensure a proper seal.

JustPlainBarb's avatar

Part of everyone having to look alike is learning to more a part of a unit and less about YOU. You’re a part of a team in the military.

If that part bothers you, you’re not right for the “job”.

They want service people to be professional looking, as well as behaving professionally. Pride in your country, your branch of service and YOU.

woodcutter's avatar

Long hair is more trouble than it’s worth. It’s one less thing to be concerned with, with all the other responsibilities a soldier has. When it’s 120 degrees in the shade the last thing you want is big hair trust me. It’s a good thing to blend in with everyone else in your unit. It’s a bad thing to be noticed as a person who stands out when an enemy is looking for someone to kill.
Big hair is really nasty when it gets filthy I mean it’s just grody. And it stinks and others will not be impressed with that. A buzz cut even when dirty will clean up good enough in the rain.

digitalimpression's avatar

- As mentioned several times already, it is a measure of discipline that is surprisingly effective. The military is not the only organization with standards for their employees.

- Beyond that, if one soldier’s appearance isn’t professional, it reflects upon the entire branch of service.

- Thick facial hair prevents a good seal on a gas mask (as mentioned).

- Long periods of time away from the facilities that many take for granted (showers and running water etc) make longer hair impractical.

- If you’ve ever seen an undisciplined formation you will notice how much worse it looks than one that is disciplined.

- More than a measure of a soldier, it is also a measure of that soldier’s leadership.

Ron_C's avatar

They don’t shave your head it is just a very short hair cut and I have seen guys tear up when they looked in the mirror. Women don’t have to have the same haircut but they do shorten really long hair, I used to know the regulation but I am along way from being a Division Officer.

The purpose for the hair cut, strict uniform regulations and other things they do in boot camp is to form unit cohesion, slightly brainwash away your individuality, and indoctrinate the recruit into military discipline and thinking.

What happens is that you form a bond with your group and work for the good of the group rather than your individual advancement. Of course this is short lived after boot camp except when you get into training for combat and in actual combat. There are many drills and tests that seem redundant and boring but may well save your life one day.

The people in Afghanistan, for instance, aren’t fighting to bring democracy to Afghanistan. They are fighting to protect their military brothers and sisters. Most don’t give a damn about the country they just want their companions to get home alive.

Of course the military cares about the soldier’s physical appearance. In fact Military Bering is part of your quarterly evaluations.

Moegitto's avatar

A lot of biased answers in this post. We had restrictions on appearance because the equipment we wore is designed to fit in a certain way that it will fit ALL military members. Do you think and African-American soldier with a 60’s afro could wear a kevlar helmet? Do you think a person with a hobo beard can wear a gas mask? Not every military member has anything to do with “killing” someone, I was cooking right next to Iraqis and Afghan nationals. It’s nothing about “professional” appearance. That’s just something they tell you in basic, when you get to your duty station it becomes more about your uniform and exercise than your shaving and hair (even though they still will basically kill you if you walk out the barracks looking like a civilian contractor).

Talking about this will never come to a complete fulcrum point though, because the military has a standard and then your post can add to those standards AND THEN your unit can add to the standard. Your literally looking into at a minimum 3 manuals of regulations (I know at Ft. Campbell we had 3, AR 670–1, The 101st Blue book manual, and then your Unit Standards)

majorrich's avatar

Painfully obvious I was an office pogue. I still had to maintain physical standards and qualifications though.

digitalimpression's avatar

What surprises me most of all is that officers don’t seem to adhere to any standards at all. They are quite often rotund, lacking a clean haircut, and haven’t taken a physical fitness test in ages.

majorrich's avatar

Those kind are called ‘REMF“s. We took them to the range to remind them that the pointed end of the bullet goes to the front. lol

jerv's avatar

@Moegitto My job was to make sure the ship had electrical power; EMFN/EM3. Definitely non-combatant.

@digitalimpression At least in the Navy, that describes all khakis (E7 and above)... with the exception of Mustangs (officers with prior enlisted service). One out the most fit officers I ever met was a Mustang Commander; E-2 to O-5, and the only person to ever go from standing more than arms-length away to putting me in a headlock without me ever seeing him move.

@majorrich We always saw the PRT as a joke because even on an aircraft carrier, there was no way you needed to ever run a full mile and a half. But the Marines were a different story; Sergeant G ran three miles in 13:15 in 106 degrees; most Navy guys puked after 1½ in that time.

majorrich's avatar

My CO was probably the most fit man I have ever seen. At 52 he looked like Michelangelo’s David. Problem was, he couldn’t shoot the broad side of a barn from the inside. The SgM and I would try to position ourselves close to him during qualifications so we could send a few ‘stray rounds’ to help his score. He was, however, formidable in CQB.(no explanation there, he must have entered a zen thing)

jerv's avatar

@majorrich I saw an MA that couldn’t hit a paper target 15 yard; kind of essential for a policeman. But an MM who was TAD to the Master at Arms department… well, his aim was off, but he managed two full clips inside a 2-inch circle over the right kidney.
But that Commander I mentioned was my Division Officer; 54, 5’2”, and the only man our CO was deathly afraid of. Not only able to fight, but also eager to do so.

WestRiverrat's avatar

The army didn’t teach me to kill, I learned that long before I joined the army. They taught me to save lives. I pretty much grew up with a rifle since I was old enough to hold both ends off the ground.

My CO liked to trot me out when the men in the platoon were getting too cocky. They usually made fun of the ‘medic’ shooting a rifle or pistol until the target came back with a smiley face punched in the head or a heart shape was outlined on the left breast.

King_Pariah's avatar

@whitecarnations just because a pig is more suitable in your opinion to represent the US doesn’t mean that’s what they do. Hell, look at many large corporations, pigs and squids are probably fitting representatives for those but do they do that? No, they go for a clean, neat, professional look. The military follows this practice as well. A well maintained image has a slight tendency to give off a positive impression (at least at first before the King of Battle decides to make his entrance).

Nullo's avatar

I think I read once that being clean is good for morale.

SavoirFaire's avatar

In addition to the reasons given above:

When your profession is war, you must do everything you can to be optimized for battle. Hair is a liability in a close quarters combat because it’s just one more thing an opponent could grab. One might think that close quarters combat is unlikely to occur, but its likelihood or unlikelihood is irrelevant. A soldier should be prepared for all fighting situations.

jerv's avatar

Just remember that units that are inspection-ready are not combat-capable, and units that are combat-capable are rarely inspection-ready. Case in point; during Vietnam, only two US pilots earned the distinction of becoming a Flying Ace; both were Navy pilots, not Air Force. I say this because if you put an Air Force plane next to a Navy plane, one has a shiny coat of fresh polish, and the other is a scruffy-looking beast that carries a pilot that can actually land on a carrier without the LSO waving them off at least once.
Few things are scarier than an Air Farce “pilot” trying to get their night carrier landing quals, but at least their planes are prettier.

Ron_C's avatar

@jerv Air Force pilots landing on an Carrier? I was stationed at NAS Oceana for 4 years and saw a lot of Air Force planes doing touch and goes. We even has an ACLS set up on one of the strips. The AF planes were designed to land on smooth, long runways. Navy planes had beefed up landing gears and a tail hook for carrier landings. I never saw that set up on an AF plane. I will agree, however that the AF planes were pretty.

mattbrowne's avatar

It has to do with discipline, but not depersonalization. Discipline helps soldiers stay alive.

woodcutter's avatar

Its also a matter of trust. Really, even those who like long hair will automatically assume the guy with the neat and shaven appearance will be the most professional whether they will admit that or not. If your house was on fire and the F.D. arrives and all the firefighters are scraggly looking and their equipment is all beat to shit looking your heart will automatically sink. Those who manage their appearance as well as their tools of the trade are called professionals for a reason.

jerv's avatar

@digitalimpression Golden Shellback :)

digitalimpression's avatar

@jerv Well done. Too bad these wogs have no idea what we’re talking about.

Moegitto's avatar

I’ve learned that many people set up opinions as fact inside their heads. As soon as I saw the guy say “With all due respect I’m not interested in killing people”, I knew that he knew nothing about the military and was just asking this question out of ignorant curiosity.

mazingerz88's avatar

Well, very interesting board. It seems the military demanding such and such look has some great practical reasons. That makes a lot of sense. But only as much as they don’t go over their heads and think they’re better men compared to those who would also fight for their country yet want to sport long hair and scruffy beard. Just check out Aragorn’s battle skills against Sauron’s Orcs. There is no doubt. No doubt. ( Lol. )

majorrich's avatar

I have to admit, when I was in the service, I had a little latitude for my mustache. I wear handlebars to this day. And I wore bloused boots with my Class A’s. But that ws the style in those days.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@digitalimpression Don’t be so sure. Some of us come from military families, even if we are not personally members of the military.

bkcunningham's avatar

@jerv, Captain Richard “Steve” Ritchie, one of the two ace pilots, was an Air Force pilot.

jerv's avatar

@bkcunningham I thought Ritchie was a WSO. Mea Culpa.

Nullo's avatar

@digitalimpression For the rest of us, there’s Wikipedia.

woodcutter's avatar

th fuck is a wog?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@woodcutter It’s short for “pollywog.” See @Nullo‘s link.

Nullo's avatar

@woodcutter It’s also short for “without giblets,” but only within a poultry context.

janbb's avatar

As an aside, “wog” is a very derogatory term in British lands for a person of color.

jerv's avatar

@janbb It’s not supposed to be a compliment. Bear in mind that we are talking about sailors here. “Bitch” is a term of endearment on a boat.

janbb's avatar

@jerv I get your point but I think it is good to know there is another derogatory meaning as well. :-)

jerv's avatar

@janbb Given the context, the more derogatory, the better.

majorrich's avatar

Mr. Jerv, Where are the three pallets of prop wash I ordered for this morning? Please go down to supply and ask about my prop wash..

jerv's avatar

@majorrich We kept our prop wash between the relative bearing grease and the batteries for the sound-powered phones.

majorrich's avatar

@jerv Where did you keep the grid squares and the Flight Line?

woodcutter's avatar

@janbb Yes that Brit word was the one I was exposed to while stationed in Europe back in the ‘70’s. Never heard of it used any other way and once I got out of theater never again. Some people would refer to loud portable stereo players as “wog boxes”. If it had only one speaker they were “cracker boxes” I had a cracker box while there although not near as fancy as some of those rigs the brothers toted it was fine for what I needed it for. The BA-3’s alone in theirs weighed more than my entire radio.

Which is why my brow raised up a click when I read that word here of all places.

jerv's avatar

@majorrich Not Engineering Department’s responsibility; we only dealt with power, propulsion, and internal communications. If you want those, ask around :p

Nullo's avatar

@majorrich @jerv Would I be correct in assuming that prop wash is in the same general category as headlight fluid?

Paradox25's avatar

It’s all about breaking a civilian down and rebuilding them up from scratch to fit into their new role as a noncivilian military member. Every male recruit (at least from what I’m aware of from being in the army) gets their heads shaved and all of them are deemed as ‘equals’.

jerv's avatar

@Paradox25 That is the theory. We are all part of a unit. Even non-combatants may find themselves in a situation where teamwork is essential to preventing loss of life. For instance, if I didn’t secure power to a space before the hose teams went in to fight a fire, they could get electrocuted as well as not putting out the fire, which could then spread and hurt/kill more people. They have to rely on me doing my job; we must all work together as a team. And if we are all wearing the same clothes and haircut, it’s easier to get into the team/unit mindset.

Avangelo's avatar

Of course all the hygienic shit is important. But in garrison you shouldn’t have to go through the need to shave and cut your hair. The Army is worried about unity, but when we present ourselves in a way to stand out as military it actually makes us a target. Which is why members of the special forces grow out beards and long hair. Shaving does make more since. If your beard is too full, the gas mask won’t fit. I am still currently in the Army. Four years never killed anybody. Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan once each. Even if you ask a military member they will give you different answers. The one thing that pisses me of though some douche bags actually like the cut.

jerv's avatar

@Avangelo I will say that grooming standards slip a bit the further away from Washington DC you are, and a bit more when you are isolated, like underway on a ship or conducting independent operations like Special Forces tend to do. Engineering department on a Navy ship tends to also be a bit scruffy since working 18–22 hours a day doesn’t leave much time for anything else, and mush of that 2–6 hours off is used for eating and sleeping.

Ron_C's avatar

I was in the Navy when Admiral Elmo Zumwalt .was chief of Naval Operations. He worked on modernizing Navy policy that even allowed for slightly longer hair, mustaches and beards. He also got rid of the Donald duck uniforms that look really bad on the older guys. Moral went up, re-enlistments went up and performance improved. He did make a mistake by lowering some enlistment standards. We ended up with some people that couldn’t do a 4 year enlistment without getting into trouble. Generally, the “High and Tight” hair cuts are just a style, not regulation (in the Navy at least). I went both ways, I had longer hair and sideburns, then got tired of it and had it cut very short. I can truthfully say that my performance was in no way affected by my haircut.

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