I Won’t Enlist Because That Soldier is Pretty


The army’s had an embarrassing week.  It’s been roaming around the news that someone leaked an email officers sent each other saying that “ugly women” should be featured in ads depicting soldiers because they are perceived as more competent.

I get how they arrived at that.  When NCIS cast Lauren Holly as the new director, they got comments that was she was too pretty for the role.  I actually agree with that.  She was “model pretty,” which is to say a standard most people wouldn’t fit into.  She did not look like a high-powered Washington, DC woman; rather, she just looked like she was cast because the producers thought guys would be attracted to her and watch the show.

But the reality is that a job like the director of NCIS, or any other government agency, would be very wearing on a person.  High-powered government officials have long hours, equally long meetings, and probably not eat right because of all those long hours and meetings.  Even when they go home, they are on call.  If there’s a crisis involving whatever they do, they get called.  Sorry, but the character isn’t going to look like a model with all of that.

But.

There were two problems with what the army did here.

The first was that they assumed that because a female soldier was pretty, she wouldn’t be competent or would be sleeping around to make rank.  News flash!  We all went through basic training and suffered having a drill sergeant yell in our face.

The second was a more curious one.  How would they define “pretty”?  Or, let me put a different way: Would you want to be the one they defined as “ugly”?

Right.

None of this is helped by the media and the book industry.  We have an ad airing now that’s gotten a lot of controversy because it’s men in boxer shorts and jackets.  Yet, no one is bothered by another ad where a woman dances very proactively and is dressed in something that I don’t think qualifies as clothes.  Book covers for urban fantasies are designed to be provocative and have characters who need to be surgically removed from their clothes.  Yet, if any women complain, the men are like “What’s the big deal?”

But a key difference — and I think even the army missed this one — is that the media and the book industry are using s** to sell (I’m trying to avoid getting a ton of spammers here) products.  With the army, all the soldiers — male and female — are dressed the same.  It’s awfully hard to make a military uniform glamorous, especially when it doesn’t fit really well to start with.

Yet, looks are still the first thing these officers went straight to.  It’s not an easy answer, because it so wrapped up in our culture.  But there are actually answers to beginning to solve the problem the army was clumsily trying to address.  It’s just a first step, but might make a difference.

If the army wants women to look more competent:

They should photograph them more.  When I’ve searched for photos of military women for this blog, I can barely find any.

They should photograph women doing army things, like the men.  When the army does photograph women, it seems like most of them have the soldier talking to children.

There are some soldier stuff photos, but there’s not a lot.  It’s like the photographers get out in a group of soldiers and tune the women out entirely as if they weren’t there.  It sends the message that the women really aren’t that important, and that what the men do is.  Yet, we’ve had women die in combat, women save lives.  I’m watching episodes of China Beach, and without the nurses, some male soldiers probably would not be alive today.  And we’re worried about women being too pretty?  Please.

Hair for Women in the Military — It’s not easy!


Me seated at a metal desk in front of a 384 computer
Me with shorter hair. This would have been taken after 1991, but before 1995. Note the sign in the background.

It’s hard having long hair and being in the military.

It’s hard having short hair and being in the military.

The military has a lot of rules regarding women’s hair. It has to look feminine, and it can’t go below the bottom of the color.  Any hair tools like barrettes have to be a matching color for the hair.  It makes for a lot of frustration!

When I enlisted, I cut mine short so I wouldn’t have to deal with it so much.  But short has a problem.  It grows really fast, and sometimes the male soldiers don’t always know the definitions of what the length is.  I’ve had a sergeant yell at me for hair being too long because it touched the top of the collar.  And all the soldier can do is go take care of it because the boss makes the rules.

For a while, I tried a page boy, with all the hair being the same length, but above the collar.  That did not last long.  My hair is really thick, so I ended up with big hair.  It freaked out one of the sergeants who told me I had too much hair and to get it cut.

This is probably why most of the women opt for long hair and put it into a bun.  I couldn’t do that because the hair was too thick and too heavy.  I’d have to put twenty booby pins in it and it’d still fall out an hour later.  Or it the bun would be too big!

I also tried a French braid, but I really hated how it pulled at my roots — and I never pulled it back as tight as I’d seen some women did it.  I ended up folding my hair in half and then using a barrette to hold it in place.  I always had to keep a supply of heavy duty barrettes because the weight of the hair would break them.  All those hairstyles only work if you have normal hair, which I did not.

One of the women decided to get cornrow extensions.  She spent $70.00 (a lot in 1991) on ones that went down to her butt.  Unfortunately, she didn’t think about what to do while she was in uniform.  That was even more hair than I had to deal with!   She kind of rolled it up on top of her head and put her hat on it.  That lasted until we went to the rifle range and she had to wear a helmet.  She perched her helmet on her hair, not on her head.  First sergeant took one look at it and made her get the extensions removed.

I’m so glad now I don’t have to worry about the length of my hair!

Beauty of a Woman Blogfest: My Relationship With My Glasses


Beauty of a Woman Blogfest badge showing a dark pink background and an abstract silhouette of a woman.When I decided to participate in the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest, I didn’t realize what a tough subject the idea of beauty was going to be.  The first image that often comes to mind is what we are bombarded with in the media: The too-thin woman who has been airbrushed into perfection.

So much of it is that we have to look a certain way or we aren’t beautiful.  Anything that changes that is perceived to make a person instantly unattractive.  Like wearing glasses.

GROWING UP WITH GLASSES

When I was in 7th grade, I had to get glasses.  My image of them came from my parents and the media.  My father was an absent minded scientist who wore Clark Kent glasses in basic dark brown.  My mother hid behind her 1950s cat eye lenses, also in basic dark brown.

The media image came in three flavors:

1.  The brainy scientist, as if somehow only smart people could wear glasses (which was never a complement).

2.  The outcast, who got stuck with thick black glasses that were always sliding down on his face and patched with white tape.  Other people taunted him with “Four eyes!”

3.  The beautiful blonde girl who got stuck wearing wearing glasses and only wore them when needed and as little as possible at that, even if she did walk into furniture.

And I was supposed to be wearing glasses?!

It didn’t help that, at the time, there were not a lot of choices for frames.  Anything as long as it was dark brown or black and plastic.

It was picking the best of bad choices.

I hated them, and hated wearing them.  I ended up being like the beautiful blonde girl — leaving them off until I needed to see, and then I would drag them out.  As soon as I didn’t need them to see again, I’d yank them off and stuff them back into my bag, hoping no one noticed them.

But I was seated in the front row and had trouble reading the blackboard, so eventually necessity won.  I looked at the school portraits in the year book –rows of smiling kids, and then this one girl that stood out because she was one of the few to be wearing glasses.  Worse, because of the frame design time had stuck me with, the glasses stood out more than me.

They seemed like the Grand Canyon to me, but looking back, I realize that no one made fun of me.  Instead, it seemed more like they pretended not to notice.

GLASSES AT WAR

I enlisted in the army in 1989.  Even they were determined to punish people who wore glasses.  We were issued glasses a pair known infamously as Birth Control Glasses (that’s the politically correct name. There was a far more offensive one that was in common use).   Those who could afford it, replaced the glasses as fast as possible.  Fortunately, the drill sergeants allowed us to wear our personal ones.  Maybe they felt sorry for us.  The glasses were uglier than the ones I’d been forced to get when I was a child.

Then it was off to Fort Lewis, Washington for my  first duty station, and a little over a year later, Iraq invaded Kuwait.  By September, we knew it was likely we were to go.  The biggest concern was that Saddam Hussein would use chemical weapons on us.  Every day, the news made sure all of the soldiers knew they were going over to Saudi Arabia to die.  We feverishly trained in chemical warfare, putting on a gas mask and the protective suit that came with gloves and shoes.

There was one small problem.

The most critical item was to get the gas mask on.

In nine seconds.

The time was not for people who had to wear glasses.  We had to take off Kevlar (helmet) and put it between our legs and yank out the mask and drag it over our head and seal it.  That’s a lot to do in nine seconds, and the glasses added two extra steps.  They had to come off and go somewhere.  I always tossed them in the Kevlar, but it consumed valuable seconds.

It was a struggle to make the nine seconds.  Contact lenses were not an option — we were not allowed to wear them because the gas could get under the lenses.  I spotted an op ed piece in USA Today showing a soldier with a skull for a face.

Would I be able to get my mask on time if we were gassed?

What would happen to my glasses after we had gotten gassed?

No one answered those questions, and I started to get that queasy feeling that I might die because of my glasses.  I went through the war, my glasses a constant reminder of potential death.

GLASSES TODAY

It’s only been recently that I’ve liked my glasses, and that’s because they’ve come into fashion.  My last pair of glasses were green and brown.  I picked the color because my eyes are green.  My current ones  are gold and white with some nice design work.  For the first time in my life since I’ve worn glasses, these two pairs got me compliments from both men and women.

But it’s still portrayed as something ugly in the media.  Women actors on TV rarely wear them, unless it’s to show a cliché.  Yeah, models do wear them, but only when they are selling the glasses, and I hate to say it, but I can tell the model doesn’t wear glasses.

How come not being the same as everyone else is portrayed as unattractive?  Do you wear glasses?  How were you treated by other people because of the glasses?