VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- Aviation Maintenance Administrationman 1st Class Jacqualynn Leak, assigned to "The Gladiators" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106, said that since she's joined the Navy in 2009, she has faced many struggles when it came to her hairstyle.
"I started mostly wearing braids or using different hair relaxers to make it easier to maintain and be in standards," said Leak, referring to the Navy's female grooming standards. "I found that to be very damaging to my hair."
Leak said she started researching and trying to find a different way to style her hair.
"I just wanted my hair to flourish and be happy and healthy," said Leak.
In November 2014, Leak made the decision to have her hair locked, though the style was not yet authorized by the Navy. A chief petty officer assigned to VFA-106 told her she would not be able to wear her hair the way it was styled, so Leak decided to wear a wig to work every day.
In January 2017, Leak made it her mission to make a change in the Navy's female hair regulations because of the struggles she was experiencing, and in April 2018, she began submitting her final written proposal for these changes.
On July 11, 2018, NAVADMIN 163/18 was released, announcing an expansion of approved hairstyles for women that includes locks, ponytails and single braids.
The Navy's continued effort to promote inclusiveness allows female service members to be more comfortable in uniform, allows for a wider range of personal expression and promotes a greater sense of pride for their service.
Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Nija Devries, stationed on Naval Air Station Oceana, said she really likes the changes to the Navy's new changes to the hair regulations.
"My hair is naturally curly and keeping it tied up in a bun 24/7 over the five years I've been in the Navy ruined my natural curl pattern," said Devries. "When I would take it down, I had hair that was breaking. It's too much strain on your hair after a while."
Devries, who can now be seen wearing her hair in a ponytail, said she feels much more comfortable while in uniform.
"This ponytail is definitely letting my hair breathe more and letting it do what it does naturally, as opposed to it being constrained," said Devries.
Not only does the newly approved hairstyles allow female service members to feel more comfortable in uniform, Leak said it allows other people to express themselves more freely.
"I feel like I can really be who I am," said Leak. "I love the Navy and I love me. My hair is a part of me and when I was wearing a wig, I felt like I was hiding that part of me from everyone."
Similarly, Devries said the updated regulations are more realistic concerning the female body and how it acts.
"The Navy is starting to realize that we're not all cookie-cutter people, or people don't all fit into the same category," said Devries. "Everyone, including their hair, is different shapes, sizes and styles."
Devries also said she feels that the new regulations will cause a boost in morale among female service members.
Likewise, Leak said changes such as the ones in NAVADMIN 163/18 will make people happier about their service in the Navy.
"With the Navy trying to be more diverse, inclusive and accepting people for who they are, it makes me happy to serve," said Leak. "I'm so ecstatic to come to work because I know that everyone is going to accept me for who I am."
On July 10, 2018, Leak participated in a Facebook Live All-Hands Call with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke where the changes to the Navy's female hair regulations were announced.
In the Facebook Live All-Hands Call, Richardson said they demonstrated that the Navy listens to its members' recommendations.
Leak said the whole process of making these changes was humbling and inspiring for her.
"I've gotten so many Facebook messages and emails from people thanking me," said Leak. "I didn't realize how many women were living my same struggle."
Leak said Sailors can look to these changes as inspiration for their daily lives.
"If you get people to understand that even an airman can make a change in the Navy that can impact the whole fleet, that inspires people to want to do great things," said Leak. "It makes people even prouder to serve in a branch of service that is so inclusive and really wants to get the job done. It's very humbling to know that even at our level, we can affect change."
For more information, visit www.navy.mil, www.facebook.com/usnavy, or www.twitter.com/usnavy.
For more news from Naval Air Station Oceana, visit www.navy.mil/local/oceana/.