Army Looking for a Few Average-Looking Women

A leaked internal email has the Army in hot water with feminists.

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A leaked internal email has the Army in hot water with feminists.

POLITICO (“Army PR push: ‘Average-looking women’“):

The Army should use photos of “average-looking women” when it needs to illustrate stories about female soldiers, a specialist recommends — images of women who are too pretty undermine the communications strategy about introducing them into combat roles.

That’s the gist of an internal Army e-mail an Army source shared with POLITICO.

“In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead,” wrote Col. Lynette Arnhart, who is leading a team of analysts studying how best to integrate women into combat roles that have previously been closed off to them. She sent her message to give guidance to Army spokesmen and spokeswomen about how they should tell the press and public about the Army’s integration of women.

“There is a general tendency to select nice looking women when we select a photo to go with an article (where the article does not reference a specific person). It might behoove us to select more average looking women for our comms strategy. For example, the attached article shows a pretty woman, wearing make-up while on deployed duty. Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered hazardous duty),” Arnhart said.

She wrote that a photo of a female soldier with mud on her face that news agencies used last spring “sends a much different message—one of women willing to do the dirty work necessary in order to get the job done.”

The reaction to this story has been predictable: What does attractiveness have to do with how good a soldier someone is? And doesn’t the Army showcase attractive male soldiers in its ads?

But this isn’t a policy document but an internal conversation about messaging. And that fact of the matter is that, like it or not, the military is in a no-win situation when it comes to women. Those in charge of portraying female soldiers to the public have to work against longstanding stereotypes.

First, a large segment of the public thinks women have no place in the military, period, let alone in demanding combat jobs.

Second, “girly” and “battle-hardened” are diametrically opposed social constructs. The photo accompanying this post is the one that sparked the email. CPL Tejada may well be a highly competent soldier. Or, she may be a fictional character portrayed by a model in an advertisement. Yes, CPT Tejada (or “CPL Tejada”) is an attractive woman. That’s not the problem. Rather, the portrayal is of a soldier in combat camoflage, finger on the trigger, wearing makeup and lipstick. That don’t exactly scream “tactical.” Or even “serious.” This simply not how the Army wants to present its female soldiers.  (Were this a group of soldiers in their Army Blue dress uniform, Tejada’s presentation would be just right.)

But, as already noted, the Army is in a no-win situation. If it bends over backwards to find women who are less pretty, covered in mud, and otherwise more in keeping with our traditional image of what a soldier is supposed to look like they’ll evoke the old stereotype that the only women who can succeed in the military are lesbians or otherwise less than fully female. That’s not only unfair to our women soldiers but sends the wrong message from a recruiting standpoint.

It’s worth noting, too, that the initiator of the email in question is a female bird colonel with almost twenty-five years of service. It’s highly unlikely that she’s sexist. Rather, she’s spent a whole career battling stereotypes and is now responsible for helping the Army navigate them.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Military Affairs,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Eliminate the makeup. The uniform is doing it’s fair share to obliterate whatever natural beauty a women has. On the other hand, after spending a decade working at Fort Leonard Wood I can testify to the fact that sometimes the uniform is inadequate to the job because some women are just plain hot.

    And yeah, I know that is sexist, but would you rather I lie?

  2. al-Ameda says:

    I cannot speak for those who currently serve in today’s military, but I would have no problem serving with, or taking orders from, Scarlett Johansson or Lizzy Caplan.

  3. ernieyeball says:

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…

    …some women are just plain hot.

    Yes. Yes they are. And the world is a better place for it.

  4. John Peabody says:

    I was surprised to see that makeup is allowed in battle uniforms. Army Regulation 670-1 says: “Females are authorized to wear cosmetics with all uniforms, provided they are applied conservatively and in good taste and complement the uniform.” But I admit that it looks a little weird. As for photos, the Colonel has a good point.

  5. grumpy realist says:

    I wonder if the make-up goes any further than sunblock and lipstick. I’ve used lipstick myself as a substitute for Chapstik on dry lips when nothing else is around.

    But yeah–I’d be more inclined to join the army if the woman didn’t look pretty-pretty but was doing something really kick-ass and powerful. Lifting myself over a barricade. Or setting up for take-off in a training jet.

    I would think the Army would want to make it brutally obvious, up front, that they’re not looking for glamour girls. They want women who can pass the physical specs, take charge, and become fighter jet pilots. To hell with makeup.

  6. john personna says:

    Make the physical requirements for field service hard and uniform, and then put everyone who fails at a drone console.

    (With the need for drone warriors, shouldn’t we drop general requirements for fitness?)

  7. rodney dill says:

    @al-Ameda: No problem serving under them, eh?

  8. JKB says:

    They should just follow the example of those photos of female Israeli soldiers that pop up every once in a while. Less staged, more natural. And make damn sure they are demonstrating safe gun handling. Nothing will bring ridicule faster than showing poor firearms training.

    Hollywood has even picked up on the need for proper trigger discipline. Nothing will undermine your gun-ho tactical heroine faster than poor trigger discipline. Tactical tommys and tammys need not apply.

  9. JKB says:

    Why are you guys talking about pilots. Women have been combat pilots for decades. The new move is Infantry. That is where the makeup hits the face paint.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @rodney dill:

    No problem serving under them, eh?

    I’m sure that was just a typo. He left out the “ic” in “serving”.

  11. Mike says:

    a non-story. Anything journalists can do to paint the picture of a DoD full of chauvinistic rapists they will b/c it makes headlines. Poorly worded email is now breaking news; must be a slow news day.

  12. 11B40 says:


    Anything on the post-DADT lesbian perspective on this ???

  13. rudderpedals says:

    @rodney dill: No problem serving under them, eh?

    That’d make it just like home

  14. al-Ameda says:

    @rodney dill:

    @al-Ameda: No problem serving under them, eh?

    Now wait a minute, I said:

    I would have no problem serving with, or taking orders from,

    … and I’ll stand by that. Ha.

  15. Jim M says:

    As a former officer in the Army, I have to agree with the COL,. I understand her point about sending the wrong message when you put in pictures of model like soldiers when representing women. I think using average looking women is ok. I don’t think using model like women is appropriate anyway.

  16. Amy says:

    I’m having a hard time pulling up the study — thanks, Google, you’re full of blogspam — but there have been several studies that show that popular messaging of “Science is cooool!” for girls actually backfires. The popular messaging tested featured beautiful, fully made-up women in lab coats, etc.

    But the researchers found it backfired, because the girls & young women who viewed the images identified LESS with the model-pretty examples, and had LESS confidence they could be (or wanted to be) a scientist.

    So it seems to be less about competence than about reaching their audience.

    The unattainable ideal doesn’t work for women.

  17. ernieyeball says:

    @Amy: Some people need to hide themselves by posing with their melons resting on a mitt. Amy, you and your smile are not one of them.

  18. Scott says:

    Again, another stupid outrage bait. We’re talking about PR and advertising here. They also don’t show short, frumpy, nearing middle age men (like I was!) in their ads either.

  19. john personna says:


    I, on the other hand, need my woodcut.

  20. KM says:

    Why are they even using models? Use real soldiers! If they happen to be hot, good for them. If they’re “average-looking”, good for them! Get a group of women for a shot and let nature take its course – there will always be some that are naturally prettier then others just like in the civilian world. There’s nothing wrong with serving your country and rocking the uniform. There’s nothing wrong with being plain and rocking the rifle. But lose the makeup – look the way you’d look if you were really out there.

    stereotype that the only women who can succeed in the military are lesbians or otherwise less than fully female.

    Not to veer off-topic but haven’t they ever heard of lipstick lesbians? Super-chicky and tend to run high on the hotness scale. Where did lesbian=ugly come from, anyways?

  21. dazedandconfused says:

    Won’t make any difference. Sixth-week-of-deployment-goggles.