Ariam: Learning to Love My Hair, My Life, and Myself.

My name is Ariam. I’m a junior in high school, and I live in Arizona.

I’m Ethiopian. I have a lot of hair, and it’s curly. Sometimes my schoolmates used to ask me why my hair looks a certain way or why I didn’t wash it every single day. On top of that, I live in a big house so we couldn’t go on a lot of shopping sprees. So, sometimes I would have strings coming out of my shirt because my siblings had worn them before me, and people would talk about it. In middle school, people would make comments about my clothes and ask why there were strings hanging off of it. When they made comments, they would tell me it was just a joke, but I was the only one who got treated like that. They didn’t understand why I wore the clothes I wore or why my hair was in braids for two weeks.

My hair would be in braids because my grandma would always braid my hair. Sometimes, they would ask me why. My hair was never out or down, and people didn’t like that. It’s like they wanted me to look a certain way. I was the only person of color in my class, so they were always like - “who’s that girl?” They always cared about how I looked, not what I was doing educationally or if I was excelling at activities. People would touch my hair or mess it up without asking. Sometimes I would get dirty looks.  They would ask me - “is that your real hair???” and reach into my scalp.  I’d be like - “yes.” And because my hair is so long, they’d be like - “how did you do that?” However, I did notice that because my hair was looser, I would be treated better than girls with tighter coils. However, because I still was at the predominantly white school, I would still hear - “you should straighten your hair.” Even the teachers would ask about my hair.

When I was little, I remember that I would try to dampen my hair to try and make it look longer. I felt self-conscious, and I dwelled on things a lot so their comments would kind of sit in my mind. Sometimes, it would pop up in my head months later.

Recently during coronavirus though, a flip switched. I realized that people are still going to talk about me whether I meet their standards or not. At that point, I realized that I may as well live life how I want. I began thinking to myself - “what’s the point?” I really only get one chance in life, and I don’t want to disrupt it because of what someone else has said. And if someone is making me feel like I can’t be myself, are they really my friends? And anyway, I might not even see them when I get older. I had a friendship that wasn’t healthy, and I thought to myself - “why am I still friends with this girl? She makes me feel like a follower, and she’s not bringing anything to the table.” I can’t hold on to things like that. And when I found other friends, I was like - “okay, this is how I am supposed to be treated.” I saw that I had to put my needs first rather than forcing myself to fit in.

Before, I didn’t stand up for myself, and I used to never want to take pictures or dress up. I used to make sure that I was staying in my bubble and staying in my lane. I’ve always felt different so I made sure to never cross my classmates’ paths because I knew that they were going to bother me.

But nowadays, I try to be confident when I go out and not feel defeated or feel like I’m being stared at. I’m trying to build my confidence because I don’t want to bring distractions into my college life. I’m a big dreamer, and I’m looking forward to starting a career. I’m looking forward to just letting myself be free.