Ignorance and My Beauty Salon Experience: The Time to Educate Can Happen When You Least Expect!
February 14, 2011
So yeah! I was looking forward to a nice relaxing day! Away from everything ... just a place where they could pamper me ... release some stress. YES! The beauty salon ... yay ... getting my hair done, my hands and feet done. Just time for little old me to get away from daily life ... and of course, my job or mission never has a break.
I was laughing with the owner (my hairdresser) and other clients that were there (hearing their problems, yeah, a little gossip Tee hee ... that btw I love), listening to music and feeling good about myself and the outcome of my beauty regimen ... and then BAM! Here comes a young lady with a wig ... the owner looked at her in shock, and whispered in my ear ... 'WOW! Maria she used to live with me ... ' As I looked at this girl, I noticed when they took her wig off, that her hair was falling off ... she was almost bald, her cheeks were sunken in, she was so pale and skinny.
I was like, Hmm, thinking to myself she looks like a meth head (I know I was guilty of judging) so I just continued with what I was doing. Another dresser put a treatment in her hair, made it look a little better and the young lady left. The owner made a comment very out loud to all of us there, clients and people that worked there. 'She looks like she has AIDS.' I said, 'oh wow' to myself ... here we go ... She continued, 'OMG! Ewww what the hell happened to her! Man, I would be so scared to sleep with her or anyone she slept with ... she looks so dirty!'
Here I am holding my tongue, but with such a big urge to speak my mind and educate ... and remember I was there to pamper myself and RELAX! But that went out the window, of course ... whoever knows me, knows I can't hold my tongue :D.
So I said to the owner, 'Let me ask you something, is that what you think AIDS looks like?' She said 'yeah.' I said 'Well you are so wrong ... I have AIDS.' She was in such shock, she said 'No way, Maria!' I said 'Yep, I sure am for 20 years.' you see true enough promiscuous people, iv drug users just anyone that is high risk may be HIV positive, and it is your job to protect yourself. Funny thing this came from someone that actually sleeps around a lot! I told her listen don't be fooled by people that look good in the outside or look beautiful ... anyone that has unprotected sex once is at risk!
She was still trying to swallow what I just told her. She said, 'I can't believe you have AIDS, omg are you ok!?'
I said 'Yes, I am, but what is important right now is not me; it is you, and you need to know that the ones you know that are promiscuous and look sick maybe HIV+ or use drugs and don't take care of themselves ... but people that are clean, beautiful, professionals, grandmothers, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons ... ANYONE can have or get HIV! So next time you are going to have unprotected sex think of me ... WHAT DOES HIV REALLY LOOK LIKE? Answer: ANYONE'.
So I know that day I left her and other strangers that I disclosed to with a thought ... maybe a little more education :D.
I also couldn't help but think, Man, imagine if I was just recently diagnosed and people were making those comments about dirty, must have AIDS, Ewww, looks sick, so many things that mess with our mind! Hell, sometimes I look in the mirror and think, do I look sick!? But I am stronger now. I am not going to lie! It affects me when people make those comments ... but I dust myself off and continue! But a person that is not in that place yet, might feel dirty, low, sick, shame ... and it will make them not want to disclose and come out of the HIV closet.
This is ignorance and lack of education. For anyone out there that has gone through this, or overheard comments like this from family, friends, co workers etc etc, I want you to know: yes, I know it makes us feel bad, but you will learn as the years pass that when we intercept a conversation like that and put a different face to AIDS ... not only may we change their minds and the stigma, but we also help people with our disclosure in protecting themselves.
I know that it can also backfire and there will be ignorant people everywhere that may not want to deal with us anymore! But it's their loss ... NO MORE SHAME! We are not dirty! We are warriors! People that are dealing with not only an illness, but the stigma that comes with it! And I can only hope for one day any of you that are in hiding can feel as free as I am starting to feel now :D
I am going to end this blog with a quote from Ryan White's mother! She used to tell him, son keep your head up! And recently she sent a message to people living with HIV/AIDS and said, 'KEEP YOUR CHINS UP.'
Love and Light as always!
until the next time ...
-- Maria --
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Time to Show My Face and Take the Stigma Away
Maria T. Mejia
I am a 37-year-old Colombian female who lives in Miami, Florida. I've been positive for 20 years. Although almost all my life I've been in long-term relationships with HIV-negative men, I am happily married to a woman who is wonderful and caring. We have been together almost three years and she is HIV negative. I have no children but we will look into having! I am an activist, a peer educator, a caregiver. I volunteered for the Red Cross in education for the Hispanic HIV community and also the American community. I was a pre- and post-test counselor. I have spoken in many conferences and done a lot of outreach in the community, especially in the schools for prevention and education. It is part of my everyday life to educate everyone I can on this subject. Being HIV positive is nothing to be ashamed about! We are strong women, and we will take away all the stigmas slowly but we have to open up.
Read more blogs by women living with HIV/AIDS at "A Girl Like Me"
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