Freedom: Shadia Amen-McDermott

My Name is Shadia Amen-McDermott.  I’m 32 years old. I am Lebanese. I am American. I am Muslim.  My family and I were featured on the TLC series “All-American Muslim.” I’m the 2nd oldest of 4 children (the middle child, yes). I wore the Hijab (Head scarf) for 13 years, and had the freedom to choose to discontinue wearing it by age 18. I felt it was unfair that I was a walking Icon for the Religion of Islam and I was not portraying it properly to folks who did not know enough about the Religion. Our family had done a lot of Documentaries in regards to being Muslim in the Western world, so our faces were on TV often. It was disappointing to my parents, though they fully respected my decision.  I just felt it was best to take the Hijab off if I wanted to be true to who I was, as well as giving the Religion the respect it deserves. I am comfortable in knowing that just because I choose not to wear Hijab anymore, doesn’t mean that I can’t be just as spiritual as I was before. In fact, I feel I’m closer now than I was at age 18 (Though, that may have come with growing up).

I’ve always been the “Different” one in our house. I fought for the freedom to express myself. Though, everyone just thought I was out to fight the world.  My mother still introduces me as her Rebel Child. I remember having my own look at the age of 12.  Baggy Jeans, Baggy Shirts, chains, combat boots, etc… And a scarf (Hijab)!  It caused problems for me in school, because change wasn’t easily accepted, and rocking the “Punk/Grunge” look while wearing Hijab was a look all of its own, that many people were not prepared to accept. But I was free to be me, and so I lived my life the way I chose to.  It obviously never bothered me as much as it bothered everyone else, because here I am today, over 20 years later, still looking “different” and still comfortable as ever in my own skin.

About 50% of my body is covered in Tattoos, each tattoo with a 15-20 minute explanation behind them, (because if I’m going to permanently draw on my body, It ought to mean something to me- I’ll want to still love it when it’s wrinkled and/or sagging), I have about 25 piercings (Down from 33), My hair colors range from Electric Blue to Hot Pink, I LOVE Country music, (if it’s not country, It’s Alternative), I live a pretty eclectic lifestyle, and I love every little bit of it.

I work at a Special Ed School. I’ve been there for 13 years now, and if you saw me at work, you’d never believe I look the way I just explained, because while I stress the importance of expressing myself and being comfortable in my own skin, I also stress the importance of being professional at work.  You CAN have the best of both worlds!

Coming from a Muslim family, my choice of expression was frowned upon by many, including my family. They were always worried about “what the people would think,” and I can understand where they were coming from, as they were very well-known throughout our community and beyond, and had an image to uphold… I just never cared what people thought about the way I looked. It was just a look. It never had a thing to do with what kind of person I was. My grandmother would always sit me down and tell me I have to change the way I look because it’s “wrong.”  Each time, I would try to explain to her that the way I Look has nothing to do with what kind of person I am. I think she finally understands that now (She’s 82, and every time I see her, she STILL tells me to “take that Crap off your face already,” and then laughs).  Thankfully, my parents finally accepted my ever-changing look and lifestyle, giving me the freedom to be myself with no exceptions, (like when my dad finally stopped offering me $500.00 to take the piercings out of my eyebrows, lol)…

Life wasn’t easy growing up (Heck, it still isn’t, but you learn how to deal with each situation calmly, and without letting it get the best of you). I’ve learned that when you choose to be different, you choose to stand out. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, we live in a world where change and being different aren’t easily accepted. Change scares folks. Yet, the world continuously changes with or without us. It just means you have to stand a little taller, and be a little stronger. Be comfortable with who you are. Nobody can be a better YOU.  And I have to say, Now that it’s all said and done, I’m quite thankful for the difficult people throughout my life… They have showed me exactly who I don’t want to be. They have shaped me into the person I am today, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

After chatting with random people for the first time, I always hear the same line… “Well, I’m so glad I talked to you; you were not what I expected!”  And my response has always been the same… “Yep, I’m a walking advertisement for the line ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover!’”  I absolutely LOVE hearing people say that they’re thankful for meeting me, because that means I’ve opened their eyes, and they won’t be so quick to pass judgment on the next person…  I believe THAT is why it’s so important to be true to who I am.

Thank you for this opportunity to share my story.

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