Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – The Ethio Telecom office in the Gurd Shola area is crowded with people who are waiting for their turn. Amidst the hullabaloo two women were whispering to each other pointing at a woman who had shaved her head.
The whispers got a bit louder and it was clear that they were making fun of the shaved woman. “Did she actually think shaving her head looks good on her?” one of them asks. The other, who sounded sympathetic, says, “You never know; she might be sick.” This remark did not sway the first woman. She says that the woman was following western fashion and said that she looked unattractive.
While this was going on, Yodit Arefaine, 18, a first-year anthropology student at the Addis Ababa University, who had the shaved head, listened to their conversation solemnly. Then the criticism became contagious and another man and a woman who were sitting next to them joined the conversation. Eventually, Yodit decided not to listen to them and went outside to wait for her turn.
This is not the first time for her to receive candid assaults because of her shaven head. In fact, she says that the streets of Addis Ababa are swarming with mean people. She has been called “melata” (bald) and has faced rude comments and confrontations from many.
“So far, more than 70 percent of the people I encountered want to be involved in my hair’s business. This is completely a violation of my personal privacy,” Yodit says.
In many cultures the hair has been associated with a woman’s beauty. Refuting this mainstream standard and going beyond this narrative of duress is not taken lightly. Girls and women for various reasons, who voluntarily cut their hair short, undergo a range of experience, which questions their womanhood.
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