A Positive Outlook: Karim Odoms Shares His Success Pt. 1
Celebrity stylist and Philly native Karim Odoms worked his way from styling hair at the Aveda Institute in New York City to create O'Karim Studios, specializing in styling, hair color, extensions and cutting.
He attracted the attention of industry insiders like Laurie Ann Gibson, who tapped him to style for her show, "Born to Dance." He relocated to Los Angeles, and began working with stars including Tia Mowry, Lady Gaga, Queen Latifah, Alicia Silverstone and more.
Odoms now looks toward a sunny future. But it wasn't always that way. In 2003, he was diagnosed positive for HIV. He went through some rough times, trying to escape through drugs and sex. Eventually, he came through the other side, building up his body, getting control of his T-cell count, and finding success in his career.
He shares his story and advice for other young MSM with EDGE in Part One of this two-part story:
EDGE: How was it getting a positive diagnosis in 2003? Did you use an at-home test or a clinic? Did they give you counseling and if so, did that help any?
ODOMS: Before I went to get tested I had to mentally prepare myself for both a positive or negative diagnosis. I realized that either way my life would change. If positive, I knew that I would have to prepare for treatment and if I received a negative diagnosis I knew that I wanted to make some lifestyle changes.
I was not in denial or ashamed about my promiscuous ways, so internally I already had a feeling of what the results would be. My body was telling me something, I felt like had some of the symptoms. I was tested at a clinic located in Center City Philadelphia and was told to come back after a few weeks for my results; I didn’t.
The clinic reached out to me by sending a postcard to my home where I lived with my mother. I remembered being scared out of my mind that my mom would have known what it was about. After going back to receive my diagnosis I immediately began counseling and it helped me tremendously. Throughout the years I would continue receiving counseling services and I still attend my support group here in Los Angeles for my own support and to encourage others.
EDGE: Doctors now say it’s best to start ART immediately. Did you do so and if so, has it kept your T-cell level down?
ODOMS: I started treatment immediately and at time my T-cell count was just under the 200 -- considered to be in the AIDS category. So that was a low moment. I had to test out a few different medications in the beginning and now I have found one that works. HIV medications are constantly being redeveloped and new meds become available, so I have changed treatment plans. As of now I have an undetectable viral load and have been since 2005. I’m healthy and I feel great.
EDGE: What things did you change about your life to stay healthy after your diagnosis?
ODOMS: In the beginning I didn’t change much; in fact I did not handle it well. Partying and drugs became my escape and way of "dealing" with it. But I did stay on top of taking my medicine and began going to the gym and working out. I was skinny all my life but now I had a skinny complex. I wanted to gain weight and build muscle to avoid looking like the stereotype society has placed on people living with HIV.
EDGE: Were you in a LT relationship at the time? How did that affect it?
ODOMS: At the time I was in a relationship and prior to finding out my status we were already having unprotected sex. When finding out I not only felt guilty and shame for myself but also for my lover. I did not have the courage then to deal and handle it as I should have; I felt like the damage was already done. This was something that brought on so much shame.
Shortly after, we ended the relationship and a few years later we talked about it. We both apologized and took responsibility in our recklessness. But for some time I still carried the guilt and burden with me. It taught me to take responsibility and to hold myself accountable for my own actions -- but I could no longer hold myself responsible for someone else’s choices. It took me some time to heal from this mistake that I had made and I thank God for forgiveness. It has been a process with dealing with disclosure for the fear of rejection or being exposed. But you get to a point when you realize that your choices reflect a deeper level of self-love and appreciation.
EDGE: Your career seems to have moved forward very well in the meantime. Tell readers a few things about how to stay focused.
ODOMS: I feel so blessed and grateful for how things in my career are continuing to unfold. Staying focused takes a lot of determination and dedication to your vision. although sometimes losing focus or getting distracted is normal and serves a purpose also. It always leads you back to your course with a brighter and clearer mission.
It is important to stay surrounded and inspired by those who are doing what you see yourself doing, just be careful not to get caught up in comparing your journey with theirs. It should serve as inspiration to your vision -- not competition. Always take time to celebrate each and every step of progress along the way. Keep people in your life that hold you responsible and accountable for your dream. These people will remind you of the promise you made to yourself and your dream whenever you get discouraged or feel like giving up.
EDGE: What are some of the high points of your times as a celebrity hairstylist and image consultant?
ODOMS: I would have to say some of the high points would have to be going to work at Paramount Pictures Lot, working on my very first television show. Going to Utah for the month to work on a Christmas movie was another. Also styling a clients’ hair for a traditional Indian wedding. There’s something about travel and cultural experiences that bring me so much joy and inspiration as an artist.
Once, while in Utah on set, I was in the trailer dancing and vogueing with my clients’ wig on in front of the other hair and makeup artist. But I didn’t realize that my clients and a few of the other actors were also in the trailer watching as I was pop-dipping and spinning all over the trailer. Once I realized I was being watched by the cast, I stopped and everyone was laughing hysterically. They played back the video. It was definitely a memorable moment.
Visit EDGE tomorrow for part 2 of Odoms’ inspirational story.