photos: Photo courtesy of Beauty Night Society

Dignity is beautiful

Beauty Night Celebrates 50,000 makeovers in 15 years

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By Caroline MacGillivray

Out of a cold December night, volunteers carried two carloads of goodies into the Save-On-Meats on Hastings St.—Christmas stockings and Santa hats, cosmetics and hair gels. Wellness and beauty stations were set up. Sandwiches were made. In no time, more than 60 women of all ages, teens, and kids streamed through the doors. The place was packed.

Baby carriages, walkers, and scooters were moved to the side. Bottles of essential oils were lined up across one of the tables. Arline, Paige and Nicole, from Smell This! Aromatherapy, invited onlookers to create their own “pure fumes” from essential oils. The most popular scent that night with the children was mint chocolate chip. Many of the women who created their own personal blends pondered what to name their scent (many of which were NSFW).

Foot-care stations, mini manicures, shiatsu treatments, relaxation massage, and hair styling stations were booked solid. While participants enjoyed services, they were offered sandwiches. Everyone was smiling—volunteers and participants, familiar faces and new. By the end of the night, we handed out Christmas stockings that children, friends, and community members had volunteered to sew, decorate, and fill. As I looked around at the community coming together like this, I noticed I was smiling, too. It had been 15 years to the day since it all started. I still found it hard to believe.

From one curling iron, a movement
Fifteen years ago, I started volunteering for WISH Drop-In Centre. I was doing research for a film project I was acting in. The role I had in the movie, Even Me was that of Julie, a 14-year-old suburban girl pushed into survival sex work by her best friend and boyfriend. The story starts on her 19th birthday when she wakes up in the hospital to find out she had overdosed.

As I served meals at the centre, I met many women. One night, I noticed one of the women was particularly out of sorts. She didn’t want to eat, to speak, or for us to find a bed for her to sleep in. She just wanted to feel clean. After a shower, we sifted through the donations to see if we could find her something to wear. When we came across a curling iron, she asked if she could borrow it. I said, “Yes,” and she plugged it in. When it got hot enough, she tried but couldn’t curl her hair. I offered to do it for her. Afterwards, she hugged me and thanked me for making her feel human.

After I finished the film, I continued to volunteer. More women started asking for services. By Dec. 15, 2000, (with the support of WISH), I planned our first Beauty Night. Seventy-three women came to check out our service.

A place to connect
I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but it worked better than I had hoped. We did what felt right first and found research later to support some of the feedback we received from the women who participated. That feedback, the research, and our instincts all told us Beauty Night is a place to connect and feel included.

It’s a way to reintroduce healthy touch into people’s lives who are potentially experiencing violence otherwise. It’s a great way to listen to stories and, when it’s appropriate, refer participants to resources. And to help people feel good about themselves in some small way. Currently we work with 50-plus organizations in Metro Vancouver. Volunteers visit transition homes, shelters, health-care facilities and correctional facilities. Sometimes we have several Beauty Nights in the same night. We’ve done 50,000 makeovers in 15 years.

We have two public Beauty Nights each month: The first Thursday of the month, for women only, at First United Church, from 6 to 8 p.m.; the second Wednesday of the month, open to men and women, at Raincity Triage, 707 Powell Street, from 6 to 8 p.m.

When I look back at how we began, I am humbled by how the community has embraced the program and what the volunteers, participants, and corporate partners have turned it into. I am so grateful to everyone who has made it possible to do what we do.

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