After the death of my young son in 1990, I was alive but lifeless and desperately searching for a way out of my pain. Anyone who lives with depression knows that when you’re at your darkest, sometimes the bravest thing you can do is simply take a shower.
Once I got to the point where I could commit to that small but radical act, it became a ritual. For the brief time I spent each day loving my body, I was able to feel like me; for a second, my immeasurable sadness felt a little less heavy. Over the years, my ritual expanded to include adventurous hairstyles, colorful manicures, and a full-on makeup obsession. I was still a very broken woman, but when I focused on self-care, on making myself look good, I felt good.
In an effort to make purpose of my pain, I began volunteering with a local homeless outreach group on Skid Row, an area of downtown Los Angeles with a large homeless population. As I handed out meals, the women would comment on how much they loved my hair and makeup. During one conversation, a trans woman told me she’d been wearing the same false eyelashes for weeks. She just didn’t feel like her best self without her beauty rituals, so she made do with what she had. In that moment, I recognized that people on the streets have an important need that extends beyond the obvious food and clothes and shelter—and that most outreach groups were missing it.
I didn’t know how to end homelessness or heal trauma, but I did know that beauty routines, however small, can help create brightness in brokenness. It became my mission to bring that to as many people on the street as I could. Armed with all the makeup I could afford to buy with my Sephora points, camping showers I purchased on Amazon, and bags of hot water I’d spent all night heating on my stove, I returned to Skid Row. And suddenly, my nonprofit Beauty 2 The Streetz was born. I became “the makeup lady” who passed out essentials like food and clothing but also gave warm showers, hair treatments, and sidewalk makeovers. I watched people come to me worn and hardened and leave with light in their eyes. I was seeing the healing properties of self-care—the same ones that had helped me—in action for so many others.
I started sharing my work on social media to get support from friends and family, and very rapidly and unexpectedly, I had a global community of online supporters. While some questioned why homeless people would need beauty products and services, the vast majority understood instantly. Self-care can help soften the pain that comes from lacking the more urgent things. And if a haircut allows someone to take a break from surviving and be present in an act of self-love, then it is an essential need.
How do you breathe life back into someone so wounded with trauma and stress that they’re more zombie than human? It starts by creating space for them to just feel good. For the few hours my Beauty 2 The Streetz team and our volunteers are on Skid Row each week, there’s a little more life and love out there. There’s makeovers and music, hugs and haircuts, smiles and celebration, and, of course, fresh pairs of lashes.