Beauty Night: Because Dignity is Beautiful

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“I’ve given the softest hand massage to a woman whose knuckles had been crushed because she could not repay her drug debts.”

By Heather Vince | Twitter: @HeatherVince

I did my homework before signing up as a volunteer with the Beauty Night Society. As an advocate for women overcoming adversity, I already knew some of the statistics: one in three women have experienced sexual violence. In Vancouver, where I live, the average age of entry into the streets is 12.

The orientation filled in the other details: how to protect and care for the women and ourselves, how to offer assistance and how to deal with the unexpected. With “makeup artistry” checked off under the skills section of my application, it was a different kind of makeover I set out to help with: a life transformation.

My first shift was at a resource centre in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. I’ll admit I was nervous, but as I walked through the doors, it was a stark contrast to the grim scene I was expecting. The room was bright, its walls covered in staggeringly beautiful artwork and chipper, smiling volunteers were setting up their stations for the night. I watched as clients walked in one by one. They were greeted by name and embraced like old friends; then suddenly several arms were linked with mine and I was being pulled this way and that, cajoled for my secrets.

I was ashamed that I had come expecting to be surrounded by despair. Instead, I found a room full of love and laughter!

Since that first shift, I’ve been continuously awed: I’ve witnessed a barter between two entrepreneurs–one a jewelry maker, the other coordinates wholesale bead purchases from her home country, both supporting each other in their endeavours. An older woman brings a friend whose husband is terminally ill in hospital and “has nobody else in the world.” Without someone by her side, encouraging her to leave the house, she would be left to cope on her own.

A family–three generations of women–are regulars to Beauty Night. The mother, sober from drugs and alcohol for the last few years, is making up for all the years she was absent. Her youngest has begun volunteering, learning nailcare along the way. The eldest daughter has a child of her own now, and thanks to the childcare services Beauty Night offers, the four of them can be together to get caught up, confide in one another and mend broken hearts.

We have the usual faces show up week after week. Sometimes night after night. It doesn’t matter if they’ve just had their nails painted the night before, or if they just choose to sit and observe. Sometimes they come simply to be in a warm place and be fed. There is no question, though, why they show up—they are wanted, loved and accepted. Every woman who has been shut out, shut up and shut down is embraced and encouraged to find her voice. Beauty Night strives to return each woman her dignity and lift her up again.

The Power of Touch

One way this is done is by reintroducing touch in a non-threatening manner. The idea that touch should be anything but “safe” might be foreign to many of us. The stories of untold abuse, so many of us can’t begin to fathom. Some of the women who come through our doors are young and scared, with their stories protected and locked away, and some are old and lonely, ready with their memories and for anyone willing to listen.

The women, though they bravely put on a smile, do not always come to us from places gentle, safe and warm. I’ve sat with a girl as she wept, mentally preparing for a night walking the streets to prostitute herself. I’ve given the softest hand massage to a woman whose knuckles had been crushed because she could not repay her drug debts. Some of the women live in isolation, abandoned by their families, rejected by society, because of barriers beyond their control. And all of them struggle to get by financially. A manicure or a simple haircut are services some of us would hardly consider luxuries, but as part of our femininity we enjoy them and use them to feel better about ourselves. When power and dignity are stripped from a person, and with no money to access opportunities to better yourself, a dark, downward spiral takes hold.

Beauty Night exists for the woman who might be feeling broken, to come in and leave feeling new again.

There’s power in the place where women come together as a collective. Though we all have varied backgrounds and life experiences, in sisterhood we are united. I’m continually encouraged to see this in action when a woman who comes through Beauty Night’s doors, quiet and unsure, leaves feeling uplifted, protected and secure in who she is.

Here’s what I see: When a woman feels good about herself, and has a safety net of love and support to fall back on, she is a step closer to feeling confident enough to stand on her own and take back what is hers.

________________________________________

About Heather:

When not giving in to my healthy addiction of all things involved in magazine publishing and makeup artistry, I am an advocate for the Deaf community and a cheerleader to help others turn adversity into strength. I tweet at @HeatherVince.

Images: “Generations of Beauty” and “Beautiful Ladies” by Ken Villeneuve

“Beautiful Hands” by Aaron Chung

 

 

 

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Idelette McVicker
I like soggy cereal and I would like to go to every spot on the map of the earth to meet our world’s women. I dream of a world where no women or girls are for sale. I dream of a world where women and men are partners in doing the work that brings down a new Heaven on earth. My word last year was “roar” and I learned it’s not about my voice rising as much as it is about our collective voices rising in unison to bring down walls of injustice. This year, my own word is “soar.” I have three children and this place–right here, called shelovesmagazine.com–is my fourth baby. I am African, although my skin colour doesn’t tell you that story. I am also a little bit Chinese, because my heart lives there amongst the tall skyscrapers of Taipei and the mountains of Chiufen. Give me sweet chai and I think I’m in heaven. I live in Vancouver, Canada and I pledged my heart to Scott 11 years ago. I believe in kindness and calling out the song in each other’s hearts. I also believe that Love covers–my gaps, my mistakes and the distances between us. I blog at idelette.com and tweet @idelette.
Idelette McVicker

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