Caroline MacGillivray’s Redemption of Beauty

Let the beauty of what you love be what you do

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.  -RUMI

8628_lo_res There is a young Vancouver woman whose special touch with the invisible women of our society gets as close to pure caring as anything I have seen.

Her name is Caroline MacGillivray and on the surface her approach is simple.  She offers manicures, pedicures, facials, massages and hair styling to women who have been abused, ignored, ridiculed, excluded and exploited.

Caroline founded Beauty Night nearly 10 years ago, fresh out of acting school.  While volunteering in Vancouver's downtown east side a woman came off the street upset and crying.  Comforting her, Caroline did something most trained social workers like myself would not have thought of, she started doing the woman's hair.  The first of many Beauty Nights followed, all supported by a volunteer force of hairdressers, makeup artists, aestheticians, massage therapists, physical fitness instructors, nursing students, dental hygienists, caterers, yoga teachers, designers, accountants, human resources professionals, photographers as well as many of the women who have enjoyed Beauty Nights themselves.  You get the picture – few turn her down.  Most are entranced and grateful.

While thoroughly modern in her manner Caroline is bestowed with the ageless gift of hospitality.

Caroline sees people. She doesn't look through them.  She looks at them. She notices them.  In their splendour. In their broken-ness.   This is harder than you think.  To be perceived is a prerequisite to being – to move from object of charity and pity to reclaiming your drive to become, to contribute. From poor, unemployed, homeless, addicted or sex trade worker in need of fixing and saving to being human.  You can get an emotional flavour for her work by watching this short video produced recently by the Vancouver Foundation.

Ironically, one of Caroline's challenges may be her focus on fun, on pleasure, on comfort, on pampering, on tenderness.  This may be hard for those who are are used to social change being earnest, laborious, tough and stemming from an intricate theory of change.  They may miss how her gentle human touch through yoga, massage and makeovers is the beginning of meaning, pride, trust and spirit.  It is the starting place for people to create a new life – to go back to school, get a job, find a home – to reconnect with family and friends or to simply enjoy a respite from the harsh shadow of the world.

Ten years, 400 volunteers and 11,000 makeovers later, Beauty Night is going strong.  In a neighbourhood some suggest is the poorest in North America.  And on  a salary so low Caroline supports herself by teaching dancing and other part time gigs.  Imagine what she could do if given additional resources? Imagine what our resources could do in her hands?  This is clearly a priceless, 'no overhead' organization. 

Dignity is beautiful proclaims Beauty Night's website and material.  As you can tell from the accompanying photo of Caroline and two Beauty Night particpants, courtesy of photographer Ken Villeneuve

Yes it is Caroline.  Yes it is.

And of course you can help.

To make a contribution to Beauty Night's annual Christmas Stocking Drive click here.  You can access a complete list of nail, hair, skin and oral care products, gloves, scarfs they will need to fill 1200 stockings on December 13th and 24th in Vancouver and December 2nd in Prince George.

To donate cosmetics, lotions, shampoo, or to volunteer click here.

If you have a large hall or auditorium you would like to donate, Caroline is looking for a place to celebrate their tenth anniversary. That's bound to be a party!  You can contact Caroline here.

To read the full Beauty Night story click here

And finally catch them on Facebook.



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One Comment


    What an inspirational story, Al! I have always felt strongly that the way in which women adorn themselves is closely aligned to dignity. It is no wonder that at the end of the seige of Sarajevo, when asked, one woman said the first thing she was going to buy was not food, but lipstick!

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