The Beauty 2 The Streetz founder on how serving others is key to unlocking our true beauty.
– KEYS SOULCARE
It’s clear as soon as you see her radiant smile that Shirley Raines knows her way around a cosmetics palette. But here’s what her electric-hued hair and immaculate makeup won’t tell you: that each Saturday, rain or shine, she and her Beauty 2 The Streetz team of stylists and community service volunteers hit Los Angeles’ Skid Row to offer meals, showers, and hair, lash, and makeup services to the unhoused people living there. Here’s our chat about how beauty services are so much deeper than we thought.
How do you spend your days?
Making contact with makeup and hair companies, raising funds for our non-profit, and visiting the homeless on our Saturday beauty days, just to see what the upcoming food and water needs might be. Notice how I’m taking our interview from the car? I drive around a lot!
I also spend time planning logistical things, from buying rechargeable and cordless clippers for barbers to figuring out how to get hot water out here [while we work] to communicating with families where we’ll be the next weekend.
What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty, to me, means whatever gets you through the day. Sometimes, it’s a way to hide the day-to-day drama and trauma I’m going through. Or it can be an adult game of make-believe — playing princess or queen. For others, it means the normalcy of drawing on eyebrows so nobody knows you’re sad, or applying lashes in bold colors so nobody can tell that this is a bad day.
How does beauty inform your outreach approach?
In two different ways. One is a physical connection, which a lot of us aren’t getting anymore. Who doesn’t like to go to the beauty salon and have someone scrub their hair or massage their feet?
It’s also time for an unseen community to be seen. From Monday through Friday, nobody wants to see them, and people are honking at them to get out of the way. Saturday, when it’s beauty day, it’s all about them. In this world, many of them can’t immediately choose an apartment or even get a job, but on Saturday they can choose what kind of lipstick they want. They can choose what kind of hair color they want, and that empowers other choices as well.
People look at beauty and think it’s superficial. But so is a papercut, and you feel it all day long.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
The nos. “No, we ran out of hair color right before your time.” Or, “No, we ran out of hot water, but we’ll be back next week, okay?” Those are hard for me, personally.
What are the brightest parts of your work?
The conversations that we have, which feel so organic to me. It’s an opportunity to connect with people without being intrusive into their life — because everyone has a right to their privacy, regardless of if you have four walls or not.
People often have a story to tell, but they’re reluctant. Once they sit in a chair, they become nostalgic and open. You say, “Oh, you don’t think this color will look good on you? You about to rock this!” And then, they smile. You can reassure them that they’re the kings and queens that they are — that we all are.
Where does your own sense of grounding come from?
I lost my son years ago. I know what it feels like to be broken to the point where you don’t feel useful for anything. You certainly don’t want to face yourself in the mirror. Makeup was an escape for me, personally. But this work is also healing to me.
We’ve been hearing that people who spread the most light have often faced a fair share of darkness. Does that resonate with you?
So very much. I tell people that I have permanent scars on my knees — that I didn’t walk, Jesus dragged me kicking and screaming. But broken pieces allow all of our light to break through. I see those lights in our [Beauty 2 The Streetz] community, too.
When I recognize that in people, I’m like, “Yeah, we have something in common. I can tell by your attitude! Come on, Queen, let me do your eyelashes. Why are you so mean to people? What happened, girl?” It’s an opportunity to say, “I see you.”
(See here for more on spreading light after darkness.)
Do you have a mantra that gets you through the day?
Not all Queens live in castles. Some live on the streets.
What would you like to inspire others to do?
People are often like, “I can’t wait to do what you do when…” But I would inspire people to move through their pain and not wait for the pain to go away. Nothing is “together” for me. I’m moving through my crap, not waiting for my crap to move so I can move. You are the you that somebody needs right now.
How are you showing up as your whole self right now, imperfections and all?