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Caroline Macgillivray's Beauty Night on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

All photos by Parisa Azadi

"Oh, you're so pretty," exclaims Theresa,  a short-haired woman as she greets Beauty Night founder, Caroline Macgillivray. Theresa throws her arms around Macgillivray in a warm embrace. "So pretty." 

Macgillivray, coordinator of the event, laughs and chats with Theresa,  before entering the room, where she immediately starts catching up with other long-time participants of Beauty Night. 

Dawn Simpson, with dangling star-shaped earrings, comments on Macgillivray's outfit. 

Dawn Simpson, left, Caroline Macgillivray, right

"I love that skirt," says Dawn.

"Thanks, I got it for $10 at Le Chateau," smiles Macgillivray.

"Your scarf, too?"

"A dollar from the thrift store," Macgillivray laughs.

The organizers and participants at Beauty Night talk a lot about appearances -- hair, fashion, skincare -- but without a sense of judgment. Most of the 20-odd participants in the room know each other by first name. Strangers of Caucasian, Asian and First Nations backgrounds socialize freely, like old neighbours. It's this sense of togetherness that Macgillivray wanted to recreate on a regular basis when she founded Beauty Night.  

Now in its 11th year, Beauty Night is a labour of love by staff and volunteers who bring manicures, makeovers and massages to  women living on the Downtown Eastside. More than just makeup, Beauty Night incorporates health and wellness by providing free pap tests by street nurses. 

The "Beauty Lady"

Caroline Macgillivray

Macgillivray will never forget the day that a simple request at the WISH Drop-In Centre Society, a centre for sex workers where she was working as a volunteer, turned into the foundation for Beauty Night. 

"While I was at WISH, a lady was having trouble curling her hair -- she couldn't get her arm up properly, and was on the verge of tears from frustration," she recalled. "I helped out, and even though I was really brought back all these memories of young girls doing each other's hair, that friendship and camaraderie."

After that single incident, Macgillivray began receiving more and more requests to help do hair and make up for the women at the centre.

"People started calling me the 'beauty lady,'" she laughed. 

Macgillivray approached her boss and asked if she could have time to make this session an official event, recruiting friends from the film business who knew how to do professional hair and make-up. The first official Beauty Night was held in December 2000, attended by over 70 women. The success of that event made Macgillivray realize the need for such a service in the DTES, and it has continued to grow at a rapid pace.

Today, Beauty Night encompasses some 400 volunteers, and is organizing to create regular Beauty Nights in Surrey. It provides not only makeovers, but also life skills programming and fitness and wellness programs. 


Beauty leads to dignity

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