Beauty Night helps transform lives

Volunteer makeup artists, hairdressers, estheticians and manicurists provide their services four nights a week at the Downtown Eastside Women
Volunteer makeup artists, hairdressers, estheticians and manicurists provide their services four nights a week at the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre. The Beauty Night program is set to come to Burnaby and New Westminster for one night a month.
— image credit: PHOTO BY AARON CHUNG

A new hairstyle or a relaxing foot massage might seem the furthest thing from the mind of a woman worrying about where her next meal might come from, or how to escape an abusive relationship.

But they can be the first steps to restoring hope, says Catherine MacGillivray, the founder and executive director of the Beauty Night Society. “And when they have hope, then they start to believe change is possible.”

For 12 years, MacGillivray and her pool of hundreds of volunteers have been providing makeovers, hairdressing, manicures, pedicures, relaxing massages and an empathetic ear to women who are homeless, addicted, abused or just elderly and alone for four nights a week at Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.

Now she’s hoping to recruit volunteers to help provide similar services once a month in Burnaby and New Westminster.

MacGillivray was serving meals at a drop-in centre when she first saw the transformative powers of a bottle of nail polish, or a hair brush. A distressed woman came in, but she didn’t want food. She just wanted to feel clean.

MacGillivray says she was able to direct her to a shower at the centre, and then to a cache of donated items. The woman picked out a curling iron, but her arms were so weakened she couldn’t lift them to use it. MacGillivray, an actress by profession, helped curl her hair.

“She gave me a huge hug,” says MacGillivray. “When she walked out of the centre she had an extra bounce in her step.”

After that, every time the woman visited the centre, she asked MacGillivray to do her hair. So did others. A light bulb went off.

MacGillivray used her connections in the theatre and film industry, as well as email, to get the word out for volunteer makeup artists, hairdressers, manicurists. Her first beauty night attracted 73 women.

MacGillivray says the simple act of extending her feet for a pedicure or allowing her hair to be cut can help a woman going through abuse or a difficult time rebuild her trust in others.

“It makes people feel good, feel safe,” says MacGillivray. “That makes people feel validated.”

Each of the volunteers brings their professional experience, but they’re also trained to recognize the warning signs of abuse, addiction and even health issues like diabetes and depression. Other volunteers are on hand to provide child care, counseling, as well as workshops for things like creative writing, drama, arts and crafts, and baking.

After all, says MacGillivray, the beauty nights are about fun.

“Makeovers make people feel good,” says MacGillivray. “We listen to them and as we get to know them, we learn about them. They just want to be heard.”


MacGillivray is looking for Beauty Night volunteers In Burnaby and New West, as well as space near SkyTrain to be able to train them. She’s also available to speak to community groups interested in getting involved. To learn more about Beauty Night or to fill out a volunteer application, go to


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