Self-care is, by definition, typically and selfishly meant to be about caring for one’s self. In its purest form — rid of bogus, wallet-draining products that often serve capitalism more than the soul — self-care allows room for blissful and intentional heeding to whatever (and whomever) serves your spirit. But for Shirley Raines, founder of Beauty 2 the Streetz, a Los Angeles–based nonprofit serving the homeless community, self-care is decidedly selfless.
For Ms. Shirley, as the community she’s now served for six years calls her, self-care is a daily action that culminates in a weekly Saturday service. The gathering is one in which she asks unhoused individuals on Skid Row a simple, oft-desired question: “What do you want?”
When we chat on a Monday afternoon, Raines is enjoying a moment of respite before she goes shopping to fulfill requests for the week; think honey buns, McDonald’s burgers, and “shower-in-a-bag” kits. She’s fresh off of an Instagram Live filled with laughter and casual banter about coitus — among other things. “I gotta go, I gotta go, I got a Zoom in three minutes,” she laughs before ending the livestream. If it feels like she’s talking directly to you, it’s because she is. Beauty2TheStreetz’s 238,000 Instagram followers are responsible for funding the work she and her team of about 25 do every week. Her followers’ donations on the platform allow her to provide hygiene products, beauty sessions (complete with hair-dye jobs, long bright wigs, eccentric makeovers, and fresh cuts), and a catered family barbecue fit for 500 kings and queens, as she lovingly calls those who attend.
Sporting little to no makeup, a shirt emblazoned with “Black Powered,” and wide-framed Voogueme specs with a soft throw over her shoulders, Raines dials in from her couch at home in Long Beach — a pineapple-flavored probiotic Pressed juice in hand. The 54-going-on-34-year-old leader is direct and refreshingly self-aware. Beauty, she explains, is at the crux of her organization, and it’s an inside-out job.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that’s why I always tell people I’m lucky that I found a community that holds the things that I behold as beautiful as beautiful.” When asked what those are, Raines tells me, “I don’t know how to say it … you can clean it up,” before uttering words she absolutely knew how to say, and I’d later opt to leave exactly as is. “The beauty of me is that I don’t give a fuck what society says I should wear, you know what I mean? The boldness that I have is beautiful to me … It was nothing to cover my hair yellow when it wasn’t normal because I didn’t feel like I fit into your normal society anyway. It’s nothing to me to have eyelashes on so long that I can’t even blink and put my glasses on …”
Although Raines has a physical place to call home, she feels a strong sense of belonging among the community she works with; it’s the only part of society that she’s ever felt truly in tune with, and the degree of pain she often observes is something the mother of six knows all too well.
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