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Can Fashion and Beauty be Activism?

In 2018, I co-authored Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism, and Advocacy for All, and the basic premise was that we all can find ways to take action on the issues we care most about—and in ways that align our compassion with our passions, skills, and expertise.

As I’ve been writing this column for Kinder Beauty, I have asked myself: How can a passion for fashion, beauty, and personal care be part of this activism equation?

Turns out, there are plenty of ways. The fact is that it shouldn’t be a privilege to feel fresh, clean, properly dressed, and even beautiful. But, sadly, it is.

So, if you are a beauty maven, here are four ways to address that gap for people who may need it the most.

1. Your suits, dresses, and gowns can help others. 

Never wearing a business suit again? (I know, me neither.) Still hanging on to bridesmaid, prom, and other fancy dresses that you’ll never wear again? Still have that wedding dress, but not the spouse? I get it.

You probably know there are thrift and consignment stores where you can offload unwanted clothing, but many of the people who enjoy thrifting may like the thrill of the hunt more than they need the price breaks reflected in those shops.

If you want to ensure your gorgeous garb goes to those who would otherwise never be able to obtain such finery, find your local charitable organizations that do just that. Some examples:

  • Dress for Success: Has branches all over the country and, in fact, the world. It’s a place where women looking to make a fresh start can find professional clothes for interviews and work, and leadership guidance, too.
  • Career Gear: It’s basically Dress for Success for men.
  • Prom dress contributions and distribution seem to be more locally oriented. This great link at Angel Help Network has a list of almost two dozen organizations in different parts of the country where gowns for proms, quinceañeras, and other fancy events can be donated and/or secured. Donate My DressThe Princess ProjectBecca’s Closet and The Giving Gown Foundation are examples that seem to have more scale, but sometimes local resources will have more selection.
  • Wedding dress donations are also gratefully accepted, and there are organizations that specialize in these gowns vs. other fancy dresses. This link from Martha Stewart Living lists five additional organizations that specialize in finding wedding dresses new happy homes.

2. How many hotel mini-shampoos and conditioners are under your sink? 

Didn’t it used to feel like Christmas staying in a hotel and checking out what kind of personal care swag they offered in the bathroom? It did to me ... until I realized it conflicted with my desire to minimize clutter.

But if you have a basket of such niceties in a cabinet—or you just can’t resist their allure and toss them in your suitcase every time you travel—whether you need them or not, you can now do so with a lighter conscience, because there is a place they can go! 

  • Local organizations: As always, there may be organizations that do this in your community or your state. For example, Amenity Aid is a resource for Rhode Island. Anyone anywhere can mail them the toiletries, and they will distribute them throughout the state.
  • National organizations: For example, Operation: Care and Comfort collects products and sends care packages to members of the US military. And Ronald McDonald House accepts donations to care for the families who often have to stay there for weeks at a time to be by their ailing child.
  • YOUR local homeless or domestic violence shelter. One surefire way to see the impact of your activism in action is to focus it right in your own community. There are institutions in your zip code that are housing and providing facilities and services to people. Reach out, find out, and help out

3. Have you heard of period poverty?

In parts of the world, including in the US, there are girls who stay home from school when they’re on their period because they don’t have adequate supplies to save them from embarrassing accidents.

This also goes for grown-ups and their work ... not many of us work in enlightened places where there are free supplies in every bathroom (but we should be able to). And it’s an ongoing issue for anyone who is homeless, where access to products and facilities can be limited.

We can talk another time about how periods are a natural part of life, and we’re all way too uptight about our bodily functions and requirements. But for now, there are ways to help anyone with a period worry less about having a tie-your-sweater-around-your-waist moment by supporting the organizations found at the following links.

(Some of them also work on policy that treats period supplies like the necessity they are and would make them sales-tax-free and freely available in schools and homeless shelters.) 

  • Certified B Corp Aisle mentors organizations around the world who are tackling this issue, and you find the list at this link.
  • Bustle compiled this list of ten organizations working on it at this link. The Bergen Project shares four more here.
  • AGAIN: YOUR local homeless shelter, domestic violence shelter, schools, and more. There are institutions in your zip code that may house, educate, or provide services to people with periods. And they may struggle to make period products available because they’re ridiculously expensive at scale. As already mentioned above: Reach out, find out, and help out!

4. Are you a beauty professional? Contribute your skills!

A few years ago, I started following Mark Bustos on Instagram. He’s a hairdresser and sometimes on his days off he would go to where the unhoused folks congregated and give free haircuts.

He would share before and after pictures, but he would also share the stories of his clients. The genuine smiles in the after shots are so heartwarming and deeply poignant.

How many people walk by those clients inwardly shaking their head at their appearance or their smell, without ever wondering how they would keep up with personal hygiene if they didn’t have a place to call home?

I’ve since seen other folks be inspired by Mark and do similar outreach. If you’re a hairdresser or other beauty professional, there are likely potential clients out there for you, too. 

If you don’t feel comfortable going by yourself, team up. You don’t even have to go to the streets; you can contact your local shelters to see if they’d be interested in bringing some personal care and pampering to their residents.

A big theme in Road Map for Revolutionaries is that money is not all we have to contribute. If the above ideas spark your interest, but you’re short on funds to donate, think about what else you can do.

We have our time to volunteer, our feet on the street, our voices talking about issues, and our skills helping others pro bono. Anything and everything counts. It all matters. And anytime you marry your passion with your giving heart, it’s a win! 

Elisa Camahort Page is a speaker, consultant, and entrepreneur, best known for co-founding BlogHer. She’s the host of The Op-Ed Page podcast and This Week-ish newsletter, and co-author of Road Map for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism, and Advocacy for All. Learn more at elisacp.com.