Homeless, Yes. Beautiful, Absolutely!

By Antonio Gonzales

Feeling “less than” is a very common feeling. When the unthinkable happens, like losing one’s home or warm bed, we can feel even “less.” Throw in societal judgment, abuse and hunger, and we may altogether lose our sense of self. Sadly, I have met many women in the NYC shelter system who have come close to losing this sense.

When working with these women, I often ask, “what do you like most about yourself?” I never define the question too much, because I want the ladies to think deeply about its meaning. Often, my question is met with silence. Then, someone may ask, “what do you mean?” I typically add a few examples, maybe something physical or a personality trait. But, it’s when I take a step back and truly look at the women, that I see a room full of beautiful women, individually hand crafted from the inside out…from their heart, height, smile, eyes, even their lips!

As a beauty professional, over the years, I have refined this gift to instantly identify someone’s inner and outer beauty.

To help the women see what I see, I hand mirrors to each woman. “Look into the mirror, and tell me, what do you see?” Some are hesitant. Nonetheless, one by one, they take the mirrors, as I sit with each and point out what is so obvious to me. For example, I’ll say to one woman, “look at your eyes, the color, it’s yours; how special! Now your eyelashes and your eyebrows…it’s all you  Let’s not forget your energy; you light up the room!” To another woman, I will then say, “look at your cheek bones, how strong! Your skin color is flawless.” As if lights are being turned on from the inside, each woman slowly “gets it,” and starts shouting out what they like about themselves, “My personality! My height! My curves!” All of a sudden, the whole energy of the room has improved, and we are laughing and liking ourselves.

Now, it may be hard to understand that a lack of self-love can be this blinding, to the point that you can’t even see one thing you like about yourself. However, this blindness is real and is the reality of many women I work with. It was, in fact, my own reality for a long time. Growing up, I would often hear others making fun of my poverty, of my “big nose,” etc. Let’s also not forget that I was “bad,” because I appeared to be gay (long before I knew what that word meant or even knew I was gay). Though a long time ago, these childhood taunts continue to stay with me to this day. But, I am happy to say that they no longer blind me. Through volunteering with the women at the shelter, I have gradually gained “sight.” I have not only helped others see their beauty, but have also learned to see my own.

I encourage YOU, then, to see your own beauty and to help others less fortunate than you see theirs. We may come from different situations, and some of us may even be homeless, yes. But, we are all beautiful, absolutely!