...currently writing from: Pasadena, CA
Like many American women, I was served the perfect cocktail for insecurity. I was painfully awkward growing up and brutally teased for being stick thin and wearing glasses. In high school, I had braces, glasses and the body of an 11- year-old boy. Choir was the highlight of my day and though singing is my first love, somewhere along the line I developed anxiety and adrenaline problems that led me to freeze every time I sang in front of people. Being the "singer girl" was my identity, but the pressure of my peers watching and the vulnerability of bearing my soul was so much that I began to resent my gift. I wanted to be normal like the girls that played volleyball and had started to fill out. I remember overhearing a popular boy saying he would never find me attractive because I was so "flat." To this day, that comment has hindered my ability to feel womanly.
By my senior year, my braces had come off, I wore contacts, boys finally started paying attention to me, and my sisters and I signed a major record deal. In my heart I was still a 13 year old eating lunch in the bathroom but suddenly I was hanging out with the popular kids in Hollywood. I was thrown into a world of gorgeous celebrities, executives, critics and not only did I have to fit in, I had to impress them. I went through what our manager called "super star training" where I was taught to always be "on." This meant: makeup, hair and nails done, dressed to the nines everywhere I went, and to make it all appear effortless. These men wrote many pop hits that glorified and over sexualized a woman's curves which I was still waiting for... still waiting. Throw in an unhealthy first boyfriend relationship and I was a total mess. I was so insecure, I couldn't go to the grocery store without fake lashes and heels.
Around that time I'd begun working at a salon in Beverly Hills. There I learned all the plastic surgeries one could get done, how long you must wait between Botox treatments, and how to shampoo around bloody face lifts. I met women everyday who suffered serious injury due to surgery addiction. Every time I'd go to do someone's hair, they would list their insecurities and how I was to cover them up.
It's an easy game to play; I've got it down. Here's what I would do: definitely nose job, breast implants for sure, tighten up the skin around my jaw, Botox for my stress lines, hair removal from the neck down, lip injections, and I'd need standing appointments for spray tan, hair extensions, lash extensions, highlights, nails, blowouts and eyebrows. The average ticket for our clientele was around $800 per appointment.
One night I was getting ready with a particular group of girlfriends in Hollywood who were all models, of course. I always felt out of place next to these stunning amazons. As they did their makeup, they began to pick themselves apart. I sat there listening to these "perfect looking" girls be so unkind to themselves, and something in me snapped.
I realized that it doesn't matter how pretty you are. Being confident is a choice and there's nothing we can do to change ourselves from the outside that will make us love ourselves.
The things we obsess over, no one else notices because they're probably too busy critiquing themselves.
I realized I was living in a vicious cycle of superficially and insecurity, one leading back to the other, with no end in sight.
It became clear that in my pursuit of being "pretty," I was only breeding ugliness in my soul.
It was time to become a beautiful person.
I'll never forget the first time I went to Skid Row. I was wearing red lipstick and was stopped by a woman named Joyce who said red was her favorite color. She invited me into her tent and I crawled in, heel boots and all. She gave me a red pair of gloves to match my lips and I was floored. I told her to keep them but she insisted that it would give her joy if I'd accept, so I did.
Joyce and I were fast friends. Every week I'd join her in her tent and hold her as she cried, or laughed, or both. As I spent time with her in her space, I realized little by little that I couldn't do the things Jesus called me to do with all this stuff in the way. I'd cry my makeup off, my clothes would be covered in dirt, and forget nice shoes, (its called "Skid Row" for a reason.) But somehow, I felt more beautiful there on the ground than in the rest of my life. My definition of beauty began to change.
One Sunday, I had worn my favorite new pair of boots to skid row. Joyce and I spent our usual time together and she said that her shoes had been hurting her. She and I wore the same size shoe so I traded her. That day I walked away wearing her worn, dirty shoes, as I looked back to see her dancing all around the street in her shiny new boots. That's the last time I ever saw Joyce. She looked beautiful.
In 2013 I was invited to go to India with International Princess Project, a program that rescues and reintegrates women from human trafficking. These women were gorgeous, resilient and radiant despite their past history of abuse and exploitation. I spend most of my time braiding their long hair, doing nails and telling them how beautiful they are. Though sometimes shy, I received many tearful thanks for the simple beauty treatments we had to offer; things we so often take for grated here in the states as free women.
Toward the end of the trip I sang them a song that my sister Angelique and my cousin Kyle had written together. They began to chime in as they learned the words and I sat in silent awe as I listened to them sing her words back to me: "You are free, you are beautiful."
We live in an ego driven world where we constantly compare our physical attributes to the images that inundate our lives. I used to want to be just like the girl in the magazine until I met her, became her, and discovered that she's just as self-conscious as the next girl. Now when I think of beautiful women I think of my mother, my grandmother, my aunties, my girlfriends, my mentors, and my sisters. What all of these women have in common is that they have built me up and encouraged me to acknowledge the beauty God has given me. My psyche connects beauty to them because they have made me feel beautiful.
If God blesses me with a daughter one day and she happens to inherit some of my less favorable physical attributes, how can I tell her she is beautiful just the way she is if I cannot believe the same about myself?
When my clients ask me for beauty tips, my answer is simple: make others feel beautiful.
I have recently partnered with Rescue 1 Global, an anti-human trafficking organization in Thailand. With them, I've begun a program teaching cosmetology to women who are reintegrating from trafficking. On the first day of beauty school I began my class with:
"Hi. My name is Dominique. I am from California and I've prayed for a very long time to meet you. Today is the first day of beauty school. I will show you how do do many things with hair and makeup but these things are not what make you beautiful. Beauty comes from your heart."