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‘The Goal Is to Empower Them:’ Stylists Offer Free Hair and Makeup For Prom to ‘Special Population’ Students In Huntington Park

3:35 PM PDT on June 1, 2022

Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO

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For Boyle Heights native and beauty business coach Naomi Marin, the desire to give back to her community has always been in her. But she credits her late grandmother for realizing the power that makeup can have on someone, how light fills a person's face after a new set of lashes and a fresh blowout and the power of making someone feel good on the inside and outside. Marin's view of makeup changed when her grandmother, an elegant woman who always wore ruby red lipstick before heading off to the tortillería, was diagnosed with cancer.

"She couldn't do her makeup or hair anymore, so I started to do it for her, and each time she'd say how it lifted her spirits because it made her feel how she felt before she was diagnosed," Marin said. "Since then, I knew I wanted to really have a meaning and message behind anything I did, and I wanted to give that spark of joy to others."

And she has in the last 12 years, Marin has been able to create a free beauty pop salon that provides hair and makeup for different organizations and groups like domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, schools, and more. 

This month, Marin and eight other hair and makeup stylists came together to create a beauty pop-up for 20 female students at Huntington Park High School. The idea to give back came after counselors at the high school, Karina Maravilla and Stephanie Villegas, approached Marin with the idea to help ten girls. Without hesitation, Marin said, "Let's do 20." 

"Everyone remembers prom. You remember who made you feel good. Who made you feel noticed, and that's what we want them to feel," she said as she curled a student's hair. "I want them to feel seen, empowered, and confident."

As someone who attended prom, Marin and the counselors knew how expensive prom could be and knew not all parents could afford to buy the tickets. They cost a little over $100, plus a dress, shoes, and hair and makeup. Maravilla, who is not just a counselor at the school, but is also an alumnus of HP High School, said she empathizes with students and parents. 

"I understand the challenges that parents have, and my parents couldn't afford much either. I mean, I almost didn't go to prom too because my parents simply couldn't afford it," she said. 

Marin's view of makeup changed when her grandmother, an elegant woman who always wore ruby red lipstick before heading off to the tortillería, was diagnosed with cancer.

She didn't want her students to miss out on the magic of prom night, and Maravilla wanted to make sure the girls had no worries. Like Maravilla, hairstylists and makeup artists present also had similar prom experiences that drove their need to want to provide their services for free. Carla Marin, who attended the event to help style students' hair, said she was happy to help because she didn't go to prom.

"Prom is expensive, and for girls probably even more because you have hair, makeup, dress, shoes, nails. It adds up," she said. "I didn't get to go to prom, so that's another reason for me wanting to help give these girls the best prom experience."

At the event on Friday, catering was provided by Eastside Italian Deli, and for the full experience, goodie bags with makeup kits were also gifted to them. Students who participated began to arrive at 2 PM, and one by one, each sat in a chair, ready to be pampered. For many, it was their first time. 

Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO
Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO

Like senior student Vanessa Sagaste, it was her first time getting her makeup and hair done professionally. "I feel pretty!" Sagaste said as makeup artist Danielle Serrano applied a thick and sharp wing to her eyes. "This is what I was excited for, the getting ready part." 

Many of the girls present are still learning how to do their own makeup. The event also served as an intro to styling hair and doing makeup, makeup artist Laurie Leon said it's important for these students to learn how to do their makeup, seeing as they will be entering adulthood shortly after graduation. "Makeup makes, you feel a little bit more mature," She said.

Her prom experience was also not as glamorous. "My mom did my makeup, and it was like señora makeup she laughed. "This is my chance to redeem myself by providing nice makeup to someone else."

For other students like senior Melissa Pedace, the experience is almost like her last hurrah before entering adulthood. For Latino families who also celebrate quinceañeras, proms are recognized as another milestone in a young woman's life. Still, for newer generations, a prom is also an event that represents the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another—going from young kids to adults. 

"It's nice to spend these last few moments of high school having fun before we go off to college," said Pedace, who will be attending UCLA after graduating. "I feel really grateful because I would not have been able to do this otherwise. I am not experienced in makeup either, so this opportunity was great for me. Now I want to try and recreate this look at home."

And for other students who want to study cosmetology eventually, this type of event exposes them to that world. Students like Michelle, who hopes to pursue cosmetology, were very touched by Marin and Maravilla's gesture. 

Hair and makeup artists come together to provide their services to high school students for free. Photo: Janette Villafana for L.A. TACO

"This is honestly very important because they are offering this to us for free with nothing in return, and it means a lot to us because they make us feel special and like we are somebody," she said as she waited her turn. 

Inside, Marin talked with the girls. She said she notices an instant change in them the moment they sit on her chair. Their faces begin to light up, and like at any salon, las pláticas (the talks) are good. And her work of giving back does not end when the event is over. In this case, Marin will follow up with some of the girls and will provide coaching if any of them genuinely want to pursue a career in the field. She said these pop-ups are much more than just doing hair and makeup.

"When they sit in our chair, I really want them to take something with them other than having their hair and makeup on. The goal is to empower them but also for them to feel so good that they want to pay it forward to someone else."

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