Melissa Auerbach Murphy ’01

Hair Stylist for the Homeless

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Scott Suchman

When 73 percent of hiring managers say that appearance is a big factor in who gets the job, it’s smart to look your best for an interview.

But for people who are trying to find a job while experiencing homelessness, taking care of one’s appearance isn’t always easy. Melissa Auerbach Murphy ’01 knows that a good hair day could make a big difference.

She’s the founder and executive director of Beautiful World, a Washington, DC, nonprofit that offers beauty tutorials, makeup, and hair products to people living in shelters or transitional housing. The self-care products and services for those who could not otherwise afford them bring a boost of confidence as residents prepare for job interviews.

“How you feel about yourself when you look in the mirror is so powerful,” says Murphy, a master hair stylist and colorist who trained at Vidal Sassoon in London. “It can really propel you to make some big changes in your life when you have the confidence to be out and about in the world.”

Word about Beautiful World spread quickly after a successful pilot at DC’s largest women’s shelter, N Street Village. The organization has helped upward of 400 people during the last year, and Murphy is always recruiting volunteer cosmetologists, aestheticians, and nail technicians to keep up with demand.

Now UW–Madison is home to Beautiful World’s first campus chapter, where intern Shanti Varma-Lenz x’17 leads efforts to support the nonprofit’s mission. College students may not often meet people who are food- or housing-insecure, but Murphy says that talking about appearance can be a common bond.

“No matter who you are and where you are in your life, that [appearance] could still be a priority … that was a huge realization for me,” Murphy says. “Image and beauty are a really great place to start because everyone cares.”

Murphy is optimistic that her efforts to seek donations and volunteers will inspire more philanthropy within what she describes as the “profit-driven” beauty industry. She ensures that Beautiful World’s services are inclusive by stocking products for people of color; recruiting volunteers to serve men, who seek haircuts more frequently; and offering services to anyone — women, men, and people who identify as nonbinary or along the gender spectrum.

But as she meets people from many walks of life, Murphy says one thing is constant: “Everybody wants to know how to do their eyebrows.”

Published in the Spring 2017 issue

Tags: Alumni, Public service

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