Beauty Value: Helping cancer survivors reclaim their natural beauty

Women with yellowed skin, bruised nails and hallowed faces ravaged by cancer – these are the inhabitants of the haemato-oncological wing of the Domingo Luciani Hospital, in the district of Llanito, east of Caracas. Some are bald, others are missing one or both of their breasts.

Eva Herbert was moved when she encountered these women. Herbert is a professional model, a psychologist and a scholar of women’s studies. She decided to try to do something to help the women forget the effects of chemotherapies and reclaim their sense of beauty. Her goal was to help them to feel differently about themselves and smile again. On December 19, 2014, she came to the oncological wing accompanied by a stylist, who gave the women a makeup class while Herbert directed a motivational workshop.

Hebert named the workshop Beauty Injection, and was planning an expanded project when she was fired from the National Institute for Women. In that governmental department she worked as a therapist, but was told it was wrong for her to spend her free time on the catwalks.

“They told me, ‘Patients will recognize you and identify you with capitalist brands, and modeling goes against the values of the institution.’

Losing her therapist job over her modeling career pushed Hebert to use her expertise in gender issues to help women work on their psychological well-being and to embrace their natural beauty. During her childhood, Hebert had been a victim of bullying. Her schoolmates made fun of her dark skin, her thick curly hair, and her glasses, so she knew how important it is for everyone to feel good about themselves.

This is how Beauty Value was born, a platform that seeks to empower women, stimulating their self-esteem and promoting health, making use of beauty as an avenue to achieve these goals. The platform publishes motivational messages and recommendations on social networks, and offers athletic training, talks and conferences for companies, universities and the general public. It also offers face-to-face and online psychological therapy.

Twenty one-year-old student Claudia Barbato wanted to know what Beauty Value was about and went to one of its events.

“It was a conference for single women,” she said. “I loved it because it focused on dismantling the idea of many people that women necessarily have to marry, have children, etc. I was amazed by the professionalism, the seriousness with which they address the issues.”

After that event Barbato offered herself as a collaborator. In September of 2017 she attended a Beauty Injection in the hospital with Herbert.

“During the workshops, one of the patients seemed in a bad mood, she was distant. [Despite this], the lady allowed the stylist to do her makeup. And when she saw herself in the mirror, it was like a light was turned on, the lady’s eyes sparkled and she smiled, she smiled a lot. She was happy. And it’s not that we did it. We were just a bridge for her to remember how beautiful she is. That’s what this is about.”

Beauty Value puts on free social activities, such as the Beauty Injections for cancer patients at the Domingo Luciani Hospital, and now also for grandmothers confined in a nursing home.

On New Year’s Eve, 2014, Eva was tagged in an Instagram photo from one of the patients who had received the Beauty Injection. Something had changed in the woman. She was wearing make-up, smiling and said she was grateful because after the makeup class and the workshops, she would welcome the New Year with a different attitude.

“There I ended up convincing myself that this was what I wanted to do all my life. My eyes watered, my heart got very small,” said Herbert, three years later.

“For a woman with cancer it is terrible to lose her hair or her breasts, because they are the centre of femininity. It is not a banality to pretend that they look and feel good. We want to remind you that they are beautiful. We use beauty to generate a positive effect on them. In all our activities, we seek for women to feel confident about themselves, about what they are worth. So, this project ultimately pursues the prevention of gender violence.”

Today Beauty Value works with a small team of two psychologists and several collaborators. They have served 1,400 women and have produced 37 events a year. In November, 2017, the project was selected, among 4,000 other enterprises, by the Department of State in the United States to participate in the Young Leader of the Americas event, in recognition of the impact it has had in Latin America and the Caribbean.

That opportunity has allowed Herbert to take Beauty Value to other countries in the region. In the first quarter of 2018, Beauty Value will begin working in the Dominican Republic and at the end of the year it wants to reach Mexico and Chile. The team is enthusiastic about these plans, and the income generated abroad will be used to produce many more free activities for Venezuelan women.

Many wigs were donated from the U.S. for the Beauty Injections at the Domingo Luciani Hospital.

“To see those women smiling is our biggest payment,” Herbert said. “It’s like the gasoline that drives us to continue, which gives meaning to everything.”