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To Stacey Riley, advocating for others is beautiful

GCW Makeover

Makeover team: Photography by Brandi Stage Portraiture | Hair & Makeup by HD Hair and Makeup

Stacey Riley has never sought attention — quite the opposite.

A lifelong struggle with social anxiety disorder meant Riley, the chief executive officer of the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence, felt uncomfortable speaking in public, being called on in class or being in a room full of people she didn’t know.

“I admit that my earlier days with social anxiety stopped me from doing some things,” she acknowledges, “but I try to never let my anxiety take away anything that I really wanted to achieve in life and have learned to push my boundaries.”

Today, Riley is proud to have embraced her “introverted self” and grown to love who she is. Nonetheless, she remains focused on others, namely victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and homicide who seek the Center’s help. In 2022, the nonprofit answered 17,084 crisis calls, provided 40,012 nights of emergency shelter and served 120,036 meals to shelter clients — making a significant difference for people in danger and despair.

Inspired by those who oppose injustice and inequality, Riley identifies with Mahatma Gandhi’s observation: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

“I entered the social work field for a very important reason: to advocate for those who cannot or will not advocate for themselves,” she says. “I never leave home without my soapbox.”

A self-described “hippie gal from the country” who is most comfortable in shorts and flip-flops, Riley says habits like meditation, yoga and eating right do more for her self-image than any elaborate makeup routine. Even so, she enjoys getting pampered by professionals — and Gulf Coast Woman recently arranged for her to receive some much-deserved TLC.

“I can truly appreciate the experience of getting a makeover and allowing myself to come out of my shell to shine,” says Riley, adding that she was “honored” by the recognition. “I strongly encourage everyone to have their makeup, hair and wardrobe done by someone other than you and to have your picture taken by someone who loves the art of photography.”

Riley struck photographer Brandi Stage as a “kind, compassionate woman” — qualities she sought to convey in her portraits. Stage presented a few wardrobe options, and the winner was a metallic, flowy piece that Riley loved.

“The goal for this shoot was for Stacey to feel special and to capture her having a blast and feeling great,” Stage says. “This is always the aim when I photograph women. It’s amazing to watch them transform, much like a flower bud blooming. It’s beautiful to behold.”

Heather Dubuisson of HD Hair and Makeup created a “strong, but feminine and beautiful” look that matched Riley’s personality. She played up Riley’s eyes by using a neutral palette with some hints of gold and smoking them out slightly at the corners to add depth. Her lip was a neutral mix, Dubuisson adds, “which showed off her beautiful smile.” Large curls kept in place with volume spray gave Riley’s hair plenty of lift.

“She shared with me that she had only had her makeup done once, so it was a treat for her,” Dubuisson says. “She does so much to take care of others, and I wanted her to know how that felt.”

The hardworking wife and mom makes time in her busy schedule to support activities that address discrimination and further social justice; she’s a member of the Human Rights Campaign and the National Organization for Women and an advocate for the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and local animal rescue groups

“Without my need for the limelight, I can help propel others forward so they can highlight their accomplishments,” she says.

Despite past struggles with self-love, Riley has worked hard mentally, physically and spiritually to move beyond any feelings of inadequacy. Her mom, who taught her to be a free thinker and hold fast to her beliefs, remains Riley’s biggest beauty role model.

“Have I always (felt beautiful)? No. Do I now? Absolutely,” Riley says. “It’s all about self-acceptance and feeling good in the skin that you are in.”

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