How hair stylist Celeste Theory creates a safe haven for victims of abuse

CBC Calgary is highlighting the rich heritage and contributions of Asian Calgarians through a series of 10 self-profiles to mark Asian Heritage Month. Here is the latest profile, from Celeste Theory.

Celeste Theory styles damaged hair and works to build a safe space for clients

Celeste Theory is a hair stylist who specializes in damaged hair. She found solace helping victims of abuse tell their stories. (Esther Cho Photography/CBC)

May is Asian Heritage Month. To celebrate, CBC Calgary is highlighting the rich heritage and contributions of Asian Calgarians through a series of 10 profiles throughout the month. We welcomed nominations of diverse individuals with different goals and interests, and a common commitment to giving back to the community. Through an internal voting process, CBC Calgary staff selected the Asian Changemakers for 2022 and asked them each to write a self-profile. Here is the latest, from Celeste Theory:

My name is Celeste Theory. I am of Vietnamese Asian descent born in North Bay, Ont. and raised in Calgary. I have moved 41 times in 41 years and have encountered bullying, racism, narcissistic parental alienation and abuse in all aspects of life. Despite my circumstances, I consider myself a thriving individual and a creative innovator.

My love of my community has kept me inspired to keep chasing after my dreams and that is to create a community with open dialogue. 

When I was 26, my mother took my sister and I to Con Tho, Vietnam to visit relatives I had never met before. To experience the vast differences in language, economic standards, health care, education and quality of life was a major culture shock. During this trip, I also learned that in the early 1980's my mother escaped the Vietnam war by boat with my father — who was only 23 at the time — my dad's younger brother (only in his teens), my mom's two younger brothers, one younger sister and my older sister (only two at the time).

During their escape, their boat was capsized by pirates, and my mom's two brothers and younger sister perished. She was separated from my father and her brother-in-law. As my older sister clutched onto my mother's shoulders, my mom was forced to tread water for four hours. It was then that the same pirates held her captive. After two days, they released her where she, along with my sister, had to swim to safety and ended up reuniting with my father at a refugee camp.

"My love of my community has kept me inspired to keep chasing after my dreams and that is to create a community with open dialogue," said Theory. (Esther Cho Photography/CBC)

I remember looking out at the same ocean as far as my eyes could see. I remember taking a very long, slow breath. As the warm air filled my lungs, an intense feeling washed over me. It was the first time I felt a level of appreciation and pride for the courage my family had to risk their lives so that we would have the freedom and liberties our country has provided us.

Growing up as a child in poverty with two completely different cultural expectations was a challenge. It became my mission and vision to own a business one day that would create unity and allow each individual to be their authentic self. Sadly, I faced personal adversities and had to close my location but a profound thing happened while my salon, Style Theory Hair, was open.

My salon became a safe haven for victims of abuse where they would come and share their stories on our Facebook live feed. 

It was when this happened I realized our community was suffering in silence from things not spoken about. From that moment on, it became my mission to find a way to help victims of parent alienation and abuse, and so I began a docu-series called Becoming Celeste Theory.

In this docu-series, it will show people first-hand what PTSD, emotional abuse and the life challenges most face behind closed doors look like. It also shares key information on how any victim can take their power back, and despite circumstances, continue to self-heal by creating a community. 

Although I specialize in repairing damaged hair, I also write Google reviews to help contribute to the continual growth of businesses. I've reached over a million views because I believe that no small act goes unrecognized. As a Calgarian, I  would love to see more development of social relationships between the city, businesses and consumers to achieve our community objectives of continual growth and success.

I attribute a lot of my success to my mentors. Susan Veres was the previous vice president of the CMLC and helped build Calgary's east village. She taught me how to take my creativity and turn it into a brand and bring my visions to life.

Another powerhouse of a woman I have known is Wanda Kogawa for over 10 years. She is an expert at building business processes. Her commitment to her family and charitable work has inspired me to follow in her footsteps. She keeps me in awe of her ability to balance family and work life. She has taught me a great deal about risk management and helped me refine many of my business practices. Wanda has a way of asking tough questions while inspiring you to find your answer. I have adopted her style of business to my own. It is a win-win model.

Lastly, Colleen O'Shea is a woman who is strong in her convictions and even stronger in her support role. She has a way of bringing out your potential. She is all about the tough love that empowers you to be better. If you are looking to have a pity party, she will be the first to rain on your parade. Her personality is vivacious and beautiful. She has taught me that when you are down, you are never out. I have learned to be strong. She turns people into rockstars. No surprise since her son is on a golf scholarship. Colleen is like a second mom to me. She's my rock.