Jim Wolf had long, unkempt hair and a full, ungroomed beard. He wore a casual T-shirt with a white undershirt underneath.
At first glance, Wolf looked the stereotype of the homeless veteran that he was, one who struggled with poverty and alcoholism for years. While these internal struggles can take a long time to cast off and reverse, it took only a few hours in a salon chair to change Wolf’s image and begin to turn around how the Grand Rapids, Mich., man even viewed himself.
Rob Bliss, a 25-year-old known locally for creating fun, viral videos, took a different approach in his latest creation.
“For me, personally, I’ve been trying to get more into doing things for a better purpose,” Bliss told TheBlaze in a phone interview Thursday. “Doing it for the benefit of this community.”
Inspired by the personal care brand Dove’s evolution video, which showed a woman transformed with hair, makeup and Photoshop into a model looking nothing like the original subject, Bliss wanted to show how a physical transformation for some people doesn’t cover up who they are, but reveals who they could be.
“The homeless are people we ignore every day,” Bliss said. He set out to create a time-lapse video of the physical transformation of a homeless person to show how “they can look like they’re meant for the cover of GQ — they have that potential too.”
That’s what brought Bliss to Degage, a local Christian ministry providing services to the homeless in Grand Rapids, and to Jim Wolf, who served in the U.S. Army. A local stylist volunteered and a production team came on board.
Then for hours in September, Wolf sat in a salon chair as stylist Anna Walt, snipped, buzzed, trimmed, cleaned, dyed and blew dry.
Wolf’s clothing was changed to a crisp, white button down. A tie was tied and a sleek suit fitted.
This was the end result.
What struck Bliss about the process was how quiet Wolf was during it (you can see in the video he barely talks).
“He was a huge talker,” Bliss said of the man’s personality. “But I was amazed that he was silent through the process.”
Wolf, who had not seen himself throughout the transformation, said “wow” when a full-length mirror was turned toward him and he finally saw his reflection.
He then got up and gave Bliss a big hug.
“It was one of the better hugs I’ve gotten in recent memory,” Bliss said.
Watch the transformation video for yourself:
“We all have an image of ourselves,” Marge Palmerlee, executive director of Degage, told TheBlaze. “When he saw the difference, he just … felt very enlightened and uplifted. I could just tell the difference in Jim.”
Since his makeover, Wolf will soon move into his own apartment and has been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
While this transformation was for one man and the video encourages people to donate to a specific, local ministry, it contains messages that reach much further.
One is that “an outward transformation is important, but an inward one is more important,” Parlmerlee said. She said she hopes it also helps change stereotypes to give people a perspective that “everyone is worthy of being treated with dignity and respect.”
From the perspective of issues facing veterans, the video was released just a few days before Veterans Day.
“We all know that war wounds are not all external,” Parlmerlee said.
Realizing that, Degage offers services year-round to help struggling veterans directly or indirectly, connecting them to other organizations. On Veterans Day itself, the organization hosts a special dinner with a pinning ceremony for vets who attend, thanking them for their service.
“They often say ‘I have never been thanked for my service, you don’t know how much this means to me,’” Parlmerlee said.
Bliss’ overarching message?
“If I can only get people to look at any homeless person on the street and see the mirror image of them — the image of someone who would look socially acceptable — realize that potential, that ‘what if,’ and root for their success,” Bliss said.