Over five years ago I began working as a retail makeup artist for a well-known cosmetic giant. I thought I may just be helping people find products that worked for them and enhanced their own beauty. While there certainly were many smoky eyes, I noticed another reason people sought trips to the makeup counter. They were looking for answers. Many times, answers to their health problems--a cream for dehydrated skin, a concealer for dark circles caused by lack of sleep or a foundation to cover up acne triggered by hormonal flares. Behind the search for products were signs of larger struggles- the stress of being a new mom, navigating a new job, and even dealing with abuse at home.
I wanted to do more to better the health of my clients. I began my masters of Public Health at the University of Colorado. I initially shelved my memories at the cosmetic counter, but as I continued to work and go to school, the parallels became undeniable. I focused my last semester exploring this intersection. For my capstone project, I conducted in-depth interviews with beauty service providers- hairstylist, estheticians, and makeup artists, probing for the health and mental health problems their clients discussed, and their strategies for managing these. I was most struck by the providers’ deep commitment to improving their clients’ well-being; guiding them to outside resources, encouraging healthy habits, and being a sympathetic ear.
My observations were in no way unique to Denver or to the providers I interview, rather part of a larger, often unseen tradition of community health workers. For example, The Barbershop Health Outreach Program started in 2008 by Dr. Bill Releford has tested over 30,000 Black men across the nation for high blood pressure and diabetes. Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control has a nationwide partnership with salons and barbershop, called Cut for Life, which organizes HIV education, events, and testing in salons and barbershops. These programs achieve the ultimate public health objective of “meeting people where they are.”
State Representatives and Senators across the country are recognizing beauty service providers as the influencers they have always been; placing their endorsement behind legislation. The state of Illinois successfully passed a bill requiring beauty service providers to receive training on intimate partner violence as part of their licensure. Many states are following suit. Colorado was one of those states. I had the privilege to testify at the Colorado State Senate hearing for House Bill 1175. Unfortunately, the attempt to enact the bill sponsored by Edie Hooten was shut down in the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee; a faction with a clear anti-regulation lean.
Despite this loss, I am optimistic. This particular movement is only the beginning. More attention and resources should be directed towards leaders and innovators like beauty service providers. Their window into peoples’ challenges is truly unique; matched only by their creative and sincere ability to impact the health of their clients. Feminist activist Audre Lorde once said, “self-care is not about self-indulgence, it is about self-preservation.” So, to the many who help us all maintain, thank you for sharing your talent, your wisdom, and your strength.
Black Barbershop Health Outreach Program. 2016. http://blackbarbershop.org.
Centers for Disease Control. 2016. Cut for Life: Hairstylists and Barbers Against AIDS. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/workplace/cutforlife.html.
Rueters. 28 March 2017. Beauty Fix: Hairstylists Now Trained in Helping Domestic Abuse Victims. Study International. Retrieved from https://www.studyinternational.com/news/beauty-fix-stylists-trained-in-art-will-now-help-abuse-victims-too/#plV7ohszTyQkmEWY.97