How can you show true allyship for marginalized communities?
For Mary Nielsen, creator of the Fearless Beauties movement, it was a matter of necessity in the esthetics industry. We caught up with this self-starter to learn how she discovered both the major inequalities in treating skin of colour and her own white privilege. Plus, what went into creating the new Fearless Beauties podcast, produced by Toronto-based agency Quill Inc!
How did you first become interested in beauty?
I don’t actually think of myself as a person who’s into beauty. My first career was as a nurse. I worked for a group of multi-specialty surgeons who asked me to research bringing aesthetic lasers into their practice in the late 1990s. Once I looked into it, it was like little angels were singing in my ears! I loved the science part of it. The ability to use a piece of technology to help people improve their skin. It wasn’t until I was in it for a while that I even made the connection with beauty. But even now, I think the role of a skincare professional is about relationships and trust and skin health more than anything.
Tell us about what Fearless Beauties does.
Fearless Beauties is a movement. A demand for more inclusivity, diversity, and stronger education on treating skin of colour and other marginalized people, like our transgender community.
What inspired you to start this initiative?
My youngest daughter, who attended a very diverse liberal arts college in California, came home on a break and said, “You know, Mom, not everyone sees the world through your lens.” That got me thinking about white privilege.
Then, the largest beauty education provider asked me to write four chapters in the newest edition of their esthetics textbook. When I questioned them about adding more information on skin of colour, I was told that skin of colour had its own separate book. This book, which I knew nothing about, was written ten years ago by Aliesh Pierce, a brilliant esthetician. My question was, “Why is it a separate book? That makes no sense.” Esthetics schools teach that skin of colour is a specialty and estheticians should get continuing education post-grad if they want to treat skin of colour.
Another factor was that – as an owner of my own esthetics school – my students and clients became more diverse. I realized we didn’t have a strong curriculum on treating BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ skin. So, I did the research and created my own. I had a task force of diverse students and instructors to provide input. Today, our students get educated on treating all skin.
On top of it all, America is becoming more and more multiethnic and aware of the injustices in marginalized communities. Two of my children married people of colour, so I have grandchildren of colour. Our population is blending and we need to have skincare professionals who are trained on how to take care of my grandkids’ skin!
How do you think this new wave of awareness and activism of the injustices in the black community will shape your industry?
I hope it inspires individuals to demand more from their education. Hopefully, that will create change in corporate education, including curriculum providers, esthetic conference leaders, and esthetic journals, both print and digital.
I also hope it inspires skincare professionals to examine their own values and be bold in practicing those values. Talking with vendors, skincare companies, and equipment companies to align themselves with companies that share the same values. I would like to see marketing images become more diverse so that we shift from our Eurocentric version of beauty to a broader representation. And I would like to see more practitioners of colour recognized nationally for their expertise.
You just launched the Fearless Beauties podcast! Tell us about the process of creating your first podcast.
The podcast was born because COVID-19 restricted our ability to offer live presentations. It has been so fun working with Taylor Phillip, my social media coordinator, as my co-host and then having an amazing team at Quill Inc. I didn’t realize all that goes into a podcast. They believe in the mission of Fearless Beauties and they make it easy.
What does ambition mean to you?
For me, ambition is your own personal drive to achieve your version of success, however you define it. My ambition does not drive me to want success in affluence, but the ability to make a difference. It’s important for me to give back. As I am on the downhill side of my career, I want to leave it knowing I have contributed to making it better. I’ve still got about ten good years in me and I would love nothing more than to have Fearless Beauties not exist because we have successfully created an inclusive community.
Looking back, are there any moments in your career that stand out as defining moments?
I’ve had so many impactful moments as a practitioner that helped shape my practice and now the culture in our school. One of my very first clients was a young attorney. He arrived at his appointment in full suit and tie, wanting laser hair removal. When he removed his shirt for the assessment, it looked like he was wearing a sweater. He had thick dark chest and back hair. He looked at me and said, “I just want my wife to touch me. She never really hugs me.” I suddenly realized how vulnerable he was, both physically and emotionally. I realized that even if our clients never tell us the deeper reason behind their treatment, the work we do is more than just buff and puff. We change lives. We impact self-esteem. We impact confidence and self-image. We have the power to influence change.
I was also fortunate to have owned my own medspa for ten years. That time as an entrepreneur was really life-changing for me. I learned to use my voice and felt empowered to help others learn to use their voices.
What role do you think non-BIPOC people play in creating awareness around issues of race and injustice?
As a non-BIPOC person, I can use my white privilege to listen to the stories and wisdom of those in our communities who have been marginalized, forgotten, or ignored and use my platform to give them greater visibility. I can pay attention in my own circle to speaking up and speaking out.