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Meaning in Work: The Spirit of Esthetics

By: Anne Martin
Posted: February 28, 2011, from the March 2011 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
spa client with spa professional

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Your gifts to clients are those of listening and time, attention and service. You offer that which begins any conversation: generous listening. To the client with acne who suffers emotionally and physically, and whose glaringly distressed skin stands out in a crowd that favors similarities; to the aging client who fearfully looks into her mirror and glimpses a visibly tired, worn-looking face, and, just out of sight, waiting, the anonymity of age that folds over the time still left to her, like deep snow covering a field, hushing her voice. Spa professionals listen and then set to work, for your talents intersect with their needs, and you choose to help. You purify infected skin, calm reddened faces, empty what’s full and smooth what is bumpy. You ease fine lines, soften deeper ones, give clarity to what’s dull and lift to what’s slipped. Embedded in your helping is this understanding: The particulars of any suffering are less important than the fact that the suffering itself exists, and that the impact on the client’s spirit must be countered, must be turned aside. You tell clients that in the back alleys of the mind may lurk treacherous images and dark thoughts; that staring into a mirror can actually distort vision; that it’s a bit of a walk, this healing of skin, this easing of thoughts, but that you will go with them, and here, that’s it, drop those heavier ones for it will lighten your way.

About 2,500 years ago, in the year 6 B.C., the philosopher Heraclitus wrote: “The eye, the ear, the mind in action. These I value.” In each and every facial, spa professionals use these senses Heraclitus prized. Your work is predicated on them. You see the skin and analyze it; you listen to the histories and stories told to you; you ponder which services and products to recommend, and you think of treatment plans and programs. But a sense beyond that which Heraclitus identified is used: touch. You use your hands. Your touch comes without demands, without conditions and without judgments. It’s an offering of acceptance, because you know, no matter what it looks like on the outside, that many clients are not touched kindly, or at all. A client now in her early 80s, and whose husband passed about 10 years ago, told me that of all the things she missed, the one that came to mind most regularly was his nightly ritual of massaging her feet. No one guides her to sleep with that gentle touch any more.

You are hardwired

Spa professionals are hardwired to help through service. This help takes the form of educated and knowledgeable work, with intuition and understanding coursing throughout. Pity those who see esthetics as merely pampering, dismissing it as fluff. The effort to balance the brain’s splendid expression of logic and science with the radiant apprehension of the mind can still be a teeter-totter affair, but here is one such lovely success. In her book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes: “There exists in human beings a literal anatomy and a poetic anatomy; one you can see, one you cannot. One is made of bones and teeth and flesh; the other is made of energy and memory and faith. But they are both equally true.”

Esthetics holds all to be true and usable in understanding and treating the skin: logic and intuition, science and emotion. Your work encompasses both anatomies by putting into service your eyes, ears, mind and hands, and through the meaning found in practicing over and again spiritual values of generosity, beauty and craft as you gently wash a face, tuck in a client and listen to her story. Your talents are meeting her world’s needs, and so it is that your beloved profession calls you to work.

Anne Martin is a licensed esthetician and esthetic instructor, and is also a CIDESCO diplomate. She is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Massachusetts,Boston, and studied at the Harvard Divinity School.Martin graduated from the Elizabeth Grady School of Esthetics. She is the founder and chairperson of the NW Aestheticians’ Guild and chairperson of the Washington State Advisory Board for Cosmetology, Manicuring, Barbering and Esthetics. Along with Mark Lees, PhD, she co-founded the Institute of Advanced Clinical Esthetics, offering advanced seminars for estheticians. Martin currently has a private practice in Seattle where she specializes in the treatment of acne.