This year we celebrate Black History Month, which gives many of us a new perspective on the challenges and issues we face in our society. In this episode of ASCP Esty Talk, we speak with Toshiana “Tosh” Baker to understand her perspective on being a woman of color in an industry entirely focused on skin. How did her education, her career, and her many roles in the industry influence her personally and professionally? Tune in to find out!
About Toshiana Baker
Toshiana Baker has served the spa, beauty, and wellness industries internationally as an esthetician and educator for more than 15 years. A passionate organizational leader, dynamic speaker, and bestselling author, she has held a variety of industry leadership roles, including director of esthetics for a 30-location corporate spa organization, regional account and education executive for a leading cosmetic and brow artistry brand, and global director of education for a renowned skin care, cosmetics, and fragrance brand.
Applying her rich expertise as a spa and wellness expert, in 2016 Toshiana founded SpaWorx, a consulting and training development agency to support and position clients to increase in their financial performance. SpaWorx has happily served a range of clients, from solo estheticians to large global beauty corporations.
Toshiana has also created the Network of Multi-Cultural Spa and Wellness Professionals (NMSWP), which is a professional platform dedicated to the promotion, uplift, and edification of underrepresented spa and wellness professionals across all disciplines, to create a community of professionals with access to resources, education, and opportunities. Through this network, Toshiana envisions a community that is better equipped and supported in furthering the mission of being well and whole while fostering global healing and wellness.
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0:00:39.2 S1: You are listening to ASCP Esty Talk, where we share insider tips, industry resources and education for estheticians at every stage of the journey. Let's talk 'cause ASCP knows, it's all about you.
0:00:54.8 Speaker 2: Hello and welcome to ASCP Esty Talk. I'm Ella Cressman, licensed esthetician and owner of Ella Cress Skincare and the HHP Collective. I'm a complete and total esthetician cheerleader and success enthusiast, and I am thrilled to be joined by Toshiana Baker, who is also a fellow esthetician, a professional cheerleader and coach for the esthetic industry, an educator, a best-selling author, and now a network creator. She has served the spa beauty and wellness industry internationally for more than 15 years. She has worked as director of esthetics for a 30-location and corporate spa organization, a regional account education executive for a leading cosmetic and brow artistry brand, guess what that one is, and a global director of education, even as a solo esthetician. It is safe to say she is a spa and wellness expert, and as such, she founded to Spa Works in 2016. A consulting and training development agency to support and position clients for increase of their financial performance. Encouraging and teaching a range of clients from solo estheticians to large, global beauty corporations, how to maximize their financial potential. Show me the money.
0:02:04.5 S1: Toshiana has also created something very exciting, which is the network of multi-cultural spa and wellness professionals, which is a professional platform dedicated to the promotion, uplift and edification of underrepresented spa and wellness professionals across all disciplines. To create a community of professionals with access to resources, education and opportunities. Through this network, Toshiana envisions a community that is better equipped to support and furthering the mission of being well and whole, while fostering global healing and wellness. Tosh, as a woman and a woman of color, we celebrate you. Now, you know, I adore you, so I celebrate you all year long as many do, but I am so blessed to have a candid conversation in a very important month. So I am honored to be talking with you today. Welcome, Tosh.
0:03:00.4 Speaker 3: Thank you so much, Ella. It's just... It was really good to just be in your space again, but I gotta tell you, you don't realize how much has gone on in your career as well as how relevant it is to the time we're in until you hear somebody sit and remind you. So that was quite a moment...
0:03:20.6 S2: It's caused a walk down memory lane for you?
0:03:24.3 S3: Yeah, it was a walk down memory lane.
0:03:24.4 S1: And that's not even the whole story. That's just... That's not the whole story, that's a...
0:03:30.8 S3: Tid bits. Yeah, definite tid bits.
0:03:33.4 S2: The cliff notes of Tosh. And you mentioned looking at history, and this is a very rough cut in for this. February is Black History Month, and this has been something my whole life that I've known about. I've always been a champion of equal rights among... Racial equal rights, gender equal rights and so on. But this year, I don't know who will never think of 2020 as this pivotal year. For a lot of reasons it is one of those WTF. And it feels to me that Black History Month in 2021 is that much more... My eyes are open wider, I guess. So I'm honored to be having this conversation with you in this month, in this year, for us to listen to, hopefully for years to come. So thank you. I was actually shocked at that the origins... I never looked it up, I didn't know, I don't know that I didn't realize the history. I always just celebrate it, it's awesome.
0:04:34.8 S2: But the origins have been debated as to whether they started in 1915 or 1926, but unfortunately, the national recognition of Black History Month became official in 1976. And that was thanks to president Gerald Ford, who called upon the public to seize the opportunity to honor the too often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout history. So when I see this and I see your history and what you have done, I wanna honor you. I think you're amazing.
0:05:09.7 S3: Thank you. It's really kind of awesome too, because it was always a part... Black history month was always a part of my family, our community celebrations, in school, but it is very interesting now as an adult to witness history being made in so many different ways, and that even in my lifetime, that there are still firsts going on for Black Americans. For Black women to be here and have the first Black woman vice president who's also of South Asian descent, it's an amazing thing. So I definitely think this year is a little different because we all have had our eyes opened a little bit more about all of the things that have occurred that has contributed to our lives being what they are, that have been contributions of Black Americans and Indian Americans and Asian-Americans, there's a lot of stories that just don't get told.
0:06:23.0 S2: Well, I hope that we're able to change that soon, I know that my experience in esthetics, especially in Esthetic school, was... I felt pretty common. [chuckle] Felt pretty basic and pretty standard, but how did it feel for you? What was it like learning about skin care at such great depths? How did it affect how you feel about your own skin color?
0:06:47.2 S3: I found it to be a longer journey than I anticipated because obviously, when you make the decision to go to Esthetic school, you're embracing a whole industry and category of education that you're admitting that you don't know anything about. Despite our passions and interests in different things that typically send us to school, we show up as a blank slate, and so I did not realize as an esthetic student that there was a curriculum that didn't really include me specifically, I didn't realize some of the gaps and some of the misnomers and misinformation until after esthetic school, quite frankly. There were a couple of moments in Esthetic school that I questioned whether we were really being taught well about black skin because we would work on each other, and I didn't respond well to different treatments and different products and things that we were told were okay for me because I had "resilient skin," and so it was trial and error, as in... Most things in Esthetic school is trial and error. [chuckle] So the journey to learning myself in esthetics came after Esthetic school, and it was sad at the same time as it was exciting because there's not a lot of...
0:08:22.3 S3: At least 15 years ago, there still wasn't a lot of information that really helped you understand the spectrum of skin of color, and let me be the first to say, let's not play games with the semantics, I'm a Black woman, I'm an African-American woman, so I can only speak from my experience. I think what we have to do is what we're doing, is having more conversations to truly understand the full spectrum of experience of people of color, because there's no one way. So in a certain way, I don't know that this school could have equipped us, you know what I mean? Because their job is to give a very safety sanitation, really don't burn nobody, don't kill nobody, don't maim nobody... [chuckle] Kind of overview.
0:09:12.2 S1: Make sure you have insurance.
0:09:14.2 S3: Right, make sure you have insurance, because the reality is, our first two to three years of Esthetics is still very much practice, and it's very much driven by our clientele in the market that we're in, and so I don't know that Esthetic school could have been that inclusive, otherwise, we would have been there for years.
0:09:34.4 S2: So that brings me to my next question. When you used to work in large spas, big large spas, so you had quite a... Quite a diverse clientele, I can imagine. So what did it mean to you when you would see a client of color come in to your treatment room? What was that like for you? Did you use your knowledge of skin care you learned in school, plus your own personal anecdotal evidence and... How was that?
0:10:00.6 S3: My experience with clients, to be honest, when I first started wasn't very diverse 'cause I happened to work into a community that was not a very diverse community, however, you're right, throughout the rest of my career, I did come into contact with a lot of different cultures, ethnic origin, age, even male and female, a very good client mix, and what I found is that I think it just taught me to be more compassionate and not make assumptions. I definitely understand from a very personal part of my story and identity what it feels like to be left out, but also I think more than anything, I think it's more important to allow people to tell their story for themselves and not make assumptions based on their skin color or their hair, or their whatever, some of those external superficialities that we tend to do, especially in the whole beauty industry where you're constantly being scanned and judged. So I think what it made me is more of a compassionate esthetician, and as an educator, having students from diverse backgrounds as well, it made me a more compassionate educator because I think the thing about learning to embrace your difference is that you want people to give you the chance to have your own microphone and tell your own story, don't assume that you know what my concerns are, don't assume that you know what my experience is just because XYZ.
0:11:35.4 S3: But to be completely honest too, I did have some very close kindred moments with my Black female clients where they felt like they found their person just because representation matters. Five foot two, size 14, 16 and very... I'm Black as the day is long, you know what I mean? So they feel like they've found their person because sometimes as an esthetician, especially in some of the franchise and corporate environments, you get passed around to different technicians and therapists, so when they feel that you've not just arrived to do the service, but there's something in your essence of how you do your service or how you show up in your life, that connects you. It felt... I've had more than several clients say that they just like the representation of just feeling that someone understands their level of difference in this world, and so that is a feel-good moment.
0:12:38.4 S3: It feels good to have a sense of belonging and connection on a lot of the unsaid experiences of life. You don't have, there's just an unsaid thing. It's like if you wear a size 14 like me, I know you know what it's like when it's time to go dress pant shopping. And so we don't need to talk about that, [chuckle] but I'm gonna love you a little extra because you know what that is like. And so it's the same thing with skin color. I don't mean to make it superficial, but it is the same thing. It's just about having difference in this world that tends to make one way of being the accepted way of being.
0:13:18.4 S2: That was something that was a hard realization for me at a class I took and I know I've shared the story with you. But growing up, I've always been different. My mom was an artist and told us that we were different. [chuckle] We were different. We grew up in a small town, and my mom is amazing and creative, and I would ask for some, I wanted these boots from Yellow Front, which was like a K-Mart of K-Marts before, a Dollar Store version of K-Mart and she got me different ones, and so I was always different. I hated it then, but I love it now. So I've been used to being different and I thought I was incredibly empathetic until I took this class, and I'm also a teacher.
0:13:54.9 S2: So sitting in a class where I am like, "Oh, I would have said it like this," or "I would have said it like that," and trying to absorb this information, what I felt, it was a very general class, a good class, but after this class, there was one of the student, they were giving their feedback and such, and there was some powerful feedback on many different parts of the aesthetic industry and personalities and so on, but what one of the students said, "It's just so nice to take a class from someone who looks like me," and that was mind... I didn't even think about that. It would have never occurred to me. And like I told you, I've told you before that if I were taking some class from someone who looked like me maybe it was different, but it made me start to think about that, and it made me sad that that was even something, but it goes to speak what you're talking about this relationship you're having with your client, this relationship, this kinship, this connection was because there was a reflection or something in common, and it's powerful.
0:14:56.0 S2: With that said, speaking of this class, we've seen a big kind of shift. I think a lot of people are talking about the Fitzpatrick scale. It's a tool we've used for a long time, and as an educator who's been an educator for a long time and as a practicing esthetician and as a coach and as a founder of an amazing organization, notes in bio, where do you see the future of skin care education going, and what would you like to see more of? And have you noticed or experienced any changes in more inclusive skin care education?
0:15:25.8 S3: As with everything, with education and aesthetics, we need to continue to push ourselves beyond where we are education-wise, not just with regards to the Fitzpatrick scale. I believe the Fitzpatrick scale is like that particular moment in time based on our level of understanding and what were we trying to use it to do, and so I still think it has its place for what it was created to do and how we typically use it, how we lean on it very heavily, especially with laser modalities and things like that, but there's so much more to understanding the full spectrum of skin and pigmentation in the skin that is, Fitzpatrick was never even thinking about that. That is not what dude was even trying to talk about.
0:16:17.8 S3: So let's not try to take everything else that we know is missing about melanated skin and shove it into that particular model because Dr. Fitzpatrick wasn't trying to do that. I think what we owe it to ourselves to do is to truly understand other characteristics, other physiological differences in all skin, and understanding that our world is turning into a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural world because we're all blending. We really truly are becoming the melting pot, and so to truly even try to classify anyone based on one particular ethnic group or what have you, when our society is so multi-faceted and blended, I think we have to. It requires us to learn more because A, our consumers, our clients, our patients, they're learning more about themselves as they're starting to do their different ancestry tracing and just coming to a greater understanding of themselves and their origins and what that means for them in their life.
0:17:25.3 S3: We also know that standards of beauty and the psychology of beauty and what's acceptable in certain cultures are different based on what cultures we're in, and so we have to be more informed as to why certain traits or certain characteristics are perceived as more attractive in certain cultures versus others instead of being insensitive to that and trying to migrate everyone into this unilateral way of thinking of beauty. So I think we have a ways to go. However that said, I feel like we're coming and making strides. I do see more classes coming out about the skin of color or different conditions that are more prominent in deeper skin tones, and so that is great, but there's so much more than that. I think that's a great start. I think what we're starting to acknowledge is that our clientele requires that of us.
0:18:27.3 S3: You're going to make yourself obsolete if you just wanna do the European model of skin care. I mean, even Europe is becoming a melting pot, so the other side of that though, is I do see some opportunists. Just to be completely honest, there's money associated with the multi-ethnic, multi-culture dollar. And so as long as there's money attached to a consumer group, there are gonna be people who see it as an opportunity to have a "message" or "initiative" because they don't want to be left out of this consciousness conversation that we're having, but they're not realistically trying to build out any sincere solution or sincere help towards a common good. They're just trying not to lose a certain consumer spend. And so we have to be mindful of that. It's just as when we had certain conversations about body consciousness and we started to see some of our favorite designers because they didn't wanna alienate us, they expanded their sizes, but there was never enough stock.
0:19:44.3 S3: Or the advertising didn't change, even though they added a couple extra sizes. So it's kind of in the marketplace, seen as an opportunity. And so I feel like companies are still trying to figure out how to have that sensitivity or compassion or whatever, empathy, but then their infrastructure is not really set to do this thing for real. You know what I mean? So I just think you just see a lot of trial and error going on right now, well, as people are trying to get it right. I do think estheticians are in a great space to learn. There's a lot of education, but you need to be careful and you need to be discerning about learning and who you learn and who's your guru of the moment, and don't get overwhelmed in this whole thing.
0:20:34.5 S2: And I think also as a professional, our clients look to us to be aware of those things. So even if you are, it's something to school yourself on in a professional setting, not just relying on these larger companies to, to provide your client with their version. The more exposed you are, and for the entire spectrum of skin color, skin of color too, like you said before.
0:21:00.9 S3: Yeah, and I see a lot of... Let's face it, 2020 was a difficult year for service-based business, especially the estheticians with facials and facial treatments. So my thing is, you owe it to yourself to be a dynamic brand, to be an aware brand, to not close the wallets and the doors to potential customers, simply because you're not challenging yourself to truly understand more. Because I've always felt, as a Black esthetician, I don't wanna just focus on Black skin. I wanna know all skin. I want to not close myself down in that way. Definitely, you're going to have brands that are more specific to the communities that they're in and that kind of thing, but from a knowledge standpoint, I feel like you have to be expansive and dynamic and really committed to remain that as long as you're in esthetics at all.
0:22:05.3 S1: I think that needs to be said again. So listeners, rewind the last 10 seconds, 15 seconds and preach, because that's needed to be said again. Don't stop the learning. With that said, we could talk forever and I would like to share something with our listeners. So if it's okay I'll call you, Tosh?
0:22:30.5 S3: Yes, totally.
0:22:32.0 S1: The amazing Tosh is also going to be a host of the ASCP Esty Talk podcast, where she talks about many things including mostly business ideas and business support. Is that right?
0:22:45.2 S3: That is right, yeah.
0:22:46.0 S1: So listen out for her podcast, but also before we close, I want to talk more about the network of multi-cultural spa and wellness professionals, because I know right now people have an opportunity to become founding members. So can you tell us a little bit more about the network and what you got going on there?
0:23:03.4 S3: Yeah, it's kind of exciting. It's something that I've thought of doing for a few years, but obviously going through last year and having a lot of the kind of awakening and consciousness-raising conversations about race, it really put me in a place of really reflecting on my own career experience. And so what I realized is that there's just a lot of gaps. It's just kind of how we were talking today, there's just a lot of gaps that I just have not always felt like I was embraced as a part of the community of esthetics, the community... My community would change based on the job I had basically, and so I would always really bond really well with my employer, my co-workers, my colleagues. But once that particular job was over, that sense of belonging within the industry would vary.
0:23:54.7 S3: And so essentially what I wanted to create is a network, as a community of belonging for people in the spa and wellness industry at the practitioner level, as well as possibly at the manager or director level, or you just wanna have a sense of community. But in addition to that, really recognizing that there are also gaps in education and understanding based on racial background, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, religious and cultural beliefs that we need to be more informed of, not only because it serves our clientele, but also because we need to better support each other. So certainly, if we're not understanding certain cultural differences for our clientele, then that means that we're very, very ignorant to what my fellow esty or fellow massage or body worker might need. You know what I mean? And I'm making possibly assumptions that they're okay and they're not struggling or they don't need my assistance because I am very much perhaps caught up in my own life, my own career.
0:25:00.5 S3: And so the network is just really that place, that safe space. I did the personality types and I was told that I'm an advocate. And so essentially I wanted to create an opportunity to hold space for people and be very deliberate and intentional in what we're trying to do in creating a shift in our industry where we get the education and support we need within the community of the network, but then we're also building each other up to go out and be that pipeline of talent to serve the industry, to teach, to provide services, to provide new innovation for our industry. Because I believe that some of the next great brands are gonna come through the support of the network that I've created. And so here we are. [chuckle] Here we are. I opened the doors and...
0:25:47.3 S2: What's the website?
0:25:51.5 S3: It's www.nmswp.com, and that stands for Network of Multi-cultural Spa and Wellness Professionals dot com. And we are in the founding membership stage, and the founding membership stage is kind of exciting because basically what you have the opportunity to do as a creator is bring the vision forward and kind of like the basic framework, but then your founding members are those voices and those early adopters that can get in there and we can have conversations about truly what is needed. I know what I sense we need, but I want my founding membership and I to really bond and create and build this thing, and I'm taking the onus on building it out to create more of what is needed, but it's an exciting time to get in on this because I look at organizations that I've been members, but I'm a member of, for example, I'm a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, which is a historically black Greek letter organization, that was founded in 1913. And I can stand here 108 years later and stand on the shoulders of our founding members and what they envision having for black women, because I come through that organization, and so when I think of a founding membership, I think of how near and dear that organization is to my heart, and I want that to be that place for spa wellness professionals, is to say that I was a member of the network, and we are the ones that created and shifted and supported change in our industry and in our world.
0:27:29.1 S2: Signing up right now.
0:27:33.5 S1: I'm gonna be a founding member.
0:27:34.9 S3: Yes, I love it, I love it. And I want everyone to feel a part of it. I really do. I think one of the things we get caught up now too, is white, when we say multicultural, is that code for black... Is that code for... No, no, multicultural means I want all of you and I want all of your experience, I want all of your amazing diversity and amazing life identifiers here so that we can build something that serves all of us.
0:28:04.5 S1: Well, thank you so much, it's been such a pleasure. Thank you for honoring me with this candid conversation, for trusting me enough to do so, I appreciate you so much. I can't wait to hear your podcast. I am looking forward to the network of multi-cultural spa and wellness professionals to be amazing. And an advocacy group, and I just think the world of you. So thank you so much, keep an ear out for more from Miss Tosh as we listen to her on ASCP Esty Talk with business tips, she's amazing, and we look forward to talking to you next time on ASCP Esty Talk or Ingredient Tech Talk. Thank you so much.
0:28:42.3 S1: Thanks for joining us today. If you like what you hear and you want more, subscribe, if you wanna belong to the only all inclusive Association for estheticians that includes professional liability insurance, education, industry insights, and an opportunity to spotlight your six skills. Join at ascpskincare.com, only 259 per year for all this goodness. ASCP knows, it's all about you.