Embracing the unexpected, Mattie Lindsey makes switch from health care to beauty industry

Mattie Lindsey

Just graduated, newly employed and eager to apply lessons from UMSL’s Gender Studies program to the world of cosmetology, Mattie Lindsey emphasizes “the tremendous amount of support” available to UMSL students facing life’s challenges and surprises. (Photo by August Jennewein)

“I think it is important for all of us to ask ourselves, ‘Does the world need more of this?’ And yes, the world needs more love, compassion and embracing each other’s self worth.”

A few days away from earning a much-anticipated bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri–St. Louis, Mattie Lindsey is describing a freeing decision made roughly a year ago. Inside the café of a campus library that Lindsey first explored as a high school student, the conversation keeps returning to UMSL faculty, staff and fellow students – and to gratitude for their support.

Linder Williams and Tara Cramer in Disability Access Services. PRIZM, the queer-trans-straight alliance on campus. Faculty advisers and mentors. Associate Dean Beth Eckelkamp, whose counsel proved especially pivotal in the spring of 2015, when Lindsey was seriously doubting long-time plans to become a physician.

“To know that someone at that level will take that time with students – it is inspirational and refreshing,” Lindsey says of Eckelkamp’s guidance and care, which led to a significant shift in major. “That was definitely a turning point.”

Even before transferring to UMSL as a pre-med student in 2013, Lindsey had already invested a lot of time and energy in the field of medicine. After impressing a leading stem cell researcher during a high school research symposium held at UMSL many years ago, Lindsey moved to California at the age of 18 and worked in a stem cell and gene therapy lab in Sacramento.

“But a few years after moving to California I lost all control,” Lindsey says. “After spending time in four psych wards, I was given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Then the six-year journey of recovery began. Working with my treatment team and having the support of family and friends, I continued persevering to overcome the challenges involved with managing a mental illness and learning to live a stable and successful life.”

Beautiful You portrait

In partnership with sister, best friend and Beautiful You founder Stephanie Lindsey, Mattie Lindsey aims to help grow the St. Louis-based hair and makeup business in ways that serve each individual and challenge society’s typical definitions of beauty. (Photo courtesy Mattie Lindsey)

The Fenton, Missouri, native speaks frankly and with a lot of positivity about the diagnosis, the time spent in psychiatric wards, and the difficult days and months that followed. Family members, and especially Lindsey’s sister, Stephanie, proved to be a critical network of support, especially early on, and traveled to the West Coast to assist.

“When Stephanie asked me if I was ready to go home [to St. Louis], I completely surrendered,” Lindsey recalls. “It was realizing that sometimes you have to lean into people. If I had not leaned in and surrendered and allowed them to support me, I wouldn’t have survived.”

Meanwhile, Lindsey continued to push toward becoming a doctor and started strong at UMSL after a year at St. Louis Community College–Meramec.

“When I first came here I was still on the pre-medicine track,” says the former biochemistry and biotechnology major. “I was pretty successful in my first set of classes, but then something just wasn’t connecting, and things were rather rocky. But I was in contact with the Disability Access Services office, and that connection was very valuable. I was just very vulnerable, and they were there to receive that and to support me in any way they could.”

That’s what Lindsey has found striking time and again as a UMSL student – the countless campus community members who “give from their hearts” to see students succeed. And the interactions with Eckelkamp at another critical crossroads, in the spring of 2015, are yet another example.

“As I became more stable, my interests shifted, and I realized I didn’t want to do medicine, but I still wanted to serve people,” Lindsey says. “And I realized I could still serve people in this [beauty] industry – and get to work with my sister and best friend. What’s most exciting is that there’s so much science, math, psychology and gender studies in cosmetology.”

From there, in consultation with campus mentors, a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies took shape for Lindsey, who used a capstone project in the Gender Studies program to evaluate and refine the aims of Beautiful You, the local hair and makeup business Lindsey’s sister, Stephanie, founded.

“We are looking at what the standards of beauty have been and defining from there what our mission statement and core values are,” says Lindsey, who is now chief creative officer for Beautiful You. “I am so grateful for the knowledge and vocabulary that I have gained from the gender studies coursework. I now have tools to continue evolving our business design and services to welcome and honor all people.”

That message is reflected in Beautiful You’s newly redesigned website, which Lindsey has taken the lead on.

“We don’t want it to showcase unrealistic models, when the mission of Beautiful You is to personalize the experience for the individual,” Lindsey says. “We want people to see on our website that hey, they’re having fun. And our idea is to bring out the inner beauty in people.”

Like beauty, life “does not have to look a certain way,” Lindsey adds, looking back on the journey to this place.

“If you’re caught up in these expectations of how something’s supposed to look, you can really miss an opportunity that could be the most fulfilling experience of your life. I thought I was going to be a physician, and then life happened and my interests shifted. That doesn’t mean I write off everything I’ve learned – no, I utilize that even more to find something that I really want to do.”

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