Bobbi Foster-Kelly: Trickle-Down Health Training

When you’re the educator who trains the trainers, you know that your words are reaching many more hairdressers than you directly teach. That’s a lot of responsibility!


“It’s in the ‘trainings for the trainers’ arena that I try to incorporate as much health information as I can,” says Bobbi Foster-Kelly, who regularly trains 350 Redken artists and 100 Pureology artists. “It’s part of the Redken philosophy: ‘Learn better, earn better, live better.’ Sometimes I have another salon professional or someone from the outside come to the training session and talk about how to have a healthy lifestyle.”


Foster-Kelly’s personal health journey took an unexpected turn in 2008, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 40s. She had a lumpectomy followed by radiation and chemotherapy.


“Going through that pushed me to take a look at how I was doing things,” she says. “ It changed the way I eat, exercise and even think.” Forced to fit in her treatments, Foster-Kelly began to see the benefits of taking time away from work. She started yoga and meditation. When she returned to working full-time, she tried to continue those good habits.


“I believe in balance of mind/body/spirit,” notes Foster, who serves on the professional salon industry’s council at City of Hope. “The body is so smart. Homeostasis is the body’s natural ability to heal itself, but we don’t always pay attention to what our body is telling us. We don’t give it time to rest, time to repair. If our back hurts or there’s pain in a hip? We say, ‘Oh well,’ and continue to go about our routine.”


Foster-Kelly’s cancer diagnosis got her involved in integrative medicine, which combines traditional treatment like chemotherapy with less traditional methods that treat the spirit, such as Reiki and guided imagery. When she finished her treatment, she continued to learn about integrative medicine and became a Reiki master herself so that she could help other people. “Whenever there’s misalignment within the body, Reiki allows the body to take an hour to heal and balance itself,” Foster-Kelly explains. “Clinical trials have shown it relieves discomfort. Acupuncture is similar but works on the outside; Reiki works on the chakras on the inside and can pinpoint where the imbalance is within the body.”


A marathon walker before she got sick, Foster-Kelly continues to walk but says her primary exercise now is yoga. She also does a lot of stretching and some lifting, and she’s a soy-free, gluten-free vegan.


“It’s obvious how to make drastic changes if you haven't been eating healthy and exercising,” she says. “But I felt that I was already taking care of myself very well. I was conscious about eating very little red meat and lots of fruits and vegetables. When you get your diagnosis, you ask yourself, ‘Am I going to be a victim?’ No, I wasn’t going to be a victim. Cancer was the door I opened to learn about other options, but it was that path of learning that changed the way I live.”


Well-known for her health knowledge, Foster-Kelly receives frequent phone calls and emails asking for advice about facing a tough diagnosis. “It takes you back to the moment you found out,” she says. “You remember what you were feeling. I tell people not to get overwhelmed. Get through it a little bit at a time. Don’t focus on the rest of your life; right now you have a lot of decisions to make in a short period of time.”


When she addresses the topic of health in training sessions with hairdressers, inevitably a hand goes up to ask her about nutrition. “There’s a mindfulness in our company because of my eating habits,” she says. “My boss also is vegan, and we have a lot of vegetarians here. But I’m an advocate, not a preacher; I don’t judge other people’s habits. A conversation will create awareness, and people will make decisions on their own.”


Still, Foster-Kelly realizes that her influence extends far. “Now and then I’ll see a post on Facebook, by someone I trained 15 years ago, spreading the message I taught,” she says. This global reach keeps her reflective, accountable and humble. 


“I don’t get on a soapbox,” Foster-Kelly says. “But if someone asks a question, I’m happy to share my belief. After being educated, you may change your lifestyle.”


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