Jennifer Walsh

Brain, beauty and nature: the wonderful career of researcher and influencer Jennifer Walsh

Jennifer Walsh is difficult to define as anything other than a pioneer. More than 30 years ago she implemented biophilic design with water, green walls, plants and natural light in her business. Trained in finance, she left Merryl Lynch to do celebrity make-up in New York, created her company and has been on TV talking about wellness, beauty and health ever since. She is a consultant to companies and is in cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania, because this force of nature and influencer loves the science behind why nature is good for us. She will be speaking on „Your Brain in Nature” at the upcoming Global Summit Science, Nature and Health.

Threads of life, from the Bronx to Biophilia 

„I grew up in the Bronx. It’s all concrete. But my mother and my father loved to be outside, and I was able to go to the Bronx Zoo, and in the botanical gardens I have so many vivid memories of just rolling down hills as a child and this vastness. It’s definitely a memory that will stick with you forever.

„My mother always loved the outdoors. She celebrated it. She celebrated the cold. She celebrated the snow. She celebrated the rain. She taught me how to celebrate the seasons. 

„I studied business and after graduating college, I went into finance, and so I was working at Merrill Lynch and as my mom was a makeup artist, I really loved it and was doing it just for fun, I would just work for free to learn, and that’s when I fell in love with the industry of beauty and makeup.

„In the mid 90s, I started doing makeup for tv production, movies, magazines. And a friend of mine put me in front of the tv camera to talk about the makeup I was using on these celebrities, 27 years ago this month, so I’ve been on tv ever since, talking about beauty, wellness, and now I get to talk about the outdoors.

„I opened my first store, and it was very biophilic in design. Bringing nature indoors, I had never seen it done before. People would tell me I was doing it all wrong, that no one cared about the space itself in retail. 

„But I wanted people to feel, to have an emotion, because I felt like there was a lack of feeling in department stores. I wanted to be the opposite of a department store. And that’s kind of what I created. So it became the very first omnichannel beauty brand in the United States and the very first one to incorporate, first retailer to incorporate biophilic.

So as you go through life, you realize all these little threads you’re starting to pull. It’s always been there, the love of nature”.

The park and the call

„Since I moved back to New York, I would just be in Central park almost 2 hours a day with my dog. And I always felt very protected, held, supported in an otherwise very busy, loud, tumultuous city. It was the only place I found serenity. So I would walk there and I started being. Bearing witness to the beauty around me. So the minute I slowed down was the minute everything changed for me, and I was able to really witness the beauty.

„I had a video series called Walk with Walsh, where I was interviewing people in Central park. People in New York City thought of going outside as a weekend activity, a holiday activity, something  that’s separate from them. 

„And I started studying, and I never looked back. It changed everything for me. People back then were saying this walks were kind of cute. And I thought, cute? This is for your brain. You’re not getting the whole picture of what nature is really doing for us and what’s happening when we’re not exposed to the natural environment.

Covid changed everything, where there’s much more awareness. It was fascinating to see that pendulum swing from 'this cute little walk in the park’ to 'wow, you have all the science and data, can you share that with us?’ Covid exposed why nature is so imperative to human health. 

Science and Education

„I really wanted to double down on the science of why nature matters for human health. So I work with a lot more corporations now that are trying to incorporate biophilic design, hotel groups and hospitality. It’s one thing to put these living walls, to go ahead and add water features, but if you’re not taught why, it’s kind of an oversight.

„There’s such a huge missing piece of this is education. We teach about mindfulness, but we don’t talk about how our environment completely impacts our health, our brain health, our well being. I have partnered with the University of Pennsylvania, their center for Neuroesthetics, as a strategic advisor for their biophilic projects and something called the Brain Health Initiative, which is a living lab under Harvard”.

Comfortably Numb

Awareness is a superpower. I see people walk down the street, head down, just they are completely unaware of being human. They’re not human anymore. They’re missing life happening all around them. It breaks my heart to see, especially young people, just completely unaware of their surroundings and their place in it and the things that we’re being fed. We’re being fed always by our spaces and places. Places and spaces either deplete us or feed us, and we can choose whether to be there or not. 

„During the II Global Summit I will be talking about our brain on nature, our brain on biophilia, and biophilia is that innate connection to all living things, as E. O. Wilson taught us. What’s happening to us when we are exposed to natural environments. What happens to the acoustics in a space and how that reverberates off of us and how do we absorb it?

„Some of the stores have been so loud over the years, and some of them are just so fragrant, it’s just overpowering, so you get turned off. So how do we have that equilibrium for all of us? And especially in a space where more and more people are more neurodivergent. How do we create spaces for human flourishing? I think everyone deserves to be everywhere.

„How do we create spaces that aren’t too overwhelming, but just personalized enough? We need to take care of the human body. How do we soften those spaces to make it more accountable for human health? 

„The most important thing is just our awareness and how lucky we are to be alive in this moment. Our bodies are always talking to us. It’s just a matter of quieting down enough so we can actually hear them”.

Returning to our body 

„We have to make sure our children are protected again. Richard Louv says we need more green time than screen time. It’s really important to teach the children and our teachers that we need to get the kids off technology as often as possible and just have them feel human in our bodies.

„We’re so over analyzing everything in our brains that we often forget that the human body is completely connected to everything. We are afraid of the quiet. But that’s when we get the best messages. That’s when we hear: what our thoughts are thinking, what our body is saying. 

„There’s this anger towards weather. Meteorologists tend to always say don’t go outside today. They are subliminally telling people to fear weather. We can’t want to protect the climate if we’re fearing weather. That’s where we belong. We’re not supposed to be in these stagnant spaces. We’re supposed to be in unison with the natural world around us to learn from and to benefit and to heal and to also take care of that environment around us”.

 

Ph: Courtesy Jennifer Walsh

 

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