Location: Los Angeles
2 oz. dark rum
1 oz. orange juice
1 mint leaf
1 pineapple slice
2 maraschino cherries
Fresca Black Cherry Citrus Sparkling Soda
Add rum and orange juice to shaker. Shake, strain over ice and top with Fresca. Garnish with pineapple, mint and maraschino cherries.
You make people feel good, work hard and you’re honest, smart and hungry. You truly radiate from within. Where did this come from?
Hands down, Mama Mai. Straight up. She immigrated to this country two years before I was born. Coming to America was so significant of a change from a communist country, and also running away from her grandfather who was really abusive and a heavy drinker. He was kind of a glass ceiling in the house for her. He never wanted her to shine, radiate who she was or be over-the-top celebratory about life. He wanted her to work hard, not outshine other people and be head down and that’s not how my mom is. My mom is a sparkling disco ball in any situation. When I grew up, she just taught me how to make people feel good but it’s just innate. You don’t purposely do it. When you meet somebody you look for something… like what’s dope about this person? What am I supposed to find out about this person? That just became something inside me. I’m an introvert. She’s more extroverted, so she loves talking to people and getting out there with people. I like taking moments with people and having it in more of a closer proximity, so I pretty much learned it from my mom for sure.
How does being an introvert translate to being a co-host on “The Real?” Does it take a lot of energy to put yourself out there or does it come naturally once the lights are on?
Women are versatile. We’re not just one thing. When I need to turn on it’s a whole different Sasha Fierce that comes out. For me it’s Jenay. Jenay is a different girl. She’s got a little ratchet side to her. She absolutely loves several drinks. She loves to be on and just get really fun, get into things, be stupid and silly and not care about what other people think. The introvert side of Jeannie loves working, focusing and sitting in a quiet space reading a good book. My worst nightmare is a big party. I hate big parties which is scary because my 40th is coming up. I have so many people to thank so I’m going to do it, but my QT is like six people, a great dinner, some brown liquor and good conversation.
It’s so apparent why you won an Emmy for “The Real.” What makes it work between all of you ladies?
Real talk? The fact that the ladies are respectful to themselves and each other and all that they’ve done to get to where they are. When girls — and I say girls on purpose — have competition against each other, jealousy or compare one another to each other [and are] constantly worrying about what’s going on over in this lane rather than where they are, that’s an immature lack of self-confidence. When you know how hard you’ve worked to get to where you are, when you know how much you put in to nail that audition sitting at the table, you’re not going to do anything to mess that up. So that means put your feelings in the right place. If there’s a problem, take it to the source and just keep it pushing. That’s what I love about Adrienne [Bailon], Loni [Love] and Tamera [Mowry-Housley]. These women have worked so hard and we recognize that this is a gift to us. We’re not going to do anything to damage it and it starts with our friendship.
Do you draw the line anywhere on what you’re comfortable talking about on air?
No. I wish we could talk about more, to be honest … Nothing is off the table when it comes to topics. I think we’ve been pretty raw with having talked about Adrienne breaking off her engagement, Tamera and the details of having her babies, Loni and her boyfriend and then my divorce. Divorce is really embarrassing and so raw and uncomfortable. It shouldn’t be, but it is [when] your marriage doesn’t work out the way you had planned. It’s so important to me that I own who I am before they do. I say that all the time. I’m going to own what I’ve been through, what I don’t like about myself, what’s a little cringe-worthy, all those things before you guys get a chance to define it for me. That allows me to be real in life so now it’s just being real with the cameras on.
Recently you said that you felt your body didn’t reflect your spirit. What brought on this light bulb moment for you?
I started out my career as a stylist and gave people tips on how to dress. Somewhere along that line I maintained [a weight of] 100 pounds. I was really thin, and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. “The Real” opened up my eyes. I was watching this episode where I was making fun of my chicken legs — I’ve always been called chicken legs since I was young — and the fact that I have no butt. As I was sitting there watching I had an out of body experience. [I realized] I was body shaming myself which is so whack. There shouldn’t be shaming of anybody in any capacity but I, Jeannie, was body shaming Jeannie, making fun of myself. I told my friend this and she said, “You know that you can transform your body? You just don’t have anything to work with. You’re so thin.” I thought, “No, I’ve always been this way.” I’ve always heard, “Jeannie you’re really skinny,” but I always heard it as a compliment. People would ask, “How do you stay so thin?” so I thought it was a good thing. Then one day I’m cleaning out my phone — life will tell you that when the student is ready the teacher will appear — and I happened to see a picture of myself in a gold dress from a few years ago. I thought, “Holy sh-t, I look emaciated.” My knees were really pointy. I just looked frail. I went back to that friend and said, “How can you change your body? Expand on this a little more.” So, she said, “Why don’t you put on some weight and I’m going to help you work out and redefine what God gave you but in a healthier way.” Just like clay, if you want to make a beautiful shape you have to have enough clay to do it. I put on 20 pounds. I focus specifically on areas that I didn’t like about myself growing up. I call it the BLD: my back, legs and donk. It’s transformed the way I look at my body. And not because I now have strong legs or have a butt. It’s not that, it’s actually more of how I feel strong.
I love how you preach that strong is the new sexy!
It has nothing to do with the way I look. It’s more of knowing, “Damn, I can lift my own body weight.” I can bench press and move throughout my day knowing that I am capable. I’ve built muscle tone and I feel able. Before I felt more fragile. I want to feel strong and that’s when I ask the question, “If your spirit was a shape, what would she look like?” And my spirit should be capable. She should be resilient. She should be overjoyed and always full. I don’t want to feel weak. I don’t want her to feel like you could push her over and I don’t want her to feel like she can’t take anything in life. Now I’m making sure that my spirit matches my strength.
Not comparing yourself to others is easier said than done. If you catch yourself going down that path, how do you turn it around?
Own everything about yourself before anybody else has a chance to. When I was growing up and going through school… the kids are the ones who are so forthcoming. They’ll be the ones to tell you right away, “Oh, did you know you have a lazy eye?” or, “Whoa, you’re so short,” or, “You’re not that great at math,” or whatever it is. After a while I didn’t like hearing these kids point out things about me that I already knew but I never found as a problem. So why is it a problem when someone else brings it to me and defines it with adjectives that are negative? I know I’m not great at math, but I’m so bomb at other things. I can host a party like no other, I can carry a conversation with anybody, have you seen me shop? The deals I find are stupid. You don’t even need math. You just know that you saved a buttload of money. Now I just own the things that I know about myself that aren’t that bomb, but I focus on the things that are great … At the end of the day there are 7 billion people in the world and there’s only one Hillary, there’s only one Jeannie that has gone through what we have gone through, seen things through our lens to get to where we are … So, there’s no reason to compare yourself to anybody else because they couldn’t try to be you if they wanted to.
What steps can you take to figure out what you are great at to get to that headspace?
There’s always going to be somebody out there who doesn’t believe in your worth. Don’t let it be you. It stops there. The second you talk smack to yourself or the second you doubt yourself, that’s the red flag. Stop everything. Take a moment to yourself even if it’s a weekend to sit and have a conversation with yourself or just that moment in the mirror before you put on your makeup to start your day. A lot of times when we don’t like something about ourselves it’s more emotionally driven from our past. I know women who don’t like their body, but it turns out it was that one ex-boyfriend who dissed them and made them think about it or that one teacher who said you couldn’t make it. For me, having been sexually abused when I was younger… that definitely tore my spirit up in some places I thought wouldn’t be able to heal. But girl, when I thought about that person and why he did that to me, what he came from and what dark, disgusting experiences he went through to think that he could harm somebody like that and think that it could break me for the rest of my life… I can’t let that guy define what my beauty is today because of his illness back then. That’s the worst flu to pass on and you’re just letting it incubate. I tell women that you honestly have to have the biggest discussion with yourself as to why you don’t like whatever it is about you and untangle that and figure it out. And if you have to go seek help or talk to somebody, go do that. It’s literally a symptom inside you that you’re not going to heal. You’ve got to find a way to actually cleanse that, detox it, patch it up and make it stronger. I would really go there. It all starts in your mind. And once you can untangle what it is that you don’t like about yourself everything else becomes fun.
Aside from working out and taking care of your body. How do you stay mentally indestructible?
I read this quote, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” … That’s us. We have the potential to completely bloom, be gorgeous, radiant and become a garden. But if your environment is whack, i.e. your relationships, your friendships, the negativity you surround yourself with, maybe the shows you watch, the Instagram feeds that you follow, the comparisons that you have inside of your head… all of those things are your environment. You’re going to wither as you pull yourself down with negative friends, people and jobs that you want to get out of. Maybe it’s the way you dress. You continuously complain about the way you look but you’re the one putting yourself in rags. Until you change the environment around you, you will suffer. So, it’s important to make sure you get the nutrients you need from the soil that is rich around you: great friends, great conversations, great books, great men or women. Whatever it is that you need, fill yourself with that and get ready for the garden that’s going to grow.
What is an experience or job in your life that you didn’t enjoy in the moment but now realize you were meant to have?
I don’t regret one job I’ve had because it really got me to be as multi-talented as I am now. I am able to do anybody’s makeup, do my own makeup when I don’t have a budget, style myself, help a friend out who needs a boost, be able to book shows and land things in the realm of women’s empowerment because I was surrounded by so many women. I never questioned jobs because they always resurface later on, but one thing where I thought, “Why did this happen?” was in a relationship. My first engagement didn’t work out. That was heart-wrenching. I was so heartbroken over this guy. We were engaged for two years and together for four years. It was embarrassing to a 24-year-old heart at the time. I was wallowing in it so hard, but true to my Capricorn self I thought, “I gotta get out of this. I can’t do this. I have to figure something out.” So I took the $271 in my bank, my mom’s Toyota Cressida and I drove to L.A. I thought about how I was good at empowering women and I needed to empower myself. I knew in order to make myself feel better I had to go help other people. It’s cyclical and helps you feel stronger and better when you surround yourself with other women. Help another person before you help yourself. So that was meant to happen. Had that guy not left my a-s, I might be sitting there flipping pancakes for him.
I’ve found as I get older, I’m able to shake myself out of a slump a little bit faster.
I have a solution for that. To anybody out there who is struggling with a heartbreak or something detrimental that happened to you, that just threw you off your rocker and put you in a zone where you just can’t get out of that funk, I would make a list of all the things that you’ve either been wanting to do or need to do. That list could include writing a letter to a close friend, writing a book, starting a diary or vision board, getting a job, going on date or signing up for a dating app. Make this list long because sometimes you don’t want to go find a job. Sometimes you want to hike with a friend. When you’re in that moment of thinking, “Oh my God, my life sucks,” look at that list and think, “No. I said I’m going to do this for myself.” Inevitably you feel better every single time you cross off something from that list and then you’ve gained a little bit in your tool belt. Women are creatures that love to be stimulated and love to be strengthened by learning to be stronger on our own. We’re naturally independent so when you find something that you learn to do for yourself… it’s like putting on imaginary stilettos.
You’ve talked about how in business you should approach deals with a “what can I do for them?” attitude as opposed to always thinking about what you’re getting out of it. How do you balance that with making sure to speak up for yourself?
Familiarize yourself with finding your voice, especially when you’ve lost it. Everyone has a moment where they wish they spoke up or thought, “I should have said that.” When you find that voice, that right there was your voice saying, “I was here. I could have said this, and I was ready to say it.” That was you. You just heard it later on. Get used to strengthening that little inner side of you. Once you have it and once you flex it… it’s kind of like Ariel when she found her voice, that b-tch won’t stop talking. She will just get so strong and be so readily available when you need to speak up. You’ll never get what you don’t ask for. I’ve asked for a pay rate that I never got back in the day. But guess what, who’s getting paid those bucks now? Because I was not afraid to ask it then, it was easy to ask it when it was my time. You’re always going to remember when you forgot your voice, now remember what it feels like when you find it.
Do you have any tips for asking for more money at work?
First of all, if your gut intuition is telling you that you’re underpaid or undervalued, you’re probably not wrong. A woman’s intuition is one of the most amazing, natural superpowers we get to have so don’t ever let yourself forget to use that. When you’re feeling that way, you have to make a plan. You have to figure out your worth. Put a value to everything you’ve gone through to get to where you are. How much schooling did you go through? What did you go through that makes you unique from some other basic person who is applying for the job? When it comes to jobs, money speaks. How can you make this company build more value? Add up the experience you’ve had educationally, your life experiences and what you can bring to the table for the company and present this to your boss. Say, “You guys are great at doing this business and I think you could use help in this and this. And I can get you there. If you can value me the way I value your company, you will be happy and so much more fruitful hiring somebody like me.” So you’ve made a plan for the company and you’ve also equated that with what you’re bringing to the table. It goes back to serving the other person, right? Find out what it is you can do for the company … Have a number to always set back on, too. Have your dream number but also have something you’re willing to walk away from and then be willing to walk away. That’s the last part that’s really important. If you’re fearful to walk away that will show and emanate in all the things you say.
How would you describe that feeling of when your intuition is telling you something?
It gets better when you get older, too! Your intuition sounds like the voice that is so scary to listen to. That’s what she sounds like. It’s the one that says, “I can’t do that. No, no, no. I could never say that.” She’s speaking and you’re almost avoiding her because you know it’s so scary to listen to her because she’s right. She’s coming from this part of you where you know you have to do [what she’s saying.] I really believe in strengthening her voice by acting upon it and seeing what happens. Always act upon it.
There are so many times I’ve looked back and realized I didn’t listen to my intuition.
My divorce is a really big example of that. Now that I look back, even on the wedding day she was there but I ignored her. She got louder four years in. We were married together for ten years. The day we got married I thought, “There’s something off about this. This doesn’t feel right.” And if I really went back, the day he proposed even … I didn’t let her speak. I brought it up to him four years into it. As a husband should do, he said it was going to be okay, that we were fine and that we’ll just do more things together. I always felt like we were going on separate paths and weren’t right for each other. I was molding into a different type of woman. I was blooming in a different way and he was in his way, but we weren’t going on the same path … Had I listened I could have taken back six years but like I said, there’s nothing like finding your voice when you’ve lost it. Now she’s louder than ever because I feel her now more than ever before. I know what she sounds like because it took me that ten years and now I’m never going to have that ever again. I will never be involved in a relationship where I don’t feel whole.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Well, these days, coming fresh out of a divorce and finding my voice again… I’d really enjoy having a drink by myself. I really mean that. I love spending time by myself because I haven’t listened to myself for ten years. Obviously, Michelle Obama would be dope or Oprah would be so cool. It’s like that feeling you get when someone cancels plans and you think, “Thank God. I just wanted to be by myself anyway.” That’s me right now, all the time. I just want to be by myself, so I’m cool with that.
Photography by Kirsten Miccoli
Presented by Fresca
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