I became a vegetarian back in 1998 for my health, became vegan to fit in, started eating animal protein for a relationship. In 1997 I started to loc my hair. I wanted to see how long I could grow my hair in it’s natural state. By 2008 my locs grew to this length:
And I loved my locs.
They were me.
Being a vegetarian then vegan was the other part of my identity. The combination of this natural hair, plant based style of eating, and daily movement practices of African Dance, Capoiera, Yoga and Conscious Dance boosted my ego and shrank my body.
I was doing all this stuff and running around smiling but I really did not know who I was other than a people pleaser. I attracted boyfriends who were interested in their own personal “exotic explorations” through our relationships. I couldn’t see this because I was creating an image of who I was instead of just being who I am.
It’s easy to this when you grow up in a super sheltered community like I did. Having to basically divorce my entire community in order to be an actor…then making the decision to retire from the entertainment industry after 10 years left me searching. I found what I later realized to be artificial comfort in the “yoga/Conscious Dance/ Burning Man” communities in NYC.
When I retired from acting to become a vegan chef, my living and job situations in NYC were never really secure so I found refuge in my locs, my movement practice and my veganism.
I got a scholarship to attend this health coaching school called the Institute for Integrative Nutrition when I was working as a chef at this vegan cafe in Union Square NYC. A friend of mine had recruited a bunch of women to attend this school and as one of her rewards, she could offer a friend tuition to attend..so my friend gave the scholarship to me. I was super grateful and thought this was my golden ticket! I would be Jeanine The Dancing Chef!! As I went through the program it was great. Our class was the last actual physical class before the school shifted to a complete online format. It was more than just a school, I thought, it was really a place to empower women.
Our classes took place at Lincoln Center twice a month and people came from all over the world to attend. We were learning all these nutritional theories and movement practices…we even had dance breaks during our 8 hour a day class weekends. Our instructors were people like Andrew Wiel and Christiane Northrop. After hearing Sally Fallon from the Weston Price Institute speak about traditional eating and David Wolfe speak about veganism and raw food on the same day…my mind was blown. I was introduced to the concept of bio-individuality and that (coupled with the fact that I had started dating a musician who was meat-eater) made me decide to start eating animal proteins again. I graduated from IIN in 2010 and moved in with the musician blissfully ignorant living in unreality.
My identity was connected to this idea of being an entrepreneur based on referrals and the idea that we could coach while learning. Being a Health Coach was empowering but looking back…it was another identity to explore.
Well, my business and life was built on a weak foundation and it all soon fell to pieces. None of it was real or me.
The natural hair, the veganism, the traditional food, the yoga, the dance…were not me and I was holding on to something that really did not exist. Sounds crazy right? Well, it was crazy and it was a valuable lesson that I had to learn in order to get through to the other side.
You see, my connection to learning how to be in the world is deeply seeded in what I learned about the world through the media. Growing up in a community that shunned the world and created its own values in a way, was awesome, when I was a part of that community. Acting helped me create my own temporary communities and exposed me to the world in a way that felt really super safe. I could learn about humanity by playing roles and navigate my way in the world. It was easier to play others than to be me. So when I left acting…I created the character of Jeanine, the loc wearing vegan who dances.
In a way that Jeanine was embraced with open arms. As soon as my locs began to get long and my body, which had always been fit, became slim, I attracted men who were attracted to just the superficial me. Once these guys met the “me” underneath the “dance/yogi”who had strong views on racism, religion, the unfair system of power we all are living under, they ran for the hills. Some tried to change me, to tell me I was too loud, too angry, too…whatever. Others just “ghosted” me. I had no idea of what was really going on.
But this last one, the musician, generated a level of heart-break that I had never experienced before. I mean, we met one another on our 40th year on the planet and part of me was just tired and ready to settle down and find some comfort and I was willing to make it work. I mean, I had a speed dating business in the past and NEVER wanted to be one of those single women over 40 who lived in NYC and were desperate to find a man.
So I decided to make the relationship work, and even though my intent was always to cut my locs on my 40th birthday, I kept my locs because he liked long hair and having locs was the best way that I could grow my hair long and be “feminine”. Yep. I said it. (Now my ex never actually said I want you to keep your hair long, of course not. He was a feminist. Although, he had played a song he wrote called, “Your Hair” with me…. the lyrics said things like…”your hair is your saving grace”. So…well..yea.. I guess… he did say it…. ) For a really long time a part of me listened to society. Mainstream society connects women that have long, thick flowing hair of any racial background with being more feminine. It seems like mainstream society dictates that if it is not in a womans genetic makeup to grow long thick hair she is considered (by mainstream society) to be more masculine than feminine.
It’s okay to have long hair and be considered “mainstream feminine”, and there is more to being feminine than having long flowing hair wearing dresses, makeup and getting your nails painted red.
It was fascinating how my eating style also was connected to belonging when I was a vegan and when I ate animal proteins. Being a part of the vegan community in NYC was being in this elite club. The food was expensive, recipes complicated, and great for the elites. connecting yoga to this eating style was the perfect fit. Being healthy took time and people loved my vegan cooking. I began to get hired by folks but they would only hire me once, even though my food was delicious. When I started eating meat, part of the reason was to repair tendons that I had injured in my African Dance and Dunham technique period. The other part of the reason I went back to eating meat was to connect with my ex. He was a skinny man who loved to eat and I loved cooking for him. My best memories of our relationship are connected to me cooking comfort food during those cold winters in our warm studio apartment. Pot roasts, whole roasted chickens, roasted turkey, grass-fed burgers, lasagna, soups and sauces galore. My crock pot was jamming all winter long and to me…that was the best way I could create love in our house. I became attached to this idea of stability that was not reality.
Guess what, you can’t build a relationship on a full belly. The relationship ended. He left. I held on to the feeling of security I connected to that apartment. I even created a wellness program based on self-care during this time. Cooking comforting meals and caring for my hair was a vital part of this process. I healed, we got back together, I returned to acting and after 8 months…he left again. I was more determined than ever to anchor into keeping my created identity and be a success story. I did not know it then, but returning to acting at this time was the thing that saved me.
After about a year after the relationship ended I had created a new identity…the survivor! The happily child-free 45-year-old woman living the life I dared to dream. I painted my bedroom and living room (it was a big studio) and got new furniture. My acting career was going well, I booked some gigs that were bringing in residual checks and even had some Health Coaching clients. The Survivor was transforming into the THRIVER!!! Then around my birthday in March 2015, my landlord raised my rent from $1440.00 a month to $2,999.99 a month for a studio apartment. If I did not want to pay the rent increase, I’d have to leave by June 1, 2015.
This was a final punch to the gut, I was tired and so I let go. I got rid of all of my furniture and all the clothes I was saving for events that never happened and put the rest of my things in storage and I stopped taking on Health Coaching clients.
After a month with a crazy roommate I decided to let go completely and travel. I packed up my summer gear and hit the road. My family supported and loved me up in a major way and friends who cared and could help provided couches for me to crash on.
I was terrified but I was not alone and I finally recognized who I was. This summer I wrote my first play. This summer I committed to writing two blogs consistently. This summer I focused on acting without apology. This summer I spoke without apology about social justice and injustice.
This summer, (with a WHOLE lot of help from my family of origin and authentic communities) I claimed my divine feminine freedom. The mind-blowing thing is when I was forced to let go of trying to be, trying to please, trying to market, trying to brand and just was…my community appeared to support me. At a point this summer where I was just lying in my old bedroom binge watching Breaking Bad on Netflix (I’ve seen Breaking Bad about 8 times already) An organization called GirlTrek sent me an email. The subject line was something like “an Invitation..you’re going to the mountaintop”. GirlTrek wanted me to lead the conscious dance form I’ve been teaching to mostly empty rooms for the past 8 years in NYC at their leadership trainings in Colorado in September. Without any idea of how I was gonna do it…I said YES.
The next day, an organization that I had applied for a scholarship in one of my sleepless nights of depression this past winter, Yoga Off the Mat and Into The world emailed me to say that they had selected me to receive a scholarship for their Yoga and Social Justice leadership training in California in September. The dates lined up and I was able to do both.
GirlTrek sent us a training schedule to prepare us for climbing the mountain in Colorado so I kept my gym membership and did the work.
GirlTrek even sent gear for the hike, fleece jacket, shirts. We were all so excited, my parents even wanted to join GirlTrek and bought me a micro-fleece jacket and hiking boots as a gift.
I was excited and a little afraid, it felt like I was entering a new phase of my life. I washed my locs and braided them for my trip. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw where my hair was becoming thin, even though my locs are not long, my hairline is changing, becoming more grey than brown, hard to cover my roots. So I started clipping the ends of locs on the right side of my head. I thought I’d just use the grooming technique of creating a “family” loc by bringing my short ends together, twisting, and sewing in the end of one of my longer ends to the starter loc. The loc would grow longer and fill in the thinning spot.
Then I thought…fuck that. I’ll just shave half off! I did and kept it for a week. My family was like..”that looks interesting”. Then two days before I was scheduled to leave for Colorado, I decided to cut my locs entirely off. I boarded the plane and went to Colorado leaving my locs and the energy of the East Coast behind me. I walked into a new space where no one that I met even knew that I had gone through this huge transformation.
I was just me, almost bald, with a bunch of black women who I did not know. In a world where the word “awesome” has lost its value because of over use… I must say this experience was completely AWESOME!!
I authentically was not my hair, I was and am just me.
and connected with the me I have been running from for a long time. In between the two GirlTrek leadership training sessions I went out to California to attend yoga and social justice leadership training with Yoga Off the Mat and Into the World . Yoga off the mat was so much more than a group of yogis coming together to change the world. We came together and found ourselves in community. We created not just safe space, but a brave space to feel deal and begin the process of healing all sorts of traumas that have been holding us back.
After my month of discovery I returned to the East Coast. The experience of being faculty for GirlTrek and learning how to be outside (literally…I’ll tell you more about that in another blog), along with the personal development I received at the Yoga Off the Mat and Into the World Leadership training has inspired me to live in reality as me for the rest of my life. I finally get it. There’s no hiding. Life is the journey of taking on challenges that will make us grow wise, and strong. I tried to create easy ways to work around the journey, but life, in it’s wisdom, knocked me on my ass and helped me discover the tools I needed to get up and keep on going. I know that my time on this planet is limited, and the time to take action is now.
Climbing that mountain was hard I was afraid and it was breathtakingly rewarding. I made a commitment to myself on that mountaintop to do something I’ve secretly dreamed of doing but never thought possible. I made a promise to myself to complete the Iron Man triathlon in Kona, Hawaii in the year 2020 for my 50th birthday. I can’t swim, I don’t have a bike, or a home and I hate running….it terrifies me to say it out loud but I am.
For now, I’ve reconnected with my vegan style of eating and it feels really good. I’m not doing it to be cool or connect to someone else….I’m doing it because it feels right for this moment.
I know I’m not my hair or my eating style. I know that being a woman is so much more than hair, makeup, or having a man to define or create my worth or support my survival. I know that I am so lucky to be a woman at this time in the world with SO MUCH opportunity and so much ability to embrace being FREE.
and me…Jeanine T. Abraham 🙂