I was born on the 19th of November under the sign of Scorpio. I was raised by an Aries Russian father and a hippie Libra American mother in Baltimore, Maryland. I was always surrounded by a lot of love but, growing up, I always felt different from everyone else. By the beginning of the tenth grade, I had already seen more tragedy than I hope many see in their lifetime. I was struggling with depression, anxiety and eating disorders. The latter of which, along with being half deaf, I was bullied for at school. By the time I graduated, I had seen more funerals than weddings and I was ready to escape. I applied to Fashion Institute of Technology and left for New York City when I was 17.
My mom’s family has really seen their tough times. So, she has really shaped my strength. I don’t know how she has endured half of the things she’s been through—and she’s still standing and smiling. She always believed no dream was too big for me and encouraged me to go after what I wanted. I actually first launched Benshen as a skin care line, when I was 24 or 25! My mom met Justin ’s mom—Justin of Justin’s Almond Butter—on a cruise. After that, she called me and said she would give me $200 to start my own line.
I had been struggling with cystic acne and hormonal balance for years, so I knew my way around ingredients and I was passionate about essential oils. So I used that money to buy bottles and ingredients and blank labels from Staples. It took off instantly— I couldn’t believe it. I was also just starting my Prosperity meditations, which is central to what Benshen is today. Ultimately, I decided I didn’t want to make skin care but the real desire to help people transform from the inside out remained. Years later, Benshen became Benshen course—and all of these lessons that I have been through in the past ten years is in it.
I’ve spent those last ten years trying to understand where beauty comes from and it comes down to this: when you love yourself, it shows. When you don’t, it also shows. So the real question is how do we learn to love ourselves— all the parts of ourselves —so we can bring the beauty that is within, out? The answer to that question is different for everyone but one little secret is to try to laugh as much as possible. It makes you radiant.
"Some seasons will hurt. Some days will burn. It’s not easy, but you will be OK. And you will get through it all. And you will have people around you that love you no matter what. The most important thing is to remember: one foot in front of the other."
I personally feel most beautiful in nature, so I try to go Upstate as often as possible. Also around 11am when the coffee has kicked in and I’ve got Jhené Aiko playing and the sun hits just right… Or when I really slow down to take care of myself. I think beauty also comes from cultivation.
So often we rush through our routines and just slather products on. When I think about women of history, like Cleopatra for example, the effort she put into herself. In the West, we’re taught this is vain. We shall be this insane standard of beauty but God forbid we take time to invest in ourselves. It’s such a paradigm that is beyond toxic. Our bodies are the vessel and vehicle—the temple. We should take care of them with the highest reverence, but it’s not about relenting to any kind of pressure to meet a certain beauty standard. It’s about bringing out the beauty that’s already inside us.
There are so many small things that make me feel alive. Sunrise and sunset. Dancing. Jumping on my the back of my friend’s motorcycle whenever I can. I started doing this after I lost a friend recently. I was going through so much grief that all I wanted was to feel alive. The first time I jumped on, we drove across the Williamsburg Bridge at night and the whole city was sparkling. Life is going to be challenging, I know that now. Some seasons will hurt. Some days will burn. It’s not easy, but you will be OK. And you will get through it all. And you will have people around you that love you no matter what. The most important thing is to remember: one foot in front of the other.
I FaceTimed with my 84-year-old grandmother the other day while she smoked a cigarette and yelled to me, “Do whatever the hell you want and take no shit from anybody!” Honestly, I think that’s the golden ticket.
Photography by Carolyne Lorée-Teston. If you are interested in the Benshen Course, use code BENSHENLESSE for 20% off until May 2021.