Mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, leaders, entrepreneurs and angels …
We’re all at least one, and some of us are all of these and more.
“Oi…Oi”… is what I usually say when I enter a room. If you are Brazilian, you will know what I am talking about. If not, “Oi..oi …” is fun and welcoming way to greet a room that lets everyone know you’re in a good mood. Yes, I am from Brazil, born and raised there until the age of 15.
My father was and still is a simple farmer and miner. My mother, a modern artist, painter, sculptor, designer, chef, and can-do-it-all mystic. I have a kind and strong brother who developed diabetes at a young age in childhood. We grew up dealing with the challenges of this disease, and he continues to handle it without pity through every stage of his life today. I have double digit amounts of uncles and aunts on both sides of my family, so you can imagine the list of cousins that goes on and on … As my husband Matthew likes to say when we go visit them on the farm, “seems like the whole country is your ’primo’ (‘cousin’ in Portuguese)”.
Growing up, I was always the ugly duck … I had big curly hair, was super skinny with long stick legs, and didn’t really develop a “body” until later in the game. Kids and teenagers used to make fun of me, and I was never the most popular kid at school. But, I was always kind, and I never let it affect my self-confidence, or took it too personally. I had friends that were in the ‘in’ crowd, and also friends that were outsiders. For some reason, I have always accepted people for who they are from a very early age, even if I wasn’t being fully accepted.
At 15 years old, I remember returning back to school in Brazil after my first trip to the United States and saying that I was moving there to become a model. The idea that me, the ‘ugly duck’ was going to go away to America and pursue a modeling career was met with much ridicule and teasing by the whole school.
Well, as I tell my kids today, “go brush your shoulders off”. I believe the American equivalent is “like water off a duck’s back” … I have never let anyone’s bad words stick to me.
So, I moved to the States from Brazil at the age of 15, and moved in with an aunt and uncle who had in a nice home in Los Angeles. I cared for their daughter to help pay my room and board, enrolled in English classes, and started to go on casting calls to get my career in modeling started.
Not too long after I arrived in LA, my aunt and uncle got divorced, and my aunt and I went to live on a friend’s couch in a tough neighborhood where the ice cream trucks were open in the middle of the night and not selling ‘ice cream’.
With no consistent income, still taking English classes at night, and the modeling gigs not flying in by any means, I was trying to figure out what to do to support myself. I remember sitting in the tiny living room of the Inglewood house, looking through newspapers and online for jobs. Without a car, or the ability to speak good English, every job seemed out of reach.
Then I saw an ad from someone who was looking for house cleaning help in Palos Verdes (an upscale neighborhood in Los Angeles), and I thought, ‘wait a minute, my aunt WORKS in Palos Verdes and she’d be able to give me a ride on her way to work and pick me up on her way back!’
My father always taught us that no matter how much or little we had in life, we needed to know how to take care of a home. I remember him saying, “even if you are a queen, what happens when your staff doesn’t show up?”. So, I already knew how to take care of a home. I interviewed for the job, and I got it.
It wasn’t much pay but it was enough to help with rent, buy a meal, and chip in some gas money. From there I slowly learned more and more English in class, and began to apply for different jobs. I waited tables, I was a hostess, I managed a store. I cleaned houses. I’d start one job in the morning, change clothes in the car of the parking lot at the restaurant where I waited tables, then run down the block to punch in at my hostess job. I would work until after midnight, go home, sleep, wake up, and start it all over again! By 19, I was making and saving enough money to seriously pursue my modelling career, and I hit the pavement daily going on casting calls.
At the time, for couple years I had been dating a musician who was touring the country. I would go visit him on the road, and one of those visits landed me in New York City. While there, I had one day to go to open casting calls called ‘go sees’ where modeling agencies met new talent.
I went to every agency possible in NYC that day, and every one of them had no interest in me. I remember crying in the streets that evening and thinking to myself, ‘I left everything I knew, my family, my friends, my language, my culture … for nothing.’ I was hurt. I was frustrated. I felt foolish.
I had one last appointment at the end of the day with an agency called Major Models, and I remember walking in the doors thinking that I wasn’t sure what I am even doing here because they are going to say no just like everyone else has … Boy was I wrong!!! They signed me right then and there, and shortly after, I moved to NYC full time.
I moved by myself into a model apartment (an apartment rented by the agency that you share with other models trying for the same jobs that you are trying for!). For months, I went to 20 or more castings a day, and never booked a single job.
Then, winter came. Being from Brazil I had never experienced that kind of weather, much less a NYC winter. I had no winter clothes. I was cold. I was broke. I was once again questioning what I was doing.
Around this time, my musician boyfriend brought up marriage. He was a good man. He was successful, handsome, kind and faithful, and willing to support me financially. If I married this man it would have been the solution to most of my problems. I loved him. I cared for him. But I didn’t feel like he was ‘the man’ for me. In my heart, I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do.
You see, I grew up with a father who always said to me, “if you marry a man for what he has or his status you then become a high-class prostitute” … And he would tell me “…and if you can’t see yourself raising kids with that man, then what’s the point” … Yep, strong words — Those words were always branded in me … I knew I couldn’t marry this man.
Alone and broke, but with my dignity still intact, I walked into my modeling agency and proposed to have them let me go back to LA to work for a bit until I saved enough money to return to NYC, and try again.
Well, Katia, the owner of the agency, was having none of that and instead handed me some advance money and said, “Go get yourself some winter clothes and boots, we believe in you, you came here to do this and we are going to keep on pushing until you do!” Three weeks later I got my first job. That job turned out to be a billboard in Times Square. And guess what? My family in Brazil was watching the New Year’s Eve show broadcasted from Times Square and GOT TO SEE ME ON THE BILLBOARD in the background!!
From there the reality is that I was never a top model, but I was a working model. I worked consistently, and I travelled the world. I worked and lived in France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Africa, Israel, Asia, England and more…. I explored these places, learned about so many different cultures, and met many of the friends I still have today. Ohhh the stories we have!
After establishing myself as a successful model and making a living at it, I was able to get my own apartment in NYC. Slowly my mom, father, and brother all moved over to the US from Brazil, where they settled in LA. We really helped each other on everything we did!
Soon after she moved, my mom and I decided to start a handbag business called MUXO. She had been making them at home, and I had been wearing them on my work trips all over the globe. Every time I wore one, people would ask me where I got it, and so we began taking orders to sell. I took the bags to meetings in NYC with fashion editors, and InStyle Magazine put the handbags in their issue, and also got us placed on a big website — Next thing we knew, the orders were pouring in. The only problem was that we didn’t know how to make as many bags as were being ordered, because we’d never made that large of a quantity of bags by hand before! We worked 20 hours a day until we filled the order, and the next thing we knew we were in department stores and had a QVC line with ME as the on-air saleslady!
My mother and I worked together in the MUXO handbag business for over 10 years. Then, I had my third child and suddenly I was a mother of three kids under the age of 5! My family became my priority, and I was unable to commit to MUXO in the way I needed to, so my mother took over the business. My mom is still to this day making the handbags in Brazil, and will have a new website very soon for the US market.
My entrepreneurial spirit didn’t stop with MUXO … A few years ago, I became a partner at Yummy Spoonfuls, where we are honored to produce one of the most pure and nutritious baby and kids’ food products on the market! To learn more about this brand, visit the Yummy Spoonfuls website.
My husband and I also have the Just Keep Livin Foundation, which, for 10 years now, has been empowering young men and women to live a healthier life and to be the best adults they can be.
So, at this point in the story you may be asking, ‘why did you skip the part about marriage and kids??’… Well, I didn’t really skip it, I just know that journey and part of my life is more public knowledge, and that the rest of what I am sharing here with you today is not. And anyway, I didn’t skip the part where I got married and had kids, I skipped the part where I had kids and THEN got married!
Yes … in some peoples’ opinion I did it backwards … but let me tell you, I never even thought I would get married. You see, my parents got married and divorced to each other 3 times (and ended up divorced), so in seeing and experiencing all of that, I always told them “do not expect me to get married!”.
It’s funny, sometimes I will read an article online about myself and it will say something like ‘oh, she used to clean houses and then got pregnant with a successful man, and got to where she is now’, or something of that nature. It always makes me wonder what right people have to make those kinds of assumptions about some else’s life without know their whole story.
The fact is, I wasn’t ready to marry ANYONE until I found the love of my life, until I found THAT person who I was ready to give my whole self to without limits! … And Yes, Matthew is that man. You’re probably curious how we met, and how it all happened — And you should be because it’s a heck of a story. But, that one you are going to have to hear from Matthew as he tells the story way better than I do! What I will share with you is that we now have 3 beautiful and kind kids who are 11, 10 and 7 years old. My family is everything to me.
You see my past has helped me shape my character and has guided me to where I am now — But my partner in life has given me the best part of my life. A kind of love that I am thankful for everyday. A love that accepts me for who I am, and for where I have been. Matthew has helped shape me to be the woman I am today, and an even better one that I will pursue to be in the future. I would not have become the woman I am today without this man by my side for the good and the bad! My kids also challenge me every day to be the best mom I can be, and they teach me every day the joy and laughter that life really possess. And not much has changed on my traveling the world, except that now we are a larger crew when we do!
I’m sharing my story with you all because I want to build this community together. I think telling you all a little bit more about who I am, and where I’ve been, from my perspective, is a good way to start! So, let me ask you … What’s your story?
With Love and Gratitude,