Sinclair: You ended up in the hospital last year. What happened?
Gia: Well basically my uterus grew a tumor that bled everyday in amounts that would terrify medical professionals. I had nurses look at me horrified, like “Giiiiiirl you’re gonna die.” Blood transfusion every month. Ambulance rides because I couldn’t breathe due to the fact that I had so little oxygenated blood.
One time I came in and my RBC (red blood cells) were at 5… normal range is around 11-14 for women. At 7 they require a blood transfusion at 5 they look hella surprised and tell you how it’s weird that you are cute but also dying. I was like, “Oh, yes that’s my face but my insides are revolting please save me despite me not ‘looking’ as sick as I feel.”
I spent weeks in the hospital. They told me my only option was a hysterectomy. I thought, “What! I’m only 35 and it’s a studio apartment so how are you going to remove the only room?” Not that I’m trying to have a baby but like there’s nothing that can be done outside of removing the mechanism that which makes me a woman? No, dawgs, I’m not trying to mess up the homeostasis of my body. Just remove the tumor.
After a year of fighting my doctors, I was ready to give up. I was tired, and nearly dying every few weeks was really taking its toll on me. It was for sure the first time I’ve ever felt seriously suicidal. I thought, “This is not a life. I might as well be dead. At least I’d suffer less.” I was put on disability, and soon after, i was pretty much confined to my bed or in the hospital. It was an intense year. I really can’t believe I made it out.
Sinclair: What positive changes have you begun to make in your life because of this experience?
Gia: My entire life has changed. I was a pretty wild partier up until late 2016. I quit drinking and smoking cigarettes. My doctors suggested removing sugar to combat hormonal issues that may be linked to insulin spikes. So I did that. I started working out 5-6 days a week. I lost a lot of weight.
I’m willing to make whatever adjustments to feel stronger and healthier. It gave me perspective. I work with children and I began to realize that I wasn’t doing all the things you’d want to do for a child…for myself. Be active. Eat nutritious foods. Go outside and play. Don’t watch too much T.V.. Read.
So I started to treat myself like I was a child that I loved, instead of treating my body like it owed me something. That concept has really allowed me love myself in a way I wasn’t able to before. So I workout 5 days a week. I eat healthy balanced meals. I read more. I make an effort to do things I say I’m going to do, and to grow in ways I was afraid to in the past.
It’s been a real blessing, even though it was also one of the darkest times of my life. So wild how juxtapositions like that exist. Something terrifying made me better. I guess it’s the most basic concept. From stress and chaos you can create something wonderfully magical. Hydrogen. Helium. Explosion. Universe. Seems scary at the time but it’s made wonderful things happen.
Sinclair: What’s the best part about going to work everyday?
Gia: I work with children. I love working with children. I’m a child at heart. I love joking around and they are the perfect audience. They laugh at anything. Before working in behavioral therapy with autistic children, I worked in hospice.
With hospice I felt like I was making a time that seemed depressing, sad and impossible to have fun during… fun. I met a lot of centennials. I made them laugh. I learned a lot and made close friends with people I’d never have come in contact with. I think people associate the elderly with being cranky and bitter but I think those qualities are funny. It was wild and wonderful even though it was sad when they would leave.
A lot of times they would ask me questions like, “Gia why won’t God take me?” And I’d be like, “Because, Mary Jane, I desperately need this job and God knows that… what do you want for breakfast?”
Now, working with children, I have the same rewarding feeling but I get to enrich the rest of their lives – not just the end. I don’t know, I have a lot of attention to give and I want to find a positive space for that energy to go.
I believe in people. I believe in them when they can’t believe in themselves and I believe in them until they CAN believe. So even if it’s a small task with a non-verbal child, I just believe we will succeed and I won’t ever give up…and the craziest thing is that for some reason I see such success. All I did was basically nothing. I just believed it could happen and it did.
After a year of fighting my doctors, I was ready to give up. I was tired, and nearly dying every few weeks was really taking its toll on me. It was for sure the first time I’ve ever felt seriously suicidal. – Gia Cognata
Sinclair: What are you reading right now that you think others should check out? What made you pick it up in the first place?
Gia: I actually just started reading a new book called Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. It was a Pen/Hemingway winner and a recommendation by a friend. I had specifically requested a page turner. So far the writing is witty and interesting and don’t worry, guys, I can’t spoil the ending because I don’t know how it ends yet!
Sinclair: I saw some photos you did for Sara Benincasa. You’re talented af. What got you into photography?
Gia: Oh my goodness! Well thank you so much. I actually like uplifting my friends and making them feel beautiful, and the artistic photos just happen. I do makeup and hair. A lot of Sara’s most amazing photos were impromptu makeup sesh’s after she’d been on a plane for 12 hours.
Those times when you feel the worst and then I see you and I’m like NO YOU ARE GORGEOUS AND PERFECT JUST WATCH. It’s like watering a dry plant and then people are surprised to see green leaves appear. I’m not a magician. In reality it’s all the plant. It’s always been the plant.
Sinclair: Share a few photos you’ve taken that you’re proud of.
Gia: I adore this first photo because it really captures Sara’s Italian side. This was the shoot where she had been traveling for many hours and I just love the look of it. Her hair. The slightly smoky eye. The color. She’s looking directly at the camera, it’s strong and I like that. I absolutely love this pink series of Sara…she looks like candy and I want to eat her.
This wasn’t planned and I love that about it. She lets me be artistic with her body and she’s such a wonderfully encouraging friend. Plus she’s gorgeous and it’s easy to take photos of her.
I recently did a photoshoot of myself and I think I like them because of my natural hair. Usually people think of long as sexy but I did an Instagram poll and everyone asked for this curly natural look and I really felt top notch. The people of Instagram were right.
Sinclair: You also do some amazing makeup artistry and have even done make up for the Espys. What’s something you enjoy about being a makeup artist?
Gia: I actually really love to draw. I think you can apply basic art principles to makeup and it’s fun. Simply shading and highlighting can accent features you already have, that maybe aren’t being showcased. I like being able to look wildly different very quickly.
I just enjoy the process even if it gets washed away later. Kind of like building intricate sand castles. It’s very temporary art but the feeling that person gets… that they will remember forever. So what I try to do in the photo is capture that feeling they have.
I give really specific instructions and probably the wildest direction you’ve ever heard. I’ll tell you to move your left shoulder back, turn your hips towards me, tuck your elbow in. I try and be specific because when I take photos, I want someone to let me know if my arm looks like a ham slab and how to move and make it more flattering.
Then once I have them in position I’ll say something weird like, “Your father is upstairs in the attic and he’s found your favorite childhood toy…” or “That man just stole your fucking purse and is running away, damn his butt looks good though…” and I snap whatever face is made.
Sinclair: Who is someone you can’t wait to do makeup for again?
Gia: Sara Benincasa, it’s always Sara… just so we can laugh and have fun. I need her to get filthy rich so she can just hire me as her personal makeup artist. For now, I would love to do a group shoot with her and several other strong, fun, funny women. I’d like to do an all female Italian mobster photoshoot. Something hot and sexy but strong and powerful.
I like to play with being soft while also having strength. I think being sexy is something women disconnect with because we are constantly being sexualized when we don’t want to be, so it’s hard to see it as being powerful but I really think it is.
Being sexy can be soft and strong at the same time. I definitely think women can be both those things. I think they can be anything they want. Women are magical.
I started to treat myself like I was a child that I loved, instead of treating my body like it owed me something. That concept has really allowed me love myself in a way I wasn’t able to before. – Gia Cognata
Sinclair: What’s something we can do to create a safer and more inclusive world for women?
Gia: Listen to us. Even if you don’t like what we are saying. Even if you think we are crazy. Even if you feel personally attacked. Listen. Women are desperate to be heard. I think we have a long history of trauma that far exceeds our short lives. Being a girl is scary.
People assume women are coming out publicly with a vendetta against men right now. The reality is that society has dragged archaic ways of treating women out of the past, and into the 21st century, where we have had the chance to be treated differently and we don’t want to go back.
I’ve been sexually assaulted more times than I care to recount. I’ve been inappropriately touched in my sleep by men who were not my boyfriend. Filmed while peeing and showering. I was raped by 2 different men… most of the time this was done by people that I trusted. It’s a real epidemic and something needs to be done.
There’s a group of men who feel entitled to have a woman when they want – and without consent – and it’s ruining our society’s potential for future happiness. If you don’t believe these are real issues that need to be addressed, then I suggest you do some inner work before communicating with women in the future as you may be part of the problem.
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2015 vs 2018 Oh my god I hate this before pic of me I know I’m supposed to love all versions of myself but… wow. Guys, I wish I could tell you it was easy but it really wasn’t. I quit smoking and drinking. I changed the way I eat entirely and workout 5 days a week… and while I feel better after I do it’s a struggle to make it happen but I get up and go and sweat and cry and feel like nothing’s changing until I see a photo like this. It was so fucking hard but it was totally worth it cuz now I don’t look like a middle aged white woman that works at target. Which is hella cool cuz I’m 35. #transformationtuesday #ketotransformation #ketodiet #beforeandafterweightloss #weightlosstransformation #transformation #workoutmotivation
Sinclair: What’s something you wish you could say to your 16 year old self?
Gia: Believe in yourself. I think it’s why I go out of my way to believe in other people so hard. I never had anyone believe in my dreams or tell me they were possible. Most of the time I was told they were silly/impractical/stupid and would lead me to living in my car. I’m 1 of 6 kids. My parents wanted practical children and they got a mixed bag of artists.
Sinclair: What’s something you’re working to unlearn?
Gia: Hate. Everyday of the week… hate. Unlearn hating myself. Unlearn hating other people/things/concepts. I guess I hate… hate.
Sinclair: Who do you go to when you’re needing support and guidance?
Gia: I’m blessed to have a lot of really brilliant friends and loved ones. I respect their opinions even if their advice hurts my feelings/ego. I know they would never say something to deliberately hurt me so I take whatever they tell me and try to become a better person from it. It’s like emotionally working out. Workouts hurt but that’s how you change and grow. It’s a part of the process. If it doesn’t hurt a little you might be stagnant.
Sinclair: What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?
Gia: Time management. I just feel like we invented the concept of time, so why can’t we bend it more often. Also turning down work. I really overwork myself. I’ll go hard everyday of the week for months on end, and it’s important to check in with and do self-care. I have to remind myself it’s ok to say no.
Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care? What did you do?
Gia: What an appropriate next question! I try and say no when I’m overwhelmed. I take time for my body and exercise daily. I meditate. I remind myself it’s ok to not be ok and sometimes I just let myself be.
Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?
Gia: The arts. New music, new books… seeing good comedy. Connecting with people and seeing that not everyone is insane or hateful even if the people in charge are. Hearing positive perspectives and new ways of dealing with old problems.
Open dialogues about the truthful state of things in our country and how we can change it for the better… it brings me joy to hope for something different soon. I’m really disappointed with the way things are right now in this administration and it’s a struggle to not let it spiral me into a depression.
I believe in people. I believe in them when they can’t believe in themselves and I believe in them until they CAN believe. – Gia Cognata
Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?
Gia: I get mad a lot in my car. People don’t obey the rules of the road and then flip out on you when you so much as honk. I’m in my car like, “Damn this guy has no idea I’m about to go full blown Hollywood starlet meltdown on him from my window.” I lost my voice for 3 days yelling at a man like I was Joan Crawford talking about wire hangers. I also threw a lemonade at him.
It was after he said he was going to “kill me” when he made an illegal u-turn into the front of my car. Sara tweeted about it and it went mildly viral. Yes guys, I’m working on not being angry in my car. Don’t worry… but also don’t tell me you’re going to kill me either.
Yesterday my friend told me that a man cut her off in traffic so she laid on the horn and he threatened to kill her. She said, "YOU THINK YOU'RE THE ONE WHO GETS TO KILL ME? I'M FUCKING CRAZY! I'LL EAT YOUR FUCKING GIRLFRIEND YOU PIECE OF SHIT!" and hurled a lemonade at him.
— Sara Benincasa (@SaraJBenincasa) August 10, 2018
Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?
Gia: When I was sick. I was on disability and I slowly lost all freedoms, and I just doubted that I should even be alive. It was a really desperate time for me. I couldn’t live normally. I couldn’t leave my house. Go to work. Have romantic relationships. I felt very alone and isolated like things would never get better. I cried a lot by myself but even more to my cat, Steven.
I had all day to think about dying because I was actually dying… so I sobbed. Most of my days sick were spent in extreme emotional distress and it was really hard for me to share with people. So I isolated myself even more and pretended things were ok when people would ask. I did a lot of theater in college, so it was just good acting. I was actually doing terrible.
If I wasn’t insanely depressed, I was having panic attacks over how I would ever get this to stop. I couldn’t sleep. I laid awake worrying. I believed at a certain point I would just die and part of me was ok with it. But I’m here now and I’m telling you guys it gets better. Keep going.
Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?
Gia: I’m constantly evolving and my values evolve with me. Things that I thought were ok behaviors in the past, I no longer exhibit now. Perspective is insane but kindness is key for me. I’ll go to lunch with a stranger because their mother died and just talk to them.
I reply to all messages that ask for honest advice on an issue. I ask people how they are doing because I care and want to uplift them if things aren’t going great. I think clarity on morality is a never ending quest because we are always learning new truths about ourselves and always changing.
Sinclair: Who are a few amazing people that we should follow and why?
Gia: Oh Jesus is it shout out time already?!?
- Sara Benincasa – hilarious comedian, talented author, avid tweeter, photogenic goddess. I not only love her but I’m in love with her and you should be in love with her too.
- Sabrina Cognata – my sister, a very talented writer/producer/activist she has a brilliant way with words, she’s smart and funny and so sharp. She is 100% genuine every day of the week, serving up internet realness on the daily. I used to joke that she was the internetz. Now I fully believe it.
- Dave Sirus – writer/comedian/super genius… he’s on a podcast called Blamestorming and is probably one of the smartest people I know. His political perspectives/knowledge/hilarious insights are ones to be shared, listened to and filed under saved and he’s easy to listen to because he’s got a great voice.
Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?
Gia: I believe in you. I believe you can someday be happy living out your wildest goddamn dreams, and if you can’t believe in it right now, that’s ok. I’ll do it until you can. Don’t give up and once you can finally believe… You’re almost there.
Sinclair: It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work. What’s your five word acceptance speech?
Gia: Does anyone have a Xanax?
Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?
Gia: We are all connected. Born in the belly of a nebula and dispersed into stardust across the skies. Do you remember? It’s hard but you should try. Try to recognize one another because you are the same. Be in love with what ties us together. Be in love with the differences that make us so similar. Don’t let hate divide what can never truly be separated.
Gia Cognata is a makeup artist, photographer and writer from Los Angeles. She works in behavioral therapy with autistic children focusing on independence training. She is currently studying to become a personal trainer and is in the middle of writing her first full length feature film. Learn more about Gia and connect: Instagram | Twitter
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