Dr. Gabrielle Pelicci Interview

We speak by phone Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009.

Gabrielle’s Facebook. YouTube. Her Enerje website. Her blog.

Luke: "When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?"

Gabrielle laughs. "You don’t hesitate. You just jump right in, huh?"

Luke: "Yeah."

Gabrielle: "I wanted to be a dancer. I took dance classes after school every day, ballet and tap and jazz and modern ballet. I wanted to move to Manhattan and dance on Broadway."

"I was born in Hershey, Pennsylvania. When I was seven, we moved to Scranton. I lived there until I was 17. Then I moved to Manhattan. I had a modeling contract when I graduated from high school. I lived in Manhattan for a while. Since then, I’ve been travelling and living in many different cities — Washington D.C., Miami, Los Angeles. I’ve lived abroad. I’m a nomad."

Luke: "What did your parents do for a living?"

Gabrielle: "My father is a physician. He was in medical school when I was born in Hershey. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. She’s very passionate about medicine and about the church. She used to deliver communion to people in the hospital. I got a lot of my passion for spirituality from my mom and a lot of my passion for medicine from my dad."

Luke: "Were you raised in an organized religion?"

Gabrielle: "Yeah. I went to Catholic school from kindergarten through 12th grade. I had to go to mass every weekend. Even when my parents didn’t go, my brother and I would go. We’d participate in youth group. It was a nice community where I grew up. We had block parties."

Luke: "What was your reputation in high school?"

Gabrielle: "I was the girl who was the brain in the class. I would sit in the front row and raise my hand and answer every question."

Luke: "Were you a teacher’s pet?"

Gabrielle: "Yes. I’d ask for extra work. I’d stay after class. I was an over-achiever from a very young age."

Luke: "Where are you in the birth order?"

Gabrielle: "I’m the oldest of eight."

Luke: "What have your parents most wanted for you?"

Gabrielle: "My father most wanted for me to be a physician and to take over his practice. He’s a psychiatrist and a neurologist. He has a large successful practice in Pennsylvania.

"I didn’t want to be a psychiatrist or neurologist. I was much more passionate about holistic medicine and alternative therapies."

Luke: "Were you a rebel in high school?"

Gabrielle: "I was always very creative and I didn’t like to be boxed in to the norm. For example, we had uniforms we had to wear in Catholic school. There were a few things that weren’t regulated, like socks or shoes or what we did with our hair. I was always trying to find a way to stand out. I’d wear multi-colored socks and shoes and dye my hair so I could express my own individuality.

"For the most part, I was a pretty conservative person."

Luke: "What were you best at in high school?"

Gabrielle: "I was really fond of the arts. I participated in fine arts and painting. My first degree is in Fine Arts. That was my expressive outlet. That was the way I dealt with the stress of being a young person and the way I connected with the world. Art was my favorite subject."

Luke: "When did you realize you were not going to be a dancer?"

Gabrielle: "Dancing gets more and more competitive the older that you get. Once you get into your late teens, if you want to do dance as a career, you have to be in a major city and you have to be competing against other dancers for positions in different companies. Auditions are extremely intense. I’m not a competitive person. I like to dance for the artistic expression of it. I did it up through college but I didn’t want to pursue it professionally once I became an adult."

Luke: "Were you a bit voluptuous for dancing?"

Gabrielle: "No. I was a teeny tiny stick person the whole time I was growing up. I was tiny. When you dance several hours every day, you maintain that skinny dancer body."

Luke: "And how did you get into modeling?"

Gabrielle: "When I was a kid, my mom put me in beauty pageants. I was in Miss Teen Pennsylvania. I have videos of it. It’s pretty hilarious. I have humongous hair and big fluffy dresses. I did the beauty pageant thing until I was about 16 or so. And then I started doing some print work in Pennsylvania and decided that an easy escape to Manhattan when I graduated high school would be a modeling contract.

"I went into the city and visited some agencies and I got a contract. I had craved freedom from the time I was young. I wanted to live in New York. I wanted to be on my own. I wanted to be doing something fun and exciting. Fashion is very glamorous and exciting. I moved to Manhattan. I worked in Manhattan. They sent me to Greece. I lived in Athens for a couple of months. I tried the modeling scene for a year or two but it came back to the same sort of thing that happened with dance. Modeling is very competitive. It’s kinda superficial. The girls don’t take care of their bodies. They’re not real good to themselves. It just wasn’t really deeply satisfying."

Luke: "How old were you when you first entered a beauty pageant?"

Gabrielle: "I think I was eight. I have these pictures. They would give you these huge awful trophies when you would win. It was quite a scene. The girls who were in the pageants were really into it. Their families were really into it."

Luke: "In retrospect, being entered into beauty pageants at that young age, good idea or bad idea?"

Gabrielle: "For me it wasn’t a bad idea because of all the other things that were being fostered at home. My dad was reading to me from medical textbooks. My mother was taking me to church and to deliver communion at the hospitals. My life did not revolve around beauty pageants. It was just one more hobby."

Luke: "What were the advantages and disadvantages for you long-term having been in beauty pageants and worked as a model?"

Gabrielle: "When I got into modeling as a career in Manhattan, the curtain was pulled back. When you look at modeling as a consumer, you just see the surface of it. You just see that the photography is beautiful and the girls are beautiful and there’s money and there’s parties and there’s travel.

"The industry is cut-throat. It is very unhealthy. I was told on a regular basis by my agency, you’re too fat. You need to lose weight. Most of the girls were starving themselves. There was a lot of drugs and debauchery."

[I email: "When your modeling agency told you were too fat, how much did you weigh and what was your height? How much did they want you to weigh? Did they tell you how to lose the weight, suggest drugs or anything?"

Gabrielle: "I was the same height and weight that I am now – 5’8" 125lbs. They told me to lose 15 lbs. They suggested not eating.]

"As a profession, it was a rude awakening. I was only 17, 18 years old. I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting it to be all fun and glamor. I came from a small town in Pennsylvania and I thought everybody was like the people back home, who were just good and hospitable and kind and generous.

"Manhattan is a pretty rough place to live. It’s pretty intense. For a small town girl, that was a rude awakening.

"It took me about two years after I had left modeling to integrate what I had learned and figure out if I don’t want to do this, what do I want to do with my life? I took a step back and I studied a lot of art. I worked with a therapist. I met an amazing psycho-therapist in Pennsylvania. It was a time of growing up for me, when I realized that the little bubble I grew up in in Pennsylvania was not the reality for the rest of the world."

Luke: "What’s the story between you and your body? Were you always thrilled with your body? Did you go through periods where you wanted it different? I’m sure that many women would kill for your body. I’m sure many men would kill for your body, but we won’t go there."

Gabrielle: "I don’t know. I don’t think about it so much because my body has been so good to me. I’ve always been really healthy and really happy with myself. I’ve never really thought about it. I’ve done a lot of the cosmetic things people do. I’ve had braces. My teeth used to be a disaster.

"I’ve always enjoyed my body and tried to take really good care of it. I don’t do drugs. I don’t smoke cigarettes. I rarely drink alcohol. I’m a vegetarian. I exercise regularly. I do all the things to maintain my health and my body so that it can last for a really long time."

Luke: "When you look in the mirror, do you primarily see good things or do you primarily see flaws?"

Gabrielle: "I don’t really see myself as a physical person. When I’m looking in the mirror, I’m more looking in my own eyes and going ‘What do you need today?’ Or, ‘How are you feeling today?’

"I relate to myself more as an emotional or spiritual or mental person than I relate to myself as a physical person. When I get up in the morning, I don’t spend more than a minute in the mirror, just to brush my teeth and wash my face. And then I’m just spending a lot more time checking in with myself about what I want to accomplish that day.

"I don’t do make-up and I don’t my hair. I just put it in a ponytail. I don’t spend a lot of time getting dressed, whatever’s on the top of the pile. I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about my physicality. I don’t wear jewelry or make-up or any of that. It’s hard for me to say. If I get a pimple, I might say, oh, there’s a pimple. I don’t spend more than a few seconds thinking about it."

Luke: "Has that always been true?"

Gabrielle: "It’s always been true for me. I’ve always been much more obsessed with my own internal processes, my inner life than what’s on the outside, because who I am on the inside is so rich and so complex it just takes precedence for me. I just have so many thoughts and feelings from the minute I wake up in the morning that occupies more of my time and my thinking."

Luke: "What have you perpetuated and what have you rejected from your upbringing?"

Gabrielle: "Everything! I think I perpetuate a lot of the values that I was taught. I was taught to be a good person and to share my gifts. Things I’ve rejected? Small-town life in North-east Pennsylvania, it’s very conservative. It doesn’t incorporate a lot of the things I’ve learned about and studied. For example, when I was in my early 20s, I got very much into Buddhism, meditation and yoga. Later in my 20s, I got into all the holistic healing modalities — massage, healing touch, reiki. And I’ve traveled to Africa, Asia and Europe and things by myself.

"What I’ve rejected is this notion of staying in the same town where you grew up and getting married and having babies and never expanding your worldview and experiencing other cultures and learning new things."

Luke: "What’s the story of you and God?"

Gabrielle: "I’ve always felt really close to God. I’ve always felt really spiritually connected. When I was a little kid and my mom would take me to church, she would tell me that God could hear what I was thinking and that if I wanted to ask for anything or pray for anything, all I had to do was think about it and that He would be able to hear me. That notion of having someone know your innermost thoughts had a big impact on me. I thought, ohmigod, I have this connection that I can contact this being any time and ask for help and I always took advantage of that. I would spend a lot of time as a kid in bed at night praying and talking to God and asking for things.

"I never doubted that there was some kind of intelligent thing out there that cared about me and cared about the world and could be contacted.

"My spirituality and my relationship with God grew and changed over the years. My mother passed away in 1996. I had this phenomenal mystical experience of connecting with her at the time of her death and as she passed on, I could really feel her go back to the energetic essence of the world around us. She was back in the essence of the universe. She had become part of everything around me, nature and the air that we breathe and all through her funeral, there was this little caterpillar on a leaf next to me and I felt like she was even inside of the caterpillar. That the world was made up of this matrix of energy and she had just gone back into this energy. I had a sense that death was something that was amazing, peaceful and beautiful, and not something to fear. It’s just a transformation process.

"That was a catalyst for me to become interested in a lot of the holistic stuff. That’s when I started to study Buddhism and their concepts about death and reincarnation and what happens when we die and that’s when I started to get into yoga and everything. I had been raised to believe that you die and you go to Heaven but that never really made sense to me. When I had an experience of my mother’s death, I was like, oh, OK, so this is what happens.

"I’ve never been fearful about death. I’m actually really looking forward to it. I don’t think it’s like a judgment or any of the dogma like old school beliefs about death. That doesn’t resonate with me. I had a very different experience of what death is."

Luke: "What do you love and hate about growing older?"

Gabrielle: "I love becoming more confident and more self-aware and more mature.

"When you’re in your mid-30s, most people are getting married and having kids. The freedom and spontaneity that we had in our 20s is reduced. There are less kids to play with on the playground. What I really liked about being in my 20s was that everyone was exploring. They were in school. Maybe they were traveling. There was just this openness. They had this vision. They were idealistic in the things that they wanted to do.

"I feel like there’s more of a nesting happening in the 30s. They’ve made these little families and they’re raising children and they’re going to work every day and they’re paying their bills and that’s not my path. I don’t want to do that right now. But I continue to want people to explore with and play with and be spontaneous with. That’s been challenging for me because I feel like I am not doing exactly what other people are doing.

"I really enjoy my own development. I like getting older. People think it’s strange when I say it. I’m really looking forward to my 50s and my 60s. From my experience with the women I’ve interviewed and the mentors I’ve had, as you get older you get even more self-confident and more self-aware. It’s an exciting experience to get older."

Luke: "Which were the happiest times in your life?"

Gabrielle: "Hopefully they are still in the future."

"I’ve really enjoyed my accomplishments, graduating from college, getting my PhD, doing different studies… I’ve had some awesome romantic relationships and friendships."

Luke: "What is your life’s purpose?"

Gabrielle: "To teach and to inspire other people. I think that the world needs healing and that people need healing. Hopefully I can help people do that through my writing and my teaching."

Luke: "How did you find your purpose?"

Gabrielle: "I’ve always had a sense of people suffering and I’ve always wanted to make it better. My father was an addict and my mom had mental illness."

"For my doctoral dissertation, I selected the topic of women healers. I did a narrative analysis. That means you gather stories and analyze those stories for themes."

"I moved to Los Angeles about four years ago. I didn’t know anybody. I had left a strong community of women healers behind. I wanted to reconnect with women who were doing healing work in Los Angeles. I just advertised a support group where we could get together once a month and talk about different healing modalities and practice some things together."

"I love listening to people. I’m addicted to memoirs. I’ve read hundreds of memoirs."

Luke: "What role does your cat play in your life?"

Gabrielle: "My cat’s my best friend. Gary Cat. I got Gary Cat when she was a kitten. I have a good friend in Virginia who has Gary’s mom and dad, brothers and sisters. Gary has lived with me in a dozen different cities. She’s driven from New York to Florida to LA to New Jersey. She’s my faithful companion. I think that we’re pretty attached to each other."

Luke: "How do you feel when you sense men looking at you with lust?"

Gabrielle: "If a man only looks at me with lust and only interacts with me in a lustful way, it’s disappointing because there is so much more to me than a physical body. If lust is one of many emotions, if the man also respects me, and also treats me like an equal, than I can’t really hold it against him for feeling lust. I don’t typically engage with people in that way.

"As a massage therapist, I would get a lot of requests to do sensual massages or to do different things. I don’t engage with people in that way. I’m very conservative when it comes to romance. I believe in monogamous relationships. You share that kind of intimacy with your partner. You won’t get a big response out of me if you are very lustful towards me and that is the only sort of attention that you’re giving me. I don’t really respond to it."

Luke: "How do you feel when you sense women looking at you with jealousy?"

Gabrielle: "It makes me want to go out of my way to make them feel better about themselves."

Luke: "Do you yearn to have babies?"

Gabrielle: "I don’t. I’ve never had a desire to have my own children."

Luke: "To what extent does your cat fulfill your nurturing needs?"

Gabrielle: "I think of my cat more as a buddy than as a child. I feel compelled to take care of everyone I meet. I feel compelled to help all the people in the world who need help. Rather than giving all of my time and energy and resources to one kid, I really like the idea of being able to help a lot more people by putting all that time, energy and resources into classes, videos, books, and lectures where a lot more people could benefit."

Luke: "Is there any chance that your love for your cat is a substitute?"

Gabrielle: "For wanting to have kids?"

Luke: "For anything."

Gabrielle: "Oh. I don’t think so. I think Gary is my friend and my companion and we just like to keep each other company. She’s great to have around because she’s always so relaxed and I tend to be a very serious person. Gary’s not serious about anything."

Luke: "What does it mean that Gary Cat is a friend?"

Gabrielle: "I feel like Gary is an embodiment of this peacefulness I feel from other aspects of nature. That creates a sense that the world is your friend."

Luke: "What did it mean to you to get your PhD?"

Gabrielle: "It was an amazing sense of accomplishment."

"For a long time, I thought I had to be this straight-A beauty pageant girl. I thought I had to do really well in school and look really good and be a good dancer and perform really well all the time. That’s exhausting. To always have to put this happy front to the world. I don’t care about that anymore. I don’t care about putting on this front that I am so happy and that I am so smart and look at me. What’s important to me now is to be really honest and really vulnerable."

Luke: "Is there a true romantic hiding beneath your disbelief?"

Gabrielle: "I’m terribly terribly romantic. It’s something I’m embarrassed about. I’m really old fashioned romantic. Frank Sinatra and roses and moonlight walks along the water. I like big displays of affection. I like being serenaded. Maybe I like the drama of it."

Luke: "To what extent do you want to be swept away?"

Gabrielle: "I would love it! As an independent woman in my mid-30s with all of these career aspirations, that’s a struggle for me. As much as I want to be swept away, I want to maintain what I’ve developed and to maintain my career and my independence and autonomy. Part of being swept away is being able to let go and let someone sweep you away. That’s hard for me."

Luke: "To what extent do you think you have created a life since college where you’ve protected your heart from being swept away?"

Gabrielle: "I’ve been very protective. I had this idea growing up that I had to be so perfect. Being perfect was not conducive to being swept away and being vulnerable… How can you be driven and have goals and also let go and let people take care of you? That’s something I’m still trying to figure out."

Luke: "What do you think you would need to let yourself be swept away?"

Gabrielle: "I think I would just have to make up my mind to do it. I’d have to make up my mind that all the things I’ve worked so hard for would not go away if I let myself be swept away by someone… I’ve just been focused on other things. I haven’t opened up to that."

Luke: "How easy is it for you to trust?"

Gabrielle: "Not as easy as I would like. There was a lot of domestic violence when I was growing up. My parents fought badly. My dad’s been married several times. Fifty percent of people who marry divorce. I see all of these things as bad red flags. Uh oh, relationships are very difficult. They only work out 50% of the time and relationships can become violent. I have this life experience that creates an obstacle for me to have relationships."

"My parents divorced when I was nine. They had been fighting for many years when they got divorced. My dad remarried and a few years later was divorced again. Now he’s with his third wife."

Later, via Facebook, I ask: "When did you get the tats? How many and why?"

Gabrielle: "Six tats – started when i was 18 – last one when i was 31. i got them in PA, NY, FL, and CA."

Luke: "What type of tats and where? Why did you get them? What meaning do they have for you?"

Gabrielle: 1. tiger tattoo back with tibetan script that says peaceful tiger – got it after my trip to tibet – represents my spiritual connection and my astrological sign
2. celtic arm band – right arm – represents my mom
3. flowers around my right ankle – my connection to nature
4. fish and water on my left foot – my connection to the ocean
5. tribal design on my lower back – just cuz i liked it


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About Luke Ford

I’ve written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).

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