Get ready to be blown away by our latest Inspirational Mom, Hollywood Insider GG Benitez.
Although raised in the states, GG is truly living the American Dream after her “extremely strict upbringing” by Christian Middle Eastern parents.
While she graduated with an impressive 4.3 GPA, GG was not allowed to live a “typical” high school life. Not only was she sheltered from dating, going to the mall, sleepovers and football games, GG’s father would listen in on her phone conversations and time her trips to and from the university of his choosing.
This ultimate control led to an arranged marriage when GG was only 19-years-old.
“My parents set me up with Middle Eastern family friend. This hadn’t been their first attempt, but came at a time when I had reached my limit of my strict household and wanted to ‘escape.’ I finally ‘accepted’ my fate.”
Five months into her “unhappy marriage,” GG became pregnant with her daughter Alexis. And it was the birth of her baby girl that ignited GG’s fierce desire for independence, personal happiness, and a successful career.
Although she knew her family would “disown” her, GG courageously divorced her husband to create a happier life for herself and her daughter. As a single mom, she barely scraped by in the beginning, but she was determined to turn her life around.
Now one of Hollywood’s hottest insiders – rubbing shoulders with the likes of Tori Spelling, Mario Lopez, Jason Bateman and Melissa Joan Hart – GG and her chosen husband, Daniel, are proud parents to Alexis, nearly 20, as well as Daniella, 8, and Gabriel, 7.
Continue reading her inspirational story…
I’m the the daughter of Christian Middle Eastern immigrants, and my extremely strict upbringing helped shape me into the driven businessperson and ‘survivor’ I am proud to be today.
Religion didn’t play a role in our traditions; it was about our culture. Although raised here in the states, my high school life was far from the ‘typical’ American life. I wasn’t allowed to attend football games, join cheer, wear a swimsuit during swimming/P.E. class, or date (although I did, behind my parents’ back).
Nor was I even allowed to attend movies or go to the mall with my friends, the way typical high school kids did. My father, God rest his soul, would listen in in on my phone calls, to always make sure I didn’t have any boyfriends or crushes. Little did he know how rebellious I was!
Although I was an honors student who graduated high school with a 4.3 GPA, my father would only allow me to attend college locally at UCSD, timing my drive to and from classes and keeping tabs on my schedule.
When, at the age of 19, my parents set me up with Middle Eastern family friend. This hadn’t been their first attempt, but came at a time when I had reached my limit of my strict household and wanted to ‘escape.’ I finally ‘accepted’ my fate.
Although I had a choice with regards to whom I said ‘yes,’ my parents insisted that I select from a man within my culture and of their choosing. As I had three younger sisters, I felt I had no choice but to have to have their approval, as I never wanted to lose connection with my siblings.
I was engaged within two weeks and married within five months after this final accepted ‘arrangement.’ Unhappy with the way my life was being planned for me, I tried to leave the marriage several times from the beginning, but my parents wouldn’t allow divorce, feeling it would ruin their family’s standing in their social community.
Five months into marriage, I became pregnant. I was only a sophomore in college, and remember all the stares I received as I tried to pack my huge belly into the desks at UCSD. But, nothing could stop me from my desire to graduate. I knew that my education would be the key to independence and power.
I had my first child at 20-years-old. The birth of my daughter made me even more determined to leave the marriage and stand on my own, with or without my family’s support. I increased my class load and credits and achieved graduating the average five-year program in four years.
At the age of 22, with my newly received BA, and three years into my unhealthy and unhappy marriage, I left my husband.
I supported myself and my daughter by selling my personal jewelry from childhood. Many of my family members ‘disowned’ me, in that they rejected a relationship with me from the day I moved out on my own.
But for the first time in my life, I felt like a true American – able to create my own destiny.
I remember waking up that first night on our own, sleeping on the floor of our new apartment with no furniture, and feeling what FREEDOM really was.
My first years on my own were a financial and social struggle. I remember telling friends to bring their own soda if they were coming over to visit, as I could barely afford rent each month. And, socially, living in a San Diego city dominated by Christian Middle Eastern influence, I was initially frowned upon for being a single mother who was divorced.
I didn’t want my daughter growing up in a cloud of criticism and prejudice, as I understood the significance of building self-esteem in a little girl from a young age. I was determined to break free of this small society, but had to find a way to afford to leave and to give my daughter and myself a new life.
I started to search for a career in pharmaceutical sales. At 24, I was one of the youngest hired at a fast-growing pharma company, and quickly excelled earning accolades such as “Rookie of the Year” and “Sales Rep of the Quarter” numerous times.
My education and selling ability set me on the path for a lucrative career, and I was able to move to La Jolla and enroll my daughter in Kindergarten in a more diverse cultural setting, where a single, hard working mother was actually respected vs. ostracized.
And, although I was a single mother, I wanted to show my daughter what it meant to live the ‘American Dream.’ We traveled, learned to ski, walked on the beach, and took in as much that this new American life had to offer that we could afford. In many ways, we did grow up together, and have a unique bond that I treasure greatly.
Within a few years of being on my own, most of my family came around and learned to accept me and appreciate my strength and ability to break the mould.
It took a while for me to forgive and let go of feeling ‘abandoned,’ but the truth is that I learned so much in those ‘alone’ years and life turned out better than I imagined. Of course, 10 years of therapy helped too!
I have always maintained a very close relationship with my three sisters, who are all happily married, educated women. And, no, their marriages were not arranged. Our culture and community has progressed significantly over the past two decades. Women are seen as more of equals; education is respected; and, I don’t know of anymore arranged marriages. Although, I don’t know all that goes on in that world anymore.
Even though my community may have shunned me when I got divorced, there were a handful of girlfriends that have stood by my side and rather than judge me, they supported me. From my girlfriends Wassan, who stood by my side in court, to Tuni, who offered Alexis and me a home during out hardest times, to Mary, who along with her husband, have helped be my business mentors and rocks to lean on, to Zainab, Jessica, Mary, Inas and Nibras, Zainab and Nazie, I have been blessed with this chosen ‘family.’
At 30, I married a man of my own choosing.
In fact, he was someone that I worked with when I left my first husband, and we had become very good friends and dated briefly at that time. I respected him greatly, and he was a strong shoulder to lean on, but I was still young and had so much self-exploration and experiences I wanted to enjoy before re-committing.
When I moved to La Jolla, he and I had lost contact. Several years later, on a Sunday evening, I was out for sushi with my then 10-year-old daughter, and in he walks with some of his friends. I hesitated calling his name out, for the fear that he may ignore me and embarrass me due to how we had ended before.
But the moment I called his name out, and he looked over at me, I knew we would be married.
I was finally ready to appreciate the solid man he is. He came back into our lives in the perfect time, as he took on his role of father to my daughter during her most important, and influential years. Although my daughter has always had a consistent relationship with her father, my husband became the daily father figure that was my teammate in raising her. She immediately became attached to my husband, and to this day I envy their amazing father-daughter bond.
Though I was finally satisfied with my personal life, I was still unsatisfied with my career. Due to my strict upbringing and dominating father figure, I was unhappy with the hierarchy structure of the company I worked for. Once again, I decided to strike out on my own.
Entrenched in the children-parenting world, I designed and self-funded a line of baby clothes with trademarked phrases such as, ‘Don’t ya wish your mommy was hot like mine?’ I took on a partner, another Middle Eastern friend who was also leaving an arranged/set up marriage, and established the company Tuni & G.
Within a few months, I figured out the key to success was planting our designs on celebrity babies and utilizing this for media exposure, which ultimately increased our sales.
Tuni & G even appeared in J.Lo’s baby debut in PEOPLE magazine and subsequently garnered tremendous attention, and although I wasn’t a formal publicist, I instinctively knew that this was where my destiny lay. Without even knowing what a publicist was, I become one for our brand.
As time went on, although the brand garnered impressive media exposure, the ROI wasn’t enough to sustain producing the collection. When my husband suggested I go back to pharmaceutical sales, I couldn’t bear the thought of working for someone else, and started my own PR agency overnight..literally.
Within days, I created a name, established a legitimate new business entity, printed business cards, and landed my first client, who had been impressed with the exposure that Tuni & G had received.
Today, my firm, GG Benitez & Associates Public Relations, Inc., has achieved significant media and celebrity attention for a diverse clientele that spans the technology, children’s, fashion, beauty, and lifestyle industries. We maintain a strong track record of garnering consistent, valuable media impressions on national and local levels in print, broadcast and online outlets (such as Celebrity Baby Scoop).
I enjoy nurturing sincere, solid relationships with many of today’s top influencers. Beyond traditional product placement, GG Benitez PR is known for connecting our clients to celebrities in meaningful ways, such as decorating nurseries, planning their baby showers and even their children’s birthday parties. We count Tori Spelling, Shonda Rhimes, Ali Landry, Trista Sutter, Jason Bateman, Melissa Joan Hart and more among the celebrities we have worked with.
I’m turning 40 this year, and I feel like I have lived 80 years. I have gone through so much personal struggle, but I am okay.
I am married to a loyal man I admire and respect greatly. I have three children that have brought so much joy into my life. I am lucky to have solid friendships with people that have accepted me, and all that I am. I have a career that doesn’t even feel like work, as I thoroughly enjoy what I do.
I get to be ME! Nobody can crush my spirit ever again. I came out of it okay.
I do carry on the traditions that I value from my background, and my daughter told me that I was “the strictest mom” in her entire high school. I didn’t allow her to attend parties, spend the night at friends’ homes, nor was she allowed to date. I do try to teach my children some Arabic, and I teach them as much as I can about their grandparents. My mother is at my home everyday, and helps me raise my little ones. My kids are very, very close to my mother, and I’m happy for that.
Unfortunately, my relationship with my father was very strained my entire adult life.
Several weeks ago, as I was driving alone and I had this sudden urge to pick up the phone and check on him as I knew he was sick. He had been quite pleasantly surprised to hear my voice, as he later called my mom bragging, “Guess who just called me? GG!”
I cry as I write this, because I’m so happy that when he died, just 2 weeks after that call, that he died knowing that I did think of him; that I did love him; that I did care for him.
After he and I had hung up, I emailed him a link to a TV appearance I was invited to be on and share my success story, HLN’s Making it in America, with the message, “Check out your badass daughter.” He called me back and left a voicemail stating how proud he was of me and how beautiful I looked. “Like an angel,” he said. I had played that message back many times, before getting the call that he died unexpectedly. His death was a lot harder than I had anticipated.
I feel strongly that there are moments in our lives that impact us for eternity.
My extremely strict upbringing had its lasting impacts. My ‘set up’ failed marriage has had its lasting impacts. Marrying my husband of my own choosing has its amazing impacts. Giving birth to three amazing children has its amazing impacts.
But, there is one tragedy I have faced in my life that is on my mind each and every single day.
My high school friend, who later became my best friend during the lowest, hardest times of my newly divorced life, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma shortly after giving birth to a baby girl, only months before my husband and I had our girl.
I was the maid of honor in her wedding, and she and I shared the ups and downs of our pregnancies together. We did the mommy-and-me classes and swimming classes together.
But, then she became even more sick, and had to move to NYC for more significant treatment. After many efforts from the top doctors, her husband called me to tell me that things aren’t looking good. I knew what that mean, and immediately jumped onto a plane from San Diego to NYC to ‘interview’ her for a memory book I wanted us to create for her daughter.
I couldn’t tell Dina the truth; that I wanted to capture as much as I could while she was still alive. She was not accepting that there wasn’t more to be done, and I surely wasn’t going to crush her spirit. So, I devised a plan where I told her I wanted to come visit her and work on scrapbooks for our daughters. I wasn’t doing one for my own; my intention was to get down on paper and record Dina’s voice with all the stories and messages that a mother would want to share with her daughter: first love, first kiss, first heartbreak, how she was proposed to, her biggest lessons learned, her biggest desire for her daughter, her dreams and wisher for her daughter.
I wrote them all down, along with a recording of Dina’s voice, and pictures we picked out together to tell the story of Dina’s life.
When Dina lost her tough battle with cancer, I presented her daughter with this book. I hope it means as much to her as it did to me for making it. Dina’s death literally broke my heart, and although time heals all wounds, this heartbreak has yet to be completely mended, if ever. At the same time as Dina’s funeral, I had reconnected with a childhood friend and she has been my rock during these tragic times.
Valerie has been an angel sent to me, probably by Dina in some way since Dina knew I always loved attention.
And Valerie’s husband, Robert has become the brother I never had. I love them both.
GG Benitez and Associates is based in San Diego, CA. GG resides in the suburbs with her husband and two youngest children; her eldest is currently studying abroad, while attending Loyola University Chicago.
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Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Benitez family.