Jessica Grant

Working in a male-dominated industry, she feels constant pressure to prove herself and move up the ladder.

In her spare time, Jessica Grant wakes up at 5 a.m., does some cardio, eats the first of three to six meals a day — two ounces of fish or lean meat and asparagus or spinach, maybe a cup of rice or oatmeal — and drinks the first glass of a gallon of water, all of which she plans and measures in advance.

Strict as it is, the regimen is meant to propel her to the next level of her most passionate pursuit — bikini bodybuilding. After winning amateur competitions in 2017, she says she hopes to compete on the circuit sanctioned by the National Physique Committee, the largest amateur-bodybuilding organization in the United States.

She’s extremely social, an extrovert’s extrovert, and training means she cuts out a lot from her life: no drinking, no meals out, no parties, no real boyfriend. When she’s building her competition body, she becomes a completely different person.

“It’s pretty cool to see her transformation when she’s doing bodybuilding,” says her friend, Alisa Shaheen. “And then when she’s not, we go out and have fun, laughing and doing things.”

In a matter of months, this 5-foot-8-inch woman will transform herself. Right before the holidays, she weighed about 150 pounds. In competition, she expects to weigh in at 135.

Meanwhile, she works full time at a staffing company in San Francisco. Grant is someone who is often (if not always) on.

“The hustle is very, very real for me,” she says.

She’s constantly striving. She lives in the Bay Area, but she’s not a “techie.” (She’s in sales.) To perform in this world, this former theater kid is constantly asking questions so she can talk artificial intelligence and automation with her clients. She’s from the East Coast and used to wear suits and dresses. Now she’s learned to dress down to fit in. She reads the room. Constantly.

“I’m always looking to climb up the ladder. I’m in a male-dominated industry, so I feel as though I have to fight very hard for my place and to show that I’m just as good as the boys,” she says. “I feel like I’m in a race with the clock because sometimes I feel like I’m not where I want to be.”

The clock, and to some extent, turning 30.

“I am having a fit with accepting my age. I want to be in my 20s forever. I think that the society that we live in puts a lot of emphasis on time,” she says. “There’s always deadlines, whether it be work or whether it be in your personal life.”

Socially, age doesn’t matter to her. Most of her friends are already in their 30s and 40s.

One of her close friends, Dannelle Mielbrecht, is 47. They met in 2015, when she hired Grant to work at a different staffing firm. They remain close and talk on the phone at least every other day.

“Her persona is not what I typically deal with at that age,” Mielbrecht says. “She’s not just physically stunning, she’s emotionally very mature. She’s very aware of her surroundings. She adjusts so she creates a comfortable environment, but she doesn’t like drama. She doesn’t pull any BS, she’s very frank.”

Grant has come to realize that a lot of the East Coast directness in her persona can come across as “brusque” or “mean” to those accustomed to the equivocating vibes of California. One former manager suggested she include smiley emoji in her work emails, which could otherwise be interpreted as “harsh.” When she moved to the Bay Area in 2015 to join her mother, who had relocated, she says she experienced culture shock.

It’s tempting to use the map of her life as a Rorschach test for America. Grant was born in New Jersey to parents who have roots in the South. (Grant avoids all of “that good stuff” her mother cooks and maintains an abstemious diet during the months she trains.)

When she was 8 or 9 years old, her family moved to Pennsylvania, “because my mother wanted us to be in a better school district,” she says. “I swear to God, that was like a foreign country over there.”

From those blue-collar towns to San Francisco, she’s had a front-row seat to some of the oldest U.S. economies to the most futuristic.

Maybe it’s because she has moved so frequently, she says, that it seems like she’s always trying to fit in — to figure out how to make tough situations work. She’s keenly aware of how she’s received, starting with her name.

“I honestly think that my name has contributed to getting me where I am in life. Because when someone sees the name ‘Jessica Grant,’ I certainly don’t think that they expect me to walk into the room,” she says, referring to the fact that she is often assumed to be a white woman.

There’s no getting around that race is a running theme in Grant’s life. Hers was the rare black family in those Pennsylvania neighborhoods. And there was real prejudice, she says, so much so that the family moved.

In college in Chicago, she did some modeling, and she thought about a career on Broadway, but her slim chances of success, particularly as a black woman, dissuaded her.

Jessica Grant in her home in Emeryville, Calif. Grant works full time at a staffing company in San Francisco. Outside of work, she competes as a bikini bodybuilder.
Jessica Grant in her home in Emeryville, Calif. Grant works full time at a staffing company in San Francisco. Outside of work, she competes as a bikini bodybuilder.

“I’m so proud to see a lot more African Americans in the media these days in a lot of acting roles,” she says. “When I was younger, there wasn’t a lot of that, so I felt as though the window of opportunity for me would be much more limited than that of a white girl, or other cultures that maybe could pass for multiple ethnicities.”

“I would go into audition rooms and they’ll give me the line, and I’ll deliver the line, and they’ll say to me, ‘Okay, can you say that again but do it ghetto?’” she says. “Really? So basically the only way for me to be successful in this is if I’d be the ghetto black girl.”

Even in her current home of Emeryville, Calif., she’s aware that she’s often the only black woman in the room.

“Honestly, I think about it all the time. I really would love to have more black friends, but I hate to say it, I don’t relate to a lot of my own culture at times. Isn’t that kind of crazy, how you can be outcast from one but then can’t even relate to your own kind sometimes?” she says.

She knows she’s had an unconventional life, and she’s “just now getting to a place where I’m starting to become more comfortable with the fact that these are the choices that I made for myself thus far,” she says. “Granted, in a couple of years, will I look back at the choices I made and regret, thinking, ‘Well, maybe you should’ve did that different?’ Well, I don’t know. Who’s to say?”

Update: Grant recently changed jobs and currently works as the recruiting staff manager for Bon Appetit at the Chase Center, home of the Golden State Warriors.

The Jessicas are turning 30: Jessica Rosario

The Jessicas are turning 30: Jessica Lynch

Fort Worth