She has three children: Elon, a founder of PayPal and Tesla; Tosca, a filmmaker; and Kimbal, a founder of The Kitchen Community, a nonprofit that builds gardens in schools.
Below, she discusses her modeling trajectory, her decision to stop dyeing her hair, nutrition and eating disorders in the industry, and her family.
How did you feel when you found out you would be CoverGirl’s newest ambassador?
I just love that CoverGirl wants to do diversity. They haven’t had a model this old in their campaigns. I’m turning 70 in April of next year. I think that women will be really inspired to see that even at 69 you can get a beauty campaign.
Aging has been good for me. You develop confidence, you’re able to handle the knocks a little easier. I model for my age. I’m not trying to hide it and say I’m 50. I’m so proud that I’m going be 70.
I don’t dye my hair. It’s so fabulous. I had brown hair for so long. I was always getting my roots done. Sometimes I did it myself because I couldn’t afford to go to a hair salon. When I turned 60, I decided to see what color I am underneath. I started dyeing my hair a very light blond and then I let it grow out. I cut it very short.
And what happened? Suddenly I have all these editorials and bookings, and everybody is loving it.
When did you first start modeling?
At 15. I was a science nerd. I have two science degrees. I enjoyed the sciences, nutrition, so I always modeled part time, thinking it would end. And it hasn’t, of course. “Just getting started” is my hashtag. I had three kids in three years, so that slowed me down somewhat. I was 28 and the oldest model in the city.
What advice would you give to young models today?
Be nice to everybody. Keep your brain active. Read a lot.
Did you ever involve your kids in your modeling work?
When I didn’t have a nanny, the shows weren’t long, so they would have their books and sit in the front row. I tried to get them to model, but they found it boring. They didn’t have iPads back then. When you’re on set you stand a lot and you wait, wait, wait. Tosca was doing runway with me and she was about 11, and they did her hair in a style she hated and she refused to step on the runway. And I said, “That’s the end of your modeling career.” And that was fine with me, too.
What do you love about makeup?
For me, it makes a huge difference because my face is pretty plain, and I’m very fair with very few eyebrows and very short eyelashes. Makeup transforms me. I feel like I’m in disguise when I walk my dog without makeup on.
I was 12 or 13 when I started experimenting. At 15, I was modeling. I had to do my own hair and makeup. I also made my own clothes because I grew up in South Africa, where fashion was six months behind because of the seasons.
We wore a lot of makeup. It took us an hour to get ready. The eyelashes on top, the black eyeliner in the crease of the eye that you can see in photos from the ‘60s, the beehive hairstyle.
The modeling industry has a lot of issues with eating disorders and underweight workers. What’s your perspective on that as someone who studies nutrition?
There are models who are naturally skinny, but the thing is that many of them are emaciated. You can tell because they have hirsutism. There’ll be some hair on their face. It’s to protect their body and keep it warm because they’re too skinny. They also don’t have good energy. I’m surprised how many of them can do so many shows.
Modeling agencies would send me their models. If they were a swimsuit model, they would have to lose 10 pounds to do runway. I would say, “You’re perfect. You don’t need to lose weight.” They would say, “But I have to lose 10 pounds to do couturier work.” I would say, “You have to eat perfectly. You have to keep your energy, and you can’t look gaunt or tired. You can’t share pizza with your friends, you can’t have alcohol, you can’t have dessert.” That’s hard for young girls.
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