Christie Brinkley on ageism, healthy living and how a sick puppy started her career
Christie Brinkley owes it all to a puppy. Before she became a world-renowned model, Brinkley was an aspiring artist living in Paris. She brought a puppy — named Tempête — to keep her company, but unfortunately, little Tempête fell ill with distemper. Brinkley didn’t have a phone at the time — this was before the age of smartphones — so she headed to a nearby office to call a veterinarian.
“I walked into the telephoning office and this guy goes, ‘I was waiting for you to come back. I’m a photographer and I’ve got my first big job. I was thinking you have the look that they described. Will you do it?’” she explains. “It was thanks to my puppy that I thought, ‘Let me just see what it’s like and do one little thing.’” And that, folks, is the power of pets.
Brinkley, 63, held court at IMG’s offices in Manhattan on Tuesday morning to promote healthy pet aging and her partnership with Purina Pro Plan. She opened up to WWD about healthy aging for humans and their pets, ageism in the modeling industry and what it was like posing alongside daughters Alexa Ray Joel and Sailor Brinkley-Cook for Sports Illustrated earlier this year.
WWD: Do you think people are aware of the importance of healthy pet aging?
Christie Brinkley: We’re not aware of it until it’s almost too late. Dogs are aging on the inside. With the right nutrition, you can help address that and stave it off longer, just like with us. I truly believe in you are what you eat and I truly believe in the power of food to affect the way we feel and our health. It’s the same for dogs and Purina Pro Plan has spent decades studying aging in pets.
WWD: What was the first pet you ever had?
C.B.: My first pet was a kitten named Tinkerbell. She was a little blonde kitten — she was so cute. I had cats up until I moved to Paris, when I got a puppy named Tempête. It was like a little snowstorm, this little fluffy, white [puppy], and tempête is French for storm.
WWD: You’ve been a vegetarian since age 13. What’s your outlook on healthy eating?
C.B.: What I’ve always believed is the best defense against [disease] is a diet that casts a wide net. I call it my rainbow diet. I like to encompass as many colors as I can in a day because at some point, you always get these news reports that everything gives you cancer. I think that it’s really benefited me to have had this lifetime of healthy eating behind me. It’s been a great foundation. And I raised all my kids as vegetarians, too.
WWD: What are some of the values you’ve instilled in your children when it comes to healthy aging?
C.B.: Eat right, exercise and sunblock are the three things that will affect your outcome more than anything, as well as a healthy attitude. An attitude of gratitude is the formula for a happy life and I truly believe that happiness contributes to your wellbeing and to your health.
WWD: Do they follow your advice?
C.B.: They actually do. It’s amazing, but they do. Sailor and Jack, I must say, the sunblock, they’re a little lax on that. They’re just golden by the end of the summer, but at least they do try.
WWD: Earlier this year you modeled for Sports Illustrated with daughters Alexa Ray and Sailor. What was that like?
C.B.: It was really fun. Sailor had never told anybody that that was a dream of hers.
WWD: To model with you or to model in SI?
C.B.: To model in Sports Illustrated. She had never told a soul and then when this offer came along, all of a sudden it was like she just let the cat out of the bag. That was incredible for her and it was so exciting to see her that excited because Sailor used to really love to eat and tended to be on the chubbier side. She really transformed herself. She really decided she wanted to be as fit and healthy as she could possibly be.
WWD: What about Alexa?
C.B.: Alexa, it was really amazing to see her have that opportunity to be appreciated for the beauty that she is because, as Alexa calls it, she was a late bloomer. The press was really cruel to her. I can’t even talk about it without it hurting me to think about it because to see a child go through something like that at, like, nine years old, to come across an article that’s criticizing your looks. It really did mark her and she constantly has to reinforce her own internal confidence and self-esteem. It’s been a constant battle because of all of that, so it meant a lot for her to have that opportunity to just be gorgeous. My girls looked so stunning. As much as I love making it about their accomplishments rather than their looks, it was nice for both of them to have that moment to go, “OK, there.”
WWD: It’s an accomplishment when you work really hard on your body.
C.B.: It is. In the olden days, they used to say a model would be chewed up and spit out by the time she was 30 and that you, just like an athlete, have your years when you’re going to have your work and you need to exploit that moment. It’s wonderful that my industry is embracing all forms of diversity in beauty and that is now also including breaking that ageism barrier that we have allowed women in America to be defined by. They’ve been almost like prisoners of these rules that are supposed to apply to women over 30. It’s so great to see that changing as well.