Lots of people believe in dressing for their age, but Tennessee-based Helen Van Winkle does not subscribe to such hogwash. The 87-year-old sports outrageously loud outfits with peculiar prints and posts photographs of herself on her Instagram account – ‘Baddie Winkle’. With over 1.5 million Instagram followers, she has become the internet’s most popular grandma. Her account is followed by celebs like Miley Cyrus, Nicole Richie, Beyoncé, Drake, and Rihanna. She was even photographed with Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards a few weeks ago.
“I don’t feel old,” she told online magazine Refinery29. “I have never felt old. I think you can dress any way you want to.” At age 87, it looks like she’s got more spunk in her than most kids one quarter her age!
But believe it or not, the spirited Winkle was a mess a few years ago, after the deaths of her husband and her son. “You don’t know what’s going to happen to you,” she said of her loss. “I blamed God forever. I cried all the time because I couldn’t come to terms with it.”
Things changed one day when Winkle decided to have some fun with her great-granddaughter’s clothes. “I was laying out in the sun, and I put on some tie-dyed shirt and a pair of cutoff shorts of my great-granddaughter Kennedy’s. She came home and said, ‘Oh, Granny you look so cute! Let me take a pic of you.’”
Kennedy ended up sharing that photograph on Instagram and it was a huge hit – that’s how Baddie Winkle was born. Since then, her colorful outfits, activities and antics have made her an internet meme and celebrity. She now believes that reinventing herself has helped her get over years of hurt – especially the pain of losing her husband on their 35th wedding anniversary.
Winkle’s popularity has caught the attention of several big brands – they constantly send her a lot of clothing and merchandise to use in photographs. “We wear some of them, and some of them we don’t, because we don’t like them,” she said. “Most of the time, Kennedy picks what they send over. She’s my stylist, too – she helps me out a lot. Of course, she wants me to do things I don’t want to, too, but that’s neither here nor there.”
Winkle has also landed two fashion campaigns this year. She’s the face of LA clothing label Dimepiece and gets paid to attend college frat parties. She’s been photographed sporting crochet bikinis, 12-inch platforms, and bathing suits. Her Instagram tagline reads: “Stealing your man since 1928.” When asked why Miley is such a big fan of hers, she said: “I think she would like to be like me when she gets older – able to perform and sing.”
Although millions find her enduring, there’s a small band of people who do not appreciate Winkle’s provocative clothing and her support for legalizing medical marijuana. Even though she doesn’t smoke weed, some of her most popular Instagram posts contain marijuana-related merchandise, a fact that many find disconcerting. She explained why she supports the legalization of marijuana, but is against smoking it. “I see so many kids getting picked up and put in jail,” she said. “That’s why I think it should be legalized. They’re just young kids and, they get caught with marijuana and it’s not legal in the states that they live, and it’s not good to be put in jail as a young kid.”
Winkle isn’t too bothered about the criticism to her fashion style, either. “I don’t like ‘old women’ clothes,” she said. “I never wore them in my life. But I would also never be caught dead in pasties or short-shorts that show half your butt. I’ve had pictures made like that, but I just did it for the fun of it.”
“Baddie Winkle has helped me a lot – in spirit anyway,” she added. “The lessons that I have learned is to live and let live. I would love to be a role model for older people. You’re only here once in your lifetime, so have fun.” For now, Winkle’s goals are simple – to be happy, eat more chocolate, try more new things, and do a cool reality series on how to be a Baddie. But she doesn’t plan to start dating anytime soon. “I’ve been there, done that,” she said. “Men my age, are… they’re ready for the grave. They really are! They have all these aches and pains!”
Photos; Baddie Winkle/Facebook