Baddie Winkle: Stealing Your Man Since 1928

By: Kyle Johnson


Baddie Winkle, aka Helen Ruth Elam Van Winkle, is an Internet sensation at the age of 89. The once unknown and mysterious grandmother from Hazard, Kentucky, who gives fashion and pop-culture a run for their money now finds herself as the face of some of the worlds top brands. From Urban Decay to Smirnoff, the self-proclaimed rebel brushes shoulders with Fergie in her video Life Goes On, runs around with Nicole Richie on her show, Candidly Nicole, and was a guest at the 2016 VMAs where she hoped to see Drake, Miley Cyrus and Rhianna. With energy and motivation that surpasses most half her age, she’s a role model to all who believes that.

Q: Let’s start by addressing life before the Internet sensation with over 2.6 million Instagram followers known as Baddie Winkle. What was life like? How did growing up during the depression affect your family? How has that shaped your personality? What life lessons can you share?

A: Before the Internet, I lived on a small 6-acre farm and did water aerobics 3 days a week and went out with my friends and family. We would go to lunch and play cards weekly but we didn’t have money to buy toys, so we told ghost stories and rode wooden sleds and wagons down the hills of Eastern, KY. We didn’t have money to really buy anything. The depression helped shape me into a rebel. I had to fight for everything I got with 7 children and me being a middle child. I was the rule breaker of the family and I also like to wear bright coloured socks where the rest of my sisters wore ugly brown stockings. Life lessons: Don’t have many regrets. Love with all your heart and be true to yourself.

Q: As a child, were you anything like the Baddie Winkle of today? What were your sources of inspiration? Have they changed?

A: I’m exactly the same way I am now. I think westart as our true self in life and end as our true self. The middle gets muddled because we are trying to get acceptance from everyone else but ourselves. If I could go back and do it all over again, I’d say throw out all the nonsense in between and just live your life not by anyone else’s rules. Inspiration truly comes from within for me and maybe a little Miley, Drake and Rihanna.

Q: After losing your son and husband, you decided to become someone new. Tell us, why is the process of reinvention so important to you, to everyone? Why is it important for people to not give up on life? How has this process changed you?

A: When you go through a loss people deal with it in so many different ways. The loss was unbearable, especially with the loss of a child. You have to find new meaning for living. My life as I thought it to be was to be a wife and a mother. I grieved daily and had so many regrets for unspoken words to the two of them. I think my inner Baddie has allowed me to show the world it’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to change to help cope with something your fighting. Mine was becoming who I was originally as a kid, the rebel except with a cause.

I’m proud to show seniors it’s ok to keep it real. Reality is everyone is going to live and we are living longer than ever. Enjoy your time on this earth by living the way you want to live by your rules. Conformity is for the birds. Giving up on life is a death sentence for disaster. Why live if you’re going to just be dead in life. I say get off your butts and find something you love that makes you excited about life.

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Q: In a previous interview you said, “it shocks me how much people love me, but the thing is: I love my fans as much as they love me. They give me energy and motivation.” Having grown up in a time when communicating with people was a bit more challenging, how has the internet given you the opportunity to speak to people you couldn’t speak to before? What is your message? Why, and how, are your fans such an important part of this? What effect has it had on your quality of life? Had the Internet existed, would you have been Baddie earlier?

A: The Internet brings you the news of the world on Facebook, for example, quicker than it can be watching the 6 o’clock news. It also allows you to get information so much quicker than the television, which is what I am used to all my life until about 3 years ago, when one picture on Twitter changed my life forever. I’ve always been Baddie, the Internet just allowed the world to see me for who I am in time-warp speed. My message is live. Just live, but live by your own standards and conform to no one else’s standards. I’ll do me and you do you. Without my fans whom would I inspire, except for myself of course and my perception of myself is pretty lit.

Q: Having collaborated with many contemporary brands and personalities: with Urban Decay as a Monthly Muse, DimePiece in their “State of Mind campaign, and Fergie in her Life Goes On music video to name but a few, explain why collaborating interests you. What things have you found yourself doing that you never thought were possible? And, if you could choose one person or brand, one outfit and one location that you’d like to have featured in your work in the future, who, and what, would it be?

A: Collaborations are the best. I get to empower women through major well-known brands who already have a great presence in the public eye. I mean, who doesn’t love Fergie and Urban Decay is a staple in our society just like flour and salt and pepper is in my kitchen. DimePiece was my first fashion campaign and their brand stands for women empowerment. I’m helping write history I believe. Who ever thought an older women in her 80’s would be relevant in a music video with the Dutchess herself or be featured in a bathing suit streetwear campaign at one of the biggest music festivals in the United States, much less be promoting makeup for a brand that normally markets to a younger generation.

Q: Some of your flashy outfits contain slogans promoting the legalization of marijuana and other controversial subjects. Although some may disagree with your views on these subjects, why have you chosen to support them? What are your most cherished social issues? And, if you could give $100,000 to any person or cause, who, or what would it be?

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A: First of all, I’m from Kentucky where farmers have been growing tobacco as their cash crop for hundreds of years. I’m so tired and sick too of seeing young people put behind bars for smoking marijuana. There are other people like murderers and child molesters that need to be behind bars, but my true focus is medical use. I’ve watched so many news shows over the years showing young kids having to be moved by their families out of the county or to a state where medical use is legal for Chrohns disease, Parkinson’s, anxiety attacks just to name a few. It’s a plant and it’s a hell of a lot better than this man made crap that pharmaceutical companies are producing to hook our kids more on something there bodies will be addicted to forever verses a plant grown on earth.

As far as the money, hmm I’d probably give it to medical marijuana research for children to help legalize it across America so children can get help with their pain control. I’d also give some to the Red Cross as they do terrific work with those that lose their homes and some to help stop hunger right here in our back yards. Just did a national campaign for Meals on Wheels. This is an organization that delivers nutritious meals to senior citizens daily. I really enjoyed this campaign. Furthering the question of controversy, you have been a devout churchgoer for some 40 years. Do you ever feel that your outward display of expression is ever in conflict with your religious values or those associated with the Church? If so, how and why? If you can, please recount a specific example.