PHOTOGRAPHY BY ERIK TANNER
STYLING & WORDS BY ELIZABETH CABRAL
Maye Musk hasn’t thought much about how to achieve purpose in her life – she just DOES. “It has never occurred to me that I should achieve purpose in my life. I really just worked to survive most of my life, and now I’m having fun because I’m having to struggle less and that’s a good feeling. Now, is that a purpose?”
Musk was a multi-hyphenate career woman decades before “slash careers” were even termed. At the outset, it is Musk’s notable and current success as a high fashion model at seventy years old (after over five decades in the business), that has brought her recognition. Musk is also a respected dietician and nutritionist with two master’s degrees, a motivational speaker and a philanthropist. But beyond all her professional success is the legacy of three highly accomplished children of which she raised as a single mother through both peaks and valleys.
“I don’t really talk much about my struggles. I had to survive and there was a lot of adversity in my life, more than most of my friends and family have ever had and they don’t envy my life at all. But if I start talking about it, I become angry because I think it’s unfair. So now I don’t talk about it, I just say it was hell and now I’m having a good time!”
At fifteen, Musk began modeling, her mother and sisters by her side taking her to shoots, being her dressers and guardians. “I was well looked after. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d gone to Europe alone at fifteen.” By twenty-two Musk was married and pregnant with her first child and so began a decades-long balancing act all too familiar to women everywhere.” My children saw me working all the time. Always! As a dietician and as a model and so they always saw that happen and anything they wanted to do, if I thought it was good for them or for people or for the world, I was then happy that they would do it.”
“As a dietitian in private practice for thirty years. I was working to survive but I was also helping people to eat better. I still receive messages from clients of forty-five years ago saying how I helped them.” Now, with newfound fame through modeling, Musk has gracefully parlayed nutrition and health into a philanthropic pursuit and has been able to provide others the inspiration and motivation to find their own purpose. She’s also a beautiful reminder that success doesn’t just come at any one point in life “I seem to be popular now, people feel that I’m obliged to share my knowledge and experience and life with them because they just feel it’s inspirational at seventy.”
“You just do what you think would be good for the world and good for society…”
Empathy and philanthropy are part of the Musk family lineage, “My parents were always that way and my brothers and sisters too. You just do what you think would be good for the world and good for society. I didn’t know of course, at seventeen when I went to study at university, how important dietetics would be and how much you can share your knowledge to keep people healthy.”
“Growing up in South Africa and Canada, you don’t talk about beauty, you talk about being a good person.” Not surprisingly then, her three children have followed her lead and have pursued their own careers rooted in altruism and compassion, advocating for sustainability, empowerment and education. Her first son, Elon Musk, is the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX and a vocal champion of environmental and space exploration research. Daughter, Tosca Musk co-founded Passionflix, a film company that adapts best-selling romance novels and is focused on female empowerment, committed to hiring only female directors and portraying strong female leads. But it is her second son Kimbal who channeled their shared passion for food and nutrition in to a philanthropic initiative, Big Green.”
“Kimball started with his one restaurant, The Kitchen, and he quickly realized that he wanted to support children in underserved schools who do not have any access to vegetables or don’t know about them or cannot afford them or don’t know how to include them in their diet. He felt, well, we’ll do a garden in the school and let the children grow their own vegetables. But then he found that, you can build the garden and help them plant it, but then you need someone to teach them how to grow these vegetables properly and how to pull them out of their dirt and clean them and cook them and prepare them and eat them, and school teachers don’t always have time for all that.”
The foundation now called the Big Green company was built in order to create a replicable, scalable school garden solution. They now have at least 100 gardens in any given community in Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver and Memphis. With over 400 staffed vegetable gardens in schools, Big Green has also developed a nutrition and science curriculum that allows children to sit in their school garden and learn about science, biology and nutrition. They currently reach over 250,000 students around the country each day, and hope to expand the Learning Gardens and programming to ten total regions by 2020, reaching 500,000 students in 1,000 schools.
“It’s so exciting for the children! At a recent fundraiser, three of the children in the program told us how amazing it was for them to have a vegetable they had never tried and they never knew and never come across, a vegetable they could actually grow and eat and then take home to their family and share nutrition information with their family because in order to get a healthier America, we’re going to have to start with these children educating their parents.” Big Green is not just providing them with the food, it is giving them the tools so that they can sustain this kind of lifestyle and understand why it’s helpful and important. “I get excited when I talk about it, I mean you know he’s my son, he’s doing such good work, it’s just wonderful.”
Maye can often be found supporting Kimbal, fundraising and opening new sites for Big Green, as well as giving motivational lectures on the importance of health and nutrition in our current society. Here, Kimbal speaks with his mother about their shared passion:
Kimbal – What was the moment you realized nutrition was your passion and you could use nutrition to give back to those in need?
As a 17 year old, nutrition wasn’t my passion, science was. My dad said it is best to have a profession after your degree, so I chose dietetics. The first two years were with medical students, the second two years I specialized in nutrition, graduating as a dietitian at twenty-one. I still didn’t know what I would do with this. At twenty-two, after falling pregnant on my honeymoon, the only option was to start a private practice from home. That is when I really started enjoying my new profession. People really wanted help to improve their eating habits and be healthy. This made them happy and more confident. Changing people’s lives is very fulfilling to me.
How do you think nutrition education will revolutionize our youth culture?
The youth of today are seeing diabetes and it’s complications in their friends and family, which is scary. Nutrition education will teach them to eat better and have plenty of energy, while preventing diseases. Big Green is doing a great job asking students to share their information with their family and community.
What is the one thing every person should know about healthy eating, and what do you hope people will do with the information and tools you’re providing?
The one thing every person should know is to eat real food. With children growing their own vegetables at their schools, and receiving sound nutrition advice, they will share this with their family, leading to healthier communities. Children will encourage their friends and family to bring nutritious foods to their get-togethers. Instead of chips, they will have vegetables they’ve grown.
What were the three things you nailed and the three things you did not in guiding your kids eating habits
Nailed: 1. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit. 2. Eat whole-grains and low-fat dairy. 3. No junk food in the house.
Not nailed: One thing – I have a huge sweet tooth, and most of us can give in to temptation. Kimbal doesn’t have this sweet food and has always loved cooking with fresh foods.
Who inspires you in the nutrition world and why?
Nutrition research inspires me, as scientists work so hard to show that healthy eating will result in better health.
It seems obvious that Musk’s physical and mental wellness is a direct result of her commitment to eating well, but if you ask her what her secret to ageless beauty is, she emphatically declares, “Happiness! Being unhappy every day is aging. When you can wake up in the morning and are happy for the day, then that is anti-aging. You need to look forward to everyday.”
“You still have to wear your moisturize and sun protection, all that too, but you don’t talk about your miserable life because that’s aging. As soon as I meet a person who tells me how miserable their life is, I say “You’re actually privileged! You probably have good food to eat, somewhere to live and you are dressed nicely.” I had been through a lot of struggles, more than anyone can imagine, but if you’re always honest, always work hard, do the right thing – there will be people that will try to stop you and you need to move away from those people. If you’re in a work or personal relationship and it’s not working out, it’s just not worth it to be unhappy every day. Being unhappy everyday is aging!”
Given her past, one wouldn’t fault Musk for getting caught up in the excessive material luxuries that are easily accessible to her today, but her integrity and grounded nature won’t allow it. “I feel privilege that I can afford a roof over my head, something to eat and clothing.” Feeling privilege for things most of us take for granted every day.
Musk is grateful for her success but genuinely revels in the simpler things. “I’m not a big collector of stuff, don’t forget I was indigent most of my life. So, I didn’t gather anything, I’m very frugal with everything. My parents went through the depression in Canada so I grew up frugal, we were very careful with our spending.” “As a teenager I wanted to wear fashionable clothes so my mother sent me to a pattern cutting school so I could learn to make them myself. I would buy a pattern and then I could cut it according to the style I wanted to make and then we would buy our own materials. I wanted to make bell bottom pants, you couldn’t buy them because we were in the southern hemisphere which is six months behind in fashion. So, I would make bell bottom pants, I would make tank dresses, I would make suits and I could make my own belts and button holes and all that. My mother had gotten me a Bernina sewing machine and I could do everything. I grew up that way. Even now if I need something, I could make it myself. “
Asked of her most valued possession, Musk’s answer is both sentimental and pragmatic, “Well there are my photos over the years, but then I’ve got them on Dropbox now so…But I used to say if the house was burning what would I take? I would take my photos. But now I can scan them and put them on Dropbox and access them anywhere.”
At seventy year’s old most people would think that their best years are behind them, but Musk throws that theory on its head, instead her curiosity and perseverance drive her forward in seeking out adventure and experience. She is now getting the best modeling work of her career thanks to the fashion industries more inclusive attitude towards age. She travels the world giving inspirational talks on surviving as a woman, being entrepreneurial, how to eat well and modeling. Much like her own children learned from her, the apple didn’t fall far from the family tree for Maye either, “my mum worked until she was ninety-six. She was an artist and she would exhibit every week in Canmore, Saskatchewan until she was ninety-four. She was shaking a bit by then so she learnt computer art and she exhibited computer art until ninety-six. When she couldn’t walk and was in a wheel chair she read voraciously, she read everything she could get her hands on.” “She was curious about everything and very wise. When she was in her nineties she did a one hour show with Neil Cowards play for the oldies. But I don’t know when she memorized it, when did she memorize it?! She died at ninety-eight a very happy woman. Very happy. She never needed anti-aging.”
If her mother is any indication Maye Musk is just getting started. She’s already lived many lives in her one lifetime, decidedly and resourcefully, always looking forward and finding a way to get there. Through life’s adversities and successes, going with the flow of technology, of motherhood, of career, she is a master of perseverance. As the saying goes “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish you feed him for a lifetime”, it seems Maye Musk is not done teaching the world to fish.
MODEL, MAYE MUSK, IMG
MAKEUP, AIDAN KEOGH, HONEY ARTISTS
HAIR, MICHAEL SILVA, THE WALL GROUP
FASHION ASSISTANTS, ALEXA LEVINE & SOLENNE TADROS