In case you thought Instagram was just for the young, one 89-year-old great-grandmother is proving otherwise. “Baddie Winkle”, a sassy octogenarian has more than 3 million followers, companies paying her to promote their products in her posts, and everyone, young and old alike, positively entranced by the bold, slightly irreverent persona that she’s created.
Three years ago, Helen van Winkle was just your average grandma living on a small farm in Kentucky, when her great-granddaughter snapped a picture of her and posted it to Instagram. The now iconic photo of the spunky octogenarian in a tie-dyed t-shirt and cutoffs, flashing a peace sign, quickly went viral, racking up thousands of followers from droves of 13-year-old girls to Gwen Stefani and even a Kardashian. The rest is social media history, with Wikipedia calling her an “American internet personality.”
In an interview with NPR in July, Helen aka Baddie speculated about the instant success of that first photo: “I think they saw a great-grandmother that didn’t care what anybody thought about her. ‘Here’s a rebel. We like her.’”
Since then, she’s modeled a host of outlandish fashions (think sequined bodysuits, zippered mini-skirts and feather boas); walked the red carpet at celebrity events like the Grammy’s and MTV Video Music Awards; written a book titled Baddie Winkle’s Guide to Life; and expressed her opinions on everything from binge watching “The Golden Girls” to being age appropriate (she’s against it!).
Although she’s always been a self-professed rebel, there was a period when life wasn’t all Technicolor flowers and rainbows for the grandmother of eight and great-grandmother of three. After the death of her husband and son, Helen spent many years deeply grieving their loss and losing her sense of self in the process.
“Becoming Baddie completely changed things for me; truly, it saved my life,” she said in the January issue of Women’s Health. “It taught me that you walk this way just one time, so you’ve got to make every minute count and surround yourself with joy.”
Because Baddie doesn’t let her age get in the way of how she dresses and mugs for the camera, not to mention the pop stars with whom she hob knobs, it’s, in turn, starting to make her fans view their elders a little differently. Just because your hair turns gray doesn’t mean that life has to lose its color too!
Check out Baddie Winkle’s Instagram page.