Kentucky octogenarian Helen Ruth Van Winkle’s brash online persona has turned the internet’s obsession with young people on its head, writes Margaret Jennings.
IF A picture is worth a thousand words then 86-year-old great-grandmother ‘Baddie Winkle’ has proved the point beyond measure, clocking up 897,000 followers in just over a year on Instagram.
The Kentucky-based octogenarian, whose real name is Helen Ruth Van Winkle, has used the photo-sharing social media platform to strike irreverent and shocking poses, which have made her an internet sensation among all age groups.
Just over a year ago she was an unknown who simply enjoyed having fun with her grandchildren. Now, due to her provocative pictures, videos, and tweets, which smash right through the ageing stereotype ceiling, she has become an “advanced-age internet personality”, has featured in two ad campaigns and has been interviewed on Australia’s Today show.
You can see her slogan “Stealing your man since 1928” scrawled on her forehead on her Instagram and Facebook sites, or follow her tweets, including one in response to her pot-smoking video, which says: “I’m not smoking pot, I’m smoking hot.”
Amongst her social media fans are Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, and Drake, and when the ice bucket challenge went viral last year, the badass octogenarian challenged Beyonce as she poured the water over her head without a shiver.
Similar to her celeb followers, she has adopted just one moniker, Baddie, having no need for her birth-name at this late stage of her life. Though her pictures are hilarious in their incongruous blend of seniority and parody, it is Baddie’s personality that shines through in image and words.
Her interview on the Today show which can be seen on YouTube, displays her gutsy take on life, when she admits that rather than being bad, she likes to have fun. And to her detractors on social media – who ask her why she “doesn’t just die” — she has one thing to say: “Get a life!”
We hear from her great-grandaughter Kennedy how she came home one day to find Baddie wearing one of her outfits.”
I took a picture of her and put it on my personal Instagram and it just went crazy,” she explains.
“So that night we came up with Baddie Winkle and we started Twitter and Instigram and it just shot up from there.”
Baddie took to the challenge like a pure natural. And although other grandmas are now trying to mimic her style online, she says to them: “I’m unique. There’s no other grandmother like me in the world!”
Such is her growing status — with 231,000 Twitter followers at last count — it’s no surprise that marketing companies are sitting up.
Baddie was transformed in a portrait series in March into some of pop culture’s most recognisable icons — including Kate Moss and Kurt Cobain — for the launch of Brooklyn creative agency Grit’s website.
Baddie Winkle’s apparent clout with the younger generation might be reflected in why she has been unveiled as the star of an LA fashion label, Dimepiece – a streetwear brand targeting festivalgoers. It has devoted its ‘State of Mind’ campaign to her, giving it the hashtag #stateofwinkle.
Shot by photographer Nikko La Mere, she appears in the brand’s swimwear collection, posing by the pool playing with pineapples and bananas.
The clothing company commented: “Instagram sensation Baddie Winkle teams up with DimepieceLA to prove, once again, that you’re never too old to be the baddest bish in the room. The brand has always stood for timeless female empowerment and continues to encourage this mindset in their newest campaign.”
While there has been a trend in recent years to feature older women in advertising campaigns, more often than not they still belong in air-brushed ivory towers; the beauty of Baddie is that she has appeared from nowhere — wrinkles and age spots on full show, in those Instagram pictures.
She offers hope to wannabe internet stars, yes, but she is more than just that. With her feisty spirit and willingness to use social media — the medium of the younger generation — to grab the spotlight, as she heads towards 90, she is an inspiration to us all.
She adds that her bucket list has still plenty on it and thinks that, as well as sky-diving, a reality show might be on the cards. Knowing what we see of Baddie online, she may have had her tongue well lodged in her cheek as she made that declaration — or not.
Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice
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