Christy Turlington Burns is a mother, a wife, a friend to many, a regular marathon runner, and a tireless advocate for women’s health across the globe. That’s a lot of proverbial hats to wear and we all know she looks good in hats.
Coming into prominence in the late 1980s, the 45 years young icon has since graced the cover of over 500 magazines, appeared in numerous music videos and films, and currently has coveted contracts with Calvin Klein and Maybelline. But the campaign that Turlington Burns cherishes most is the one she began in 2010 called Every Mother Counts, a not for profit, 501©(3) certified organization with the primary goal of making pregnancy and childbirth safe for mothers everywhere.
On the night of big EMC in New York (replete with a young hosting committee and deejays galore), Yahoo Style spoke with Christy about her growing organization, being a positive role model for her kids, her own personal style and how she keeps her mind, body and spirit strong.
Yahoo Style: Tonight sounds fun, what have some of the other EMC events looked like in previous years?
Christy Turlington Burns: We started this very fun thing. It’s become a recipe for success. We did a compilation cd with Starbucks around Mothers Day in 2011. I reached out to people to record a song inspired by motherhood. We had everyone from Roseanne Cash to Gwyneth Paltrow who did a cover of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work.” Edie Brickell wanted to help, so I asked her to perform at the actual event. She said, “I’m a little shy, can I bring my daughter to sing with me?” It ended up being amazing. I was weeping, everyone in the audience was. It was so symbolic at a Mother’s Day event to have them do it. The next year, Suzanne Vega and her daughter performed. Then last year Patti Smith and her daughter performed. I don’t know how many other mother-daughter teams there are, but I know that it’s a way for people to make an emotional connection.
YS: You speak a lot about connecting people to Every Mother Counts. Another incredibly successful initiative that EMC engages in is racing. Running. The correlation between running distances and the distance mothers have to travel in order to receive health care is an incredible association. It really brought home the essence of what you’re trying to do.
CTB: Running has been huge. We built a little presence in New York. And as we started training, we realized this isn’t so random. There was this natural resonance with the 26.2 miles, which is an important, huge number. Distance is one of the biggest challenges for mothers all over the world. So often, health care is unreachable, health services so distant. So we said, “Let’s build upon this.” We made a literal connection with the distances; and people could relate that much more.
YS: What are some of the more personal stories that have sprung from this relationship between EMC and its runners?
CTB: Some people find they can only run the marathon by associating with a charity. This one guy randomly joined based on the fact that his wife was pregnant. And it dawned on him, “Oh my gosh, if we lived in another place, with less than ideal health care…” So often the connections that people are making on their own are stronger than the ones we can provide. Sometimes it’s as simple as coming to an event, or hearing someone speak on the matter.
YS: Talk about relating to a cause.
CTB: The beautiful thing about the issue we’re dealing with is that the thing is preventable. When we talk about the issue, that’s really the point that drives it home for most people. This isn’t an issue where we’re waiting for a cure. It’s a huge realization. Every birth and every life can impact the community. One life at a time. The ripple effect is huge. We know how to do it. We just need more people to know about it. The great thing about the U.S. is that you can shop for the right doctor. There are more choices than we realize. You can be prepared for the thing that hopefully won’t happen.
YS: This work you do. It doesn’t feel like it would be possible if you were some sort of insincere hack. You’re in a stable relationship of over 10 years with a couple of adorable kids I guess my question is: how do you do it? What’s the secret?
CTB: It’s the classic 21st century question for women. I wouldn’t say I like the word “balance,” because it doesn’t feel sustainable. I like “integrating.” You need to integrate everything. I have my family, which is my main thing; the organization; a modeling career. All these things are important, but family definitely comes first. I do understand that I have the luxury and the flexibility to take the time to do what I need to do… But I couldn’t do any of these things if I didn’t have a partner. He has a flexible life and schedule, too. It’s not a thing we planned, but we happened to have a daughter and a son so having a relationship that feels equal and with balanced gender roles is important. I want my daughter to see that I am a professional and have commitments, but that I’m there when the family needs me, and so is their father. In some cases, more so.
YS: So you know we can’t do this interview without a question of style. You pull it off so effortlessly, I’m sure it angers some people! What’s your angle on that?
CTB: Oh, I’m hardly stylish! I’m such a mess. I don’t even think about what I’m going to wear; it’s the last thing I think about. Not that I don’t think about nice things…luckily I have these relationships, so I reach out to Calvin Klein for events. Otherwise I would pretty much be wearing the same black suit to everything. After so many years in the fashion business, I went so far in the opposite direction. It’s just not natural to me. It’s like “Ugh, I just want things to be easy, comfortable.” Practicality. It’s the whole less-is-more thing. I used to have more help with [dressing myself]. Now it’s, “Oh gosh, I don’t have someone looking ahead to tell me, ‘Oh, you might need to think about what you’re gonna wear for this or that event.’”
YS: Does that go back to setting an example for your kids?
CTB: Yes. So far we haven’t had clothing drama in middle school. The good thing is I’m not setting that precedent; it’s better for her not to be thinking about those things. Style is something you either have or don’t have. I feel like the thought of focusing that much energy into it, apart from basic hygiene of course, she doesn’t need to see me all precious about my clothes and stuff.