She’s a single mother of three boundary-breaking entrepreneurs, the owner of her own practice as a dietitian, a CoverGirl — oh, and did we mention she’s 70? Maye Musk is thriving. Whether giving interviews about her famous son Elon or showing off her elegant white hair in major beauty and fashion campaigns, Musk seems to hold the secrets to aging gracefully — and mega-successfully.
Though modeling now takes up most of her time (that plus her kids and 10 grandchildren), Musk's first love was science. "I liked microbiology, biochemistry, physics, all those kind of topics. There wasn't the Internet then, so I had no idea if it was [common for women]. That's what I wanted to do, so I just did it,” says the Canadian-born, South African-raised Musk, who studied to become a dietitian. “My dad said, ‘You might as well have a career at the end of your degree." She ended up launching her own private practice, working at the University of Toronto's research office, and teaching about nutrition — all while working gigs in another field she's always loved: modeling. It’s hard to imagine Musk's entrepreneurial sons Elon and Kimbal as well as her filmmaker daughter, Tosca, haven't been influenced by that hustle.
The science of modeling: Musk started modeling when she was just 15 years old, but she didn't think it would last a full decade, let alone more than five. “In the ‘60s, by the time you’re 21, you [were] quite an old model,” she says. “I thought I would be done by 18, because that's what people told me. ‘Wouldn't last past 18.’ And that was okay. I hadn’t been signed anyway, so fortunately my nutrition work [became] my stable income.” After graduating from university in South Africa with her dietetics degree, Musk worked as a dietitian and eventually opened her own practice while consulting in the food industry, giving talks, and doing media work related to nutrition.
When Must was 28, her agency called, saying they needed an "older" model for a mother-of-the-bride modeling gig, and Musk was thrilled. “At 28, I was the oldest former model that they had,” she says. “It was surprising that they'd pay me so well. I started mother-of-the-bride and just carried on modeling.”
Overcoming obstacles: The Musk's bank account wasn't always flowing. She worked hard to follow her dreams while raising her family as a single mother after separating from husband in the late '70s. “As a dietitian, to start your practice (I started in 8 cities, three countries), you have to actually go and meet with doctors so that they’ll send patients to you,” she says. “You go to 100 doctors; four will send patients to you. Over time, the patients send their friends to you, and you build up your practice that way. It’s a long process.”
Eventually, Musk decided to move back to Canada, where, in addition to running her business as a dietitian, she worked in the research office at the University of Toronto, still making sure to reserve time for modeling gigs that came her way. "I really worked long hours,” she says. Musk and her family lived in a rent-controlled apartment without furniture and had no car, but that didn’t matter, she says — they were happy. “I had enough to pay for the rent. We cleaned [the apartment] all up and couldn't get furniture. But we were okay with that,” she says. “As long as you have a roof over your head and food, you can survive until you start making a [better] income.”
Food philosophy: “I'm not in philosophy! I followed science,” Musk says with a laugh. For her, the science of healthy eating comes down to common sense. She believes in listening to your body and limiting your exposure to unhealthy foods that siren-call you into the kitchen. “For example, sometimes I love brie cheese, so I can't have it in my home, because I'll polish it off. It’s enough for me to have it when I go to restaurants.” Instead, Musk fills her home with fruits, vegetables, and proteins to curb her sweet-tooth cravings. “I can probably eat more dessert than anybody else.”
A model renaissance: In last two years, Musk’s modeling career has become her primary focus, and she’s loving every minute of it. “I'm just enjoying it because I'm flying all over the world and having so much fun. I'm not lining up for auditions with 300 women for an hour and then getting ignored. It's a real good change,” Musk says. “Now, everybody wants a 70-year-old model in these shoes, on that campaign — I've been very popular.”
Decades of fashion know-how: Musk says that in the past, modeling jobs depended heavily on agents who would send out models' portfolios and get them booked on gigs. If you nabbed a bad agent, you were out of luck. “I had one agent [like that], and I couldn’t get out of my contract. So I wasn’t getting any jobs. That was very painful,” Musk says. “If I'd been stronger, I would have gotten out sooner. And when I did leave that agency, I got the billboard in Times Square, billboards in Madison Square Garden, campaigns, because people said they'd been wanting to book me forever, but my agent had said I wasn't available.”
Now, she's not afraid to end relationships that hinder her, professionally or personally. “If you stay in relationships too long that are not working and you're unhappy, you need to get out of that,” Musk says. “I can tell you that now because I should have done it in my life, but I didn't. I always thought people would change and I could make them change, and you can't.” Learning that has made her “a very happy person," she says. "I mean, I've been through hell in my life, and I won't discuss that because then I’d become bitter and angry. But now I’m in a good stage of my life."
#Inspo: Musk is basking in her golden years — and particularly enjoys inspiring others to do the same on social media. “On Instagram, people say I'm their ‘goals.’ One person said, ‘I can't wait. I want to be like you in 51 years.’ Okay, so a 19-year-old wants to be like me? It's quite funny,” Musk says. The veteran model/entrepreneur is proud of her contributions to both science and modeling. “It seems like young women are excited that they can work and look stylish all their life, and then women my age say it's inspiring to know that they don't have to be in the background anymore. They can actually be recognized for whatever they're good at in their own field [at any age].”
Raising self-starters: Musk admits she would have loved it if her three kids stayed in Toronto, attending the university where she worked. “I was on staff there and it would have been free for them, or close to free!” she says. “But they wanted to study business, and Tosca wanted to study film, and they went their own way.” To do so, Musk insisted that her children take take their educations into their own hands, which likely helped them in the long run. “They had to fill out their own forms to get into school and get their own loans, because I wasn’t going to do that. I gave them an option and they chose to be responsible for their own careers and their own studies,” Musk says proudly. “I think I learned from my parents, who also [taught me] how to work hard and to be a good person, because the thing is, if you're doing good things and you're feeling good about yourself and you're successful, it does set a good example.”