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Gisele Bündchen and I share a birthday—July 20—so when I, a fellow Leo-cusp Cancer showed up on her doorstep in Brookline, Massachusetts, to discuss her new book Lessons: My Path to a Meaningful Life, we became fast friends. The town is her adoptive home base, and not far from where I grew up, but the parallels between our lives pretty much end there. We chitchatted about the weather and talked about travel, then she sliced me a piece of vegan chocolate pie and went on to give me an impromptu numerology reading—Bündchen was convinced that because of our birth dates and “collective consciousness numbers,” 2018 is a big year for both of us (definitely for her with the release of this book, but personally, I’m still waiting to see how Q3 and Q4 play out). “Yes, totally,” I remember saying, eating it all up. This is Gisele Bündchen—when she offers you some vegan chocolate pie, or some numerology advice, you take it.
Lessons is not a memoir or biography, but a “journal,” as she calls it. It is a scrapbook of memories, detailing the struggle and passion that propelled her through more than two decades in fashion and the tools that she picked up along the way. To an outsider, the combination of numerology, transcendental meditation, a plant-based diet, and unrelenting environmental activism might seem like a bit of an eccentric supermodel “how does she do it all” hodgepodge. But delving into Lessons shows that each of these practices is a response or adaptation to some challenge in her life, whether it was building a career far away from home or navigating a private family life in the most public of professions. Introducing a plant-based diet and regular meditation, for example, was her way to overcome debilitating panic attacks in her early 20s. Suddenly, from dealing with work-related anxiety to chopping off her hair in the wake of a breakup, the distance between Bündchen and the rest of us doesn’t seem so vast.
Here, we spoke about writing Lessons, why Bündchen won’t rule out writing a cookbook quite yet, and why, maybe someday, she might even let her children model. Listen to an exclusive audiobook clip, below, as well.
Explain what kind of book Lessons is.
It is not a book that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, per se. It’s not a sequence of time; it’s not a biography by any means. We’re always evolving and growing, so the book was done in a very organic way, in a relaxed kind of “thought popped up in my head” way. . . . This is why it’s more of a journal. This is why it’s a collage. This is why there are 70-something images in the book because I was thinking for a person who didn’t have those experiences, sometimes a picture says a thousand words and you can go back to that time, right? So this is why I put pictures of childhood or different phases in my life.
Your book reveals a lot about your struggles with anxiety attacks and finding a sense of your own self while growing up in the fashion industry. Was it hard to go back to some of those memories for Lessons?
It was. I think there are a lot of emotions and stuff that you kind of choose not to go back [to] because they are too painful. You feel like you’re kind of past them and you don’t want to ever remind [yourself of] that again because you feel like they were . . . you know, that was a very fragile time in your life and you just think, like, you know, I’ve made it. I survived it. I meditate every day so those memories kept coming back to my awareness. I thought, If I can only reach a few people and it could be helpful to them, maybe I could do an open letter like a diary, like I’m having a conversation with them.
So, you want this book to help people.
If something was useful for you, and it helped you, you naturally want to share it because if you see others struggling, you’re like, “I want to help them.” If I went through something similar and by sharing my experience can help someone get out of that deepest, darkest place, to know they’re not alone, that’s very helpful.
What was the hardest part about doing this book?
The hardest part was going back to those moments. The panic attacks were a very tough thing because I haven’t experienced anxiety since then, when I changed my diet and started meditating. Even just talking about those moments, like, I start feeling again after so many years the feelings coming back and I’m like, I don’t want to feel that again. The way I used to eat and drink, thinking about it now I’m like, Are you kidding me? I was working 360 days a year. If I had Thanksgiving off, it was one day and then I’d be flying to London or Paris, then I would do three hours with friends and leave again. I mean, I didn’t have a life. But I suppose I had to be out of balance to understand that doesn’t work. Either you learn through experiencing something or you learn vicariously through other people . . . I mean, now I’m 38 and looking back and my perspective is so different, but at the time, you don’t have the maturity, you don’t have the experience.
What lessons would you give young models today?
Don’t take things personally. Be authentic and who you are, because if you aren’t, you’re going to lose yourself. Be ready for a fair amount of rejection because that’s the business. Fashion is like fruit salad. An apple is not going to be an orange. I love both. It’s just that some days, I feel like eating an apple and some days I feel like eating an orange. Sometimes I like the whole fruit salad! Sometimes you’re right for the job and the designer and the stylist today, but tomorrow it could be something completely different. It has nothing to do with you; it has to do with what the booker is looking for at that moment.
People are so fascinated with your unique plant-based diet. Would you ever do a cookbook?
You know, can I tell you the funny thing about this book? When I was getting ready to do this book and going through the bidding process, people were like, “Oh, here comes Gisele, she’s going to write like an ‘exercise and recipe’ book.” I think people were surprised because that’s what they expected from me. Every publisher was like “But, Gisele! You should write a book about lifestyle! About what you eat!” But there was a calling. I had this purpose, and a cookbook wasn’t that purpose. Not that I don’t think nutrition is extremely important.
Because you do end up talking about your diet just a bit in Lessons.
I do, but everything is almost penciled in. I give a little introduction. My intention was not to say that this is right and this is wrong. It’s just like I want to plant a seed and let you decide . . . I tried to give an idea of a routine that happens, like oil pulling every morning, then having hot water with lemon, and the meditation—just to give an idea. But maybe I will one day do a recipe book, because I do love food. I love, love food and I’m obsessed with desserts. I have dessert every day.
You have dessert every day? With all due respect, how?
Every single day! I must be honest with you, my thing is I have dessert with lunch. I never go a day without dessert because it makes me happy. Most of my desserts are avocado- and coconut-based because those are the best fats for the brain. Like today, this pie is made out of avocado, coconut, bananas. The crust is made out of dates and nuts, and these little coconut nibs on the top and then coconut yogurt on top, then the top part is 70 percent dark chocolate—my favorite ever—with little pecans and things on top, because it’s the best thing for your brain and for your heart, and for your happiness.
So, it’s dessert, but “guilt-free.”
Oh honey, I’m never guilty about it! I dropped the guilt. Can I tell you? That’s another thing that’s been great about the book because I think there was so much judgment and things I was questioning, you know, if I should share, should I not share. But you know what? I’m free. If people want to judge me for what I’ve experienced, I mean, it’s my life. It’s what happened. You know what I mean? I’m going to liberate myself from all of that. I can’t change what happened. So the book was liberating.
Do you ever have a “cheat day?”
You know, it’s so funny. I don’t call it a cheat day. I’m not “cheating” myself. I know exactly what I’m doing and I really think everything’s about balance. I have been a person who didn’t live in balance before, and I kind of had the consequences of that unbalanced life that broke me. I think that made me realize what the choices I want to make are. My body is my temple and just like I want to read things that are going to inspire me, it’s the same with food. I want to take things in my body that are going to be nutritious because my intention is to live as long as possible. That said, I eat dark chocolate every day. It makes me very happy. Like this morning, the kids had some friends sleep over and I made gluten-free waffles with chocolate chips, and I was like, “Hey, I’m having some of that, too! I’m not just making them for you!” So it’s not something I would have every day, but if I’m making it for the kids, I’ll have it, and I’m very happy. Everything I do has to work for me. Like, if I don’t exercise daily, I don’t feel well. I don’t feel energized. But when I wake up at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m., which is when I meditate and work out, I feel great.
Your children are obviously quite young still. But would you ever let them model?
I would let my children do anything that they think will make them happy because I don’t think that’s my decision to make, you know? I think if my parents didn’t let me leave home at 14 years old, I would have never got to experience what I’ve experienced, and even though I’m sure they had no idea what was out there in the world because I come from a tiny city of 17,000 people, them trusting me made me feel like I didn’t want to disappoint them, and I was still able to carve my own path and go through my own experiences. My parents loved me, trusted me, gave me values, and then I went into the world. That’s what I want to give my kids. Whatever my kids choose to do, I will support them and love them and be here for them no matter what.
One last question. One of my colleagues wanted to know, would you ever cut your hair?
I have! It’s funny: Tell me how many people have been in this business 23 years who have never really changed, besides me? But there was this one time I was going through something that I cut my hair. I showed up at the Dolce & Gabbana show and I remember Orlando [Pita] the hairdresser was there. I said, “Orlando, what are you doing later? Can I come to your house so you can cut my hair?” Then he cut my hair to, like, the shoulder.
Wait. Was this like a breakup-hair chop-off moment?
Yeah. It was kind of one of those moments. I was in my 20s and I was like, You know what, I’m going to cut my hair. I’m a very emotional person, as you know because you are a Cancer. It was during my panic attacks. I was going through a lot of different things that I felt like maybe it was weighing me down or something. I felt like I wanted to cut it, and I did, but nobody seemed to care. You will see. There are pictures if you search “2003,” you will see my hair in almost a bob, but it was still kind of wavy and messy. I guess [for the future] I will just keep my hair long. It is very much who I am, I think . . . If anything, I would like to have really much longer hair!
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Lessons: My Path to a Meaningful Life comes out October 2.
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