“The Body” at 50: How Elle MacPherson’s Redefining Aging

Bobbi Brown
·Editor in Chief
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Photo: Bryan Adams Trunk Archive

I recently saw Elle MacPherson at the beach. “The Body” was sporting a teeny bikini, looking more gorgeous than ever—at 50. During our interview, the supermodel and entrepreneur revealed that tackling beauty from the inside out is her most potent anti-aging trick. She talked openly about her weight, the procedures she’s experimented with, and her surprising go-tos for looking and feeling great.

The busy mom of two boys just moved from London to Miami to be with her new husband Jeff Soffer, and followed up her collection of Body lingerie for JC Penney with a super green powder elixir that she developed with a top nutritionist in London, Dr Simone Laubscher. The Super Elixir promises to deliver beauty from the inside out, a philosophy she says is really the ultimate secret to staying gorgeous, “I truly believe nourishment is the number one place to start, particularly for women at my age.” MacPherson’s proof of the power of aging gracefully; read our candid interview below for more.

BB: I have known you for so many years, and you still have the exact same personality since the day I met you as a young model.

EM: I feel like I struggled so much with being a model in my early days because on the surface it seemed so narcissistic and competitive. I certainly didn’t feel like I fit in at all. I couldn’t find the sense in the whole business for quite some time. It took me a while to figure out that it represented independence, education, freedom, and a perfect avenue for me to be creative. It took me some time to figure out how wonderful the industry was and how I could really grow within it.  

BB: It’s a big surprise to hear you say that—I couldn’t imagine you not fitting in.

EM: It was just growing up in Australia and not being exposed to fashion, glamour or beauty, or a jet-set lifestyle or travel. I was just a fish out of water. Not only because I had such an active upbringing, but I had come from so far away. Moving to New York City and learning how to wear clothes and working for Vogue was a big change. I wasn’t like Linda Evangelista who grew up studying fashion and knew all the photographers names before she was even photographed. Fashion and beauty were just not part of my DNA growing up.

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BBP How old were you when you came to New York to model?

EM: I was about 17.

BB: It must have been quite a culture shock.

EM: It was! I came for a few weeks to do some modeling so I could earn money to buy books because I was going back to Australia to start law school. I didn’t really think I would just move to New York. But what was supposed to be six weeks, became three months, then it became 30 years away from home. It wasn’t like I just picked up and left and was like, “Oh I am moving to the Big Apple.” I thought I was going on an internship and it just became a whole life.

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Elle holding up her 1987 Sports Illustrated Cover. Photo: Getty Images

BB: What was the biggest challenge for you in those early days?

EM: There was no bad part, but learning how to dress for the wintertime in NYC was new. I wore jeans and high heel shoes in the middle of a snowstorm! It didn’t come naturally. I was young and didn’t have money to buy clothes, but you were expected to look fashionable and gorgeous all the time. In the ‘80s you were the girl in the image 24/7: you went out to dinner like that; you arrived to work like that, to the airport. You were that iconic image around the clock. That is very different from the girls today who go to work and become their persona. We were the persona all the time.  I struggled in the beginning because I didn’t have the resources and money, so I put together what I could.

BB: I was a young makeup artist at that time and New York was such a scene. I tried to do the clubby thing and it didn’t really sit well with me. What about you? Did you hang out at Studio 54?

EM: Yes, I did the club scene, but I did it at arms distance. I used to go to the Roxy and Palladium. I would work during the day and I would come home in the evenings and sleep from 5 p.m. on. Then I would wake up at midnight and be out to 2 or 4 a.m., and go back to sleep for a few hours before going to work. I loved it because it was so vibrant and interesting, and scary even. There was so much going on. I guess I liked the adrenaline rush. It made me feel like I was a part of a cultural movement as well.

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BB: Who was the most interesting person you met back then?

EM:  There were a lot. Michael Jackson, Andy Warhol, and Diana Ross. It was quite electric. I started buying art very early on, Basquiat and Warhol. It had a different connotation for me when I would meet the people who knew them. I met pretty much everybody whether it was presidents or the Dalai Lama. It was a time when you could meet people quite easily.

BB: [Laughing] I assume you didn’t meet the Dalai Lama at The Roxy.

EM: [Laughing] No that was The Palladium.

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Elle MacPherson at New York’s Fashion Cafe in 1995 Photo: Getty Images

BB: It sounds like a crazy time—did you think about exercise and wellness back then?

EM: I did and I didn’t. At the time, it was very fashionable to be thin and fine, but my center was more Amazonian. I had to find that balance between being strong, with strong muscle definition and strong shoulders, and still being able to wear couture clothing. That was a bit of a struggle for me because if you wanted to be successful in the fashion industry, it required a different body type. I was prepping for fashion, but I was more Sports Illustrated, shape-wise. Sports Illustrated really required you to be sporty and sexy, and have your curves, but that kind of body doesn’t really work for couture. I would juggle my weight according to what I was doing, and I found that really difficult. I didn’t think about whether I was being healthy. I just felt like I had to use my body as a tool.  I would do things like put on 35 pounds for a movie. Then I would take myself to Harbor Island and run and swim and get tan to prepare for Sports Illustrated. Then I would have to get lean when I wanted to do fashion. It wasn’t something that I thought about from a wellness perspective.  I just did what I had to do in order to survive in the industry and do the work that I wanted to do.

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Elle MacPherson walking the Perry Ellis runway in 1987 Photo: Corbis

BB: Did you have a difficult relationship with food, like so many models, or did you just have the knowledge and control to be able to change your body?

EM: I didn’t have an eating disorder, but probably all of us suffered from sort of disordered eating. Whether you are working so hard that you don’t eat, or you are very careful with your food for work and then you let it go when you’re off. Either way, that is sort of a disordered way of looking at food. Now that I am 50, health and wellness is hugely valuable. I see so many people my age who are not well, so I value it. When I was younger I took it for granted because I was naturally healthy.

BB: I know learning how to really be healthy was a big thing for you. How did you get there?

EM: Since 2003, I made a conscious decision to rethink the way I was approaching my health and wellbeing. I started natural alternative therapies including acupuncture, naturopathy, craniosacral work, and osteopathy. I was taking a lot of supplements to make sure that my cells were clean and working well. However, a couple of years ago, it slowly started not working anymore. So I went to see a nutritionist, who specializes in the alkaline diet. She noticed a correlation between wellness and an alkaline diet, and cancer with an acidic body. She told me I wasn’t sleeping enough, I was too stressed, and my cortisol levels were too high. She worked to balance out the PH levels in my body, and gave me this super green powder to help balance out the acid build-up in my body. Together we started tweaking it to make the optimum formula, which is now my Super Elixir. My body felt so much better. My sugar cravings diminished, I had more energy. It was a big change.

BB: Did you also quit smoking and drinking during that time?

EM: I quit smoking, I stopped drinking and taking any prescription medicine—even aspirin and coffee. I just don’t take anything.  Now I drink coffee, but I didn’t for many years.

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'The Body' at 50 Photo: Bryan Adams Trunk Archive

BB: What do you do to stay in such killer shape? You are still wearing bikinis and modeling your lingerie line at 50.

EM: I do a bunch of different things. I am spinning a lot, I either swim for an hour along the beach or in the pool, and sometimes I walk knee deep along the beach. I am doing Ashtanga Yoga which I really like. I also like to hike, downhill ski, and water ski.

BB: What do you eat to stay strong?

EM: I am constantly tweaking my diet according to how I am feeling. In the fall, I know it is time to start eating warm food like root vegetables and broth. In the summer I like more raw foods, including vegetables and a lot of grains. I always have a grain protein, and maybe an animal protein, often fish. I love buckwheat, barley, quinoa, spinach, and kale. I think that is from growing up in Australia, my taste buds were cultivated from a young age.

BB: There are so many advances with beauty right now, what are your thoughts on injectibles and procedures?

EM: Different strokes for different folks. It really works for some people, and not for others. I don’t have a moral view on it, but from my own experience, my face looks better natural. That’s not everybody’s experience.

BB: Have you ever tried Botox?

EM: I’ve tried everything honey, you name it! And I don’t mean just beauty procedures: I’ve tried everything—from extreme sports to extreme nights. And that is how I can make wise decisions on things, because they are based on experience.

BB: Is there anything you recommend women try, or do you think it is all about aging naturally?

EM: I truly believe in beauty from the inside out: get your body well, functioning well on a cellular level, and that will iron out a lot of the issues that you may think can be helped with a quick fix. I truly believe nourishment is the number one place to look, particularly for women at my age.

BB: It is certainly working. I saw you on the beach in a bikini and I thought Oh My God. For anyone who thinks you can’t be even more beautiful as we age, they are wrong.

EM: It’s funny when I saw you that day I thought, Oh no, she is seeing me at my worst!

BB: That’s the way so many women think—we are so critical of ourselves. It’s so easy not to feel confident. I know because in my career I am always standing next to models, and I learned early on not to compare myself. So let’s talk about confidence, have you ever been at a place where you didn’t feel confident and beautiful?

EM: Yes I do all the time. It’s funny because one day you can feel great and then 24 hours later you don’t, but all that has changed is your perspective. When I feel bad, it’s usually because I haven’t had enough sleep, water, and exercise to get my endorphins going. Without those core things we can really see the world very differently. I have also learned that I have a way of promoting my qualities and not my insecurities to the outside world. If I feel like my arms are in great shape, that is what I am going to showcase. I try not to focus on weight I’ve gained, or if my skin is really dry, but on what is working and making sure that is what people notice.  One of the things I’ve noticed, that I want to share with other women, is that I vacillate between 10 and 15 pounds. And when I’m heavier no one ever says, “She’s put on weight.”  People don’t notice.

BB: This is one of those things that I think all women deal with, and very few celebrities talk about. Thank you for sharing that you experience the same thing that all of us do.

EM: I do, but maybe I don’t experience it in the same way. Because when I see that it has happened, I ask myself, “What am I not doing for myself?”  Usually I am not sleeping or drinking enough water. I’ve learned that if I want to be in optimum form, I have to sleep eight hours a night and drink about two liters of water. Once I start getting back on track, it is really about the attitude. About women saying to themselves, “I am beautiful no matter what.” It’s fake it ‘til you make it sometimes.

BB: So even someone like Elle MacPherson has the same issues! Thank you for being so open and candid.

EM: You, too. You have grown from having your own business to creating this new inspiring platform for women. It is so nice of you to take the time to talk to me.