Hot Stuff – Maye Musk
Maye Musk is a model, a science nerd and a registered dietitian — and mom to Tosca, Kimbal and Elon (yep, that guy). She’s also the best proof we have that getting older truly means getting better.
Maye Musk is an outlier — and she’s living the sweet life. With a modelling career spanning more than 50 years, her face has appeared on covers of magazines like Time, Elle and Zoomer, in campaigns for Virgin America, Target and Joe Fresh, on billboards in Times Square, and even in the music video for Beyoncé’s “Haunted.” She’s recently been called an “It girl” by Vanity Fair magazine. Last year, she signed with high-profile modelling agency IMG Models, which represents supermodels like Gisele Bündchen. Musk’s motto? “At 69, I am only just beginning!”
It’s true. Every day, Musk gets about two dozen requests for speaking engagements and modelling jobs. “I have a team helping me now because I have to be careful; I can’t give talks in three different countries on the same day!” says Musk. And she’s embracing it all. “I love it when I’m giving a talk and everybody’s really enjoying it, I love it when I’m on a modelling job and they’re doing my hair and makeup and making me look better than I do, and I love spending time with my kids and grandkids,” she says. “I would say that’s a good life.”
Actually, her life reads like a movie script. One of five children, including a twin sister, Musk was born in Regina, Sask., to parents who flew the family around the world, ending up in South Africa, where Musk grew up. Every summer for almost 10 years, the family would travel the Kalahari Desert looking for the Lost City. “My mom and dad have inspired me the most in life — they had this adventurous streak in them that a lot of us have as well, but they were always good to people, kind and considerate,” says Musk. “I was very lucky to have had parents like that.”
A self-professed math and science nerd, as a teen Musk took some courses at a modelling school owned by a friend of the family. She started modelling in Pretoria and Johannesburg, doing magazine shoots and walking the runway in fashion shows. In 1969, she was a finalist in the Miss South Africa beauty competition. When she was 15, though, she was told she would be done modelling at 18. Her father told her that one needs a degree with a profession at the end of it, and she thought of dietetics. Eventually, she earned a master’s degree in dietetics from the University of the Free State in South Africa. “I like sciences, but I didn’t know I would become so excited about nutrition and people’s eating habits, and being able to change them and help them lead healthier lives,” she says. “I didn’t realize how exciting that would be.”
She dated Errol Musk on and off throughout university, and they were married in 1970. At 23 she had her first child, Elon, and Kimbal and Tosca followed within a few years. She worked at home doing nutrition counselling and modelled as well, sometimes taking the kids to fashion shows, where they would sit in the front row reading books. Two years after Maye and Errol divorced, her son Elon went to live with his dad, then moved to Canada, with his mother and siblings following him. “Life wasn’t always easy. I worked so hard, especially when we moved to Toronto,” says Musk. Here, she earned a second master’s degree in nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, where she also worked as a research officer.
With her funds blocked in South Africa, Musk found a rent-controlled apartment. “The people who were living there hadn’t looked after it properly, so we were scrubbing and cleaning for three weeks to make it liveable, and we slowly got furniture,” she says. In fact, they didn’t get a dining room table until three years later. They couldn’t afford haircuts, so Musk cut everyone’s hair herself. “It wasn’t a good job, but it’s what we could afford,” she says. There were no dinners out and certainly no luxuries.
“People would say to me, ‘Let’s go out for dinner.’ Well, I couldn’t go out for dinner because I had to pay for myself, then pay for my kids, so the first couple of years I was pretty much working and studying to get my second master’s degree.” She did it, she says, because she had to feed her kids. “I didn’t have a social life, but it was fine, and my kids were good,” she says. How did she make it all happen? Was it focus, determination, out-of-this-world organizational skills? “No, it’s just survival,” she says simply.
“You don’t have to have a huge wardrobe, but whatever you have, make sure it fits and it looks good on you. All you need to do is add a few pieces every season to update your look”
Eventually, Musk moved to New York, then to Los Angeles, after her daughter had twins four and a half years ago. “It was a good move,” she says. “I have 10 grandkids and seven of them are in L.A., so it’s really nice to be spending more time with them.” The kids range in age from 4 to 14 years old, and she likes to keep it easy. “I hang around. Depending on how many there are, I go out to lunch with them or sometimes we go out to dinner with them. Mostly I join them at home.” In Los Angeles, however, she had to give up nutrition counselling and her private practice. “When I came here, I started modelling more, and it started interfering, because modelling can be very last-minute, and in L.A., you have to drive a long way to get to an appointment,” she adds.
But she still likes to share nutrition advice. Her website www.mayemusk.com is packed with wellness tips, including lots of solid health, nutrition and exercise info. “I don’t aim to be an inspiration to everyone, but if someone asks me questions, I do have very straight answers based on my experiences and my studies,” she says. One thing she really enjoys is volunteering with The Kitchen Community, a non-profit organization co-founded by her son Kimbal that builds outdoor classrooms called “learning gardens” in schoolyards across the country. But her suitcase and her passport are always ready to go. “I love modelling — especially when there’s fabulous travelling involved. I fly a lot to New York for work and I’m always happy to come back to Toronto!”
Her biggest personal achievement? “Maintaining my weight — it’s the hardest thing ever,” she says. “I’m a dietitian, but it’s still really hard. Everyone says I’m so lucky.” It’s not luck, she says, as temptation is everywhere, especially on sets where home-baked treats are always available — but Musk doesn’t touch them. Instead she likes to eat a variety of healthy foods. “I stick to vegetables and milk and cheese and whole grains,” she says. “And fruits, which help to satisfy my sweet tooth.”
One thing you won’t find is Musk promoting no-carb, all-protein diets or meal replacement shakes. She has no time for that. “Those are all fad diets that come and go,” she says. When she talks about nutrition, she talks science and common sense. She also talks about the importance of enjoying your food. “I don’t enjoy eating a piece of meat and nothing else, I don’t enjoy not having bread, I don’t enjoy not having any carbs,” she adds. And she has this to say to people who feel it’s easier to lose weight or maintain their weight by not eating carbs at all: “I find that extreme, because I’ve never known anyone who eats too much whole wheat bread or fruits and vegetables. Nobody gains weight on that,” she says. “They gain weight more on baked goods, on fried goods or sweet goods.”
Most of all, however, Musk is passionate about her kids. “I have three children — people forget that I have two other very accomplished and delightful children,” says Musk. Tosca is a filmmaker who’s currently adapting bestselling romance novels, and Kimbal is a restaurateur who co-founded The Kitchen Community. And, of course, there’s Elon, SpaceX founder, CEO of Tesla Inc. and inventor of the Hyperloop concept, which would transport people by moving them in tubes at hundreds of miles per hour. “Elon is all over the news; I don’t have to say what he does,” says Musk. “He is a lovely son and a great father, and that’s what makes me happy, because that is the most important thing.”
At this point in her life, Musk has no complaints — and no regrets. “I’m deeply happy. I wouldn’t change my life as it is now,” she says. “Anyone who knows me doesn’t envy me over what my life has been like, but it’s at a good stage now.” She insists that even when you are going through a bad stage and terrible things are happening, you just have to carry on. “You can’t pause; you just have to do the best you can, you just have to get past it,” she says.
Maye Musk will be walking the runway for charity, featuring fashions by Sally LaPointe on Nov. 6 at the Globe and Mail Centre, Toronto, in support of George Invites Margaret to Dinner. This is the 6th fashion event produced by Lisa Corbo of the George C boutique in Toronto. Proceeds from the evening will support breast cancer restoration at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, led by Dr. Toni Zhong and Dr. Stefan Hofer. To date, more than $1.2 M has been raised for cancer research at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
If you were an item of clothing, what would you be?
A coat, so I could keep someone warm as well as gorgeous!
If someone looked in your purse, would they find any surprises?
You’d be surprised at how little I’m carrying. Everything is very organized. I don’t have much in my bag. Keys, glasses, a little pack of tissues, a nail file and lipstick.
What are your best fashion tips?
You don’t have to have a huge wardrobe, but whatever you have, make sure it fits and it looks good on you. All you need to do is add a few pieces every season to update your look.
photo by Matthew Priestly