When Maye Musk declares, “it seems the sky’s the limit,” it’s difficult to disagree. At age 70, the trailblazing model has broken the rules of the fashion and beauty industries time and again, achieving extraordinary career longevity in an arena where age is more of a liability than an asset.
Musk charted an unconventional path to world recognition across her five-decade career, working as dietician, earning two science masters degrees, and modeling on the side as a single mother to pay the bills. Now, the silver-haired “it” girl is redefining what it means to age gracefully as she’s landed fashion’s most high-profile magazine covers, starred in major campaigns for the likes of Target, Joe Fresh and Virgin America, walked on the runway for houses including Dolce & Gabbana, and even made a guest appearance in Beyoncé’s “Haunted” music video. Last year, Musk made history when she was named the oldest-ever face and ambassador of cosmetics giant CoverGirl.
At 70 years young, it’s clear that Musk is just getting started. “I would say my success is currently at its peak, but then again, next year there might be a new peak. Let’s find out!”
I recently sat down with Musk to discuss the power of perseverance, diversity and inclusivity in the fashion industry, and how she raised three headline-generating children, including billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.
On Her Early Years
Musk began modeling as a teenager in Pretoria, South Africa, a career which she then juggled as a single mother while building her health and nutrition practice. She credits her parents with instilling the sense of adventure, entrepreneurialism and work ethic that has guided much of her fifty-year-long career. “My parents were always hard-working, punctual. They were kind and considerate, and they thought of others. They were always doing good things.”
On Surviving As A Single Mother
Ten years after her divorce in 1979, Musk moved her family to Canada, where she raised three children alone and often struggled to put food on the table. She insists, though, that these pressures ultimately fueled her ambition. “ How did I navigate? I just had to survive ,” says Musk. “You don’t have to go out for dinner. You don’t have to go have a mani/pedi. You don’t have to color your hair or meet people for drinks. You can’t afford that, and you can’t afford the time to take off.”
An undeniable optimist, it’s hard to imagine that Musk’s rose-colored view of the future didn’t play a pivotal role in helping her to navigate life’s challenges. “I wake up in the morning happy and excited and thinking, ‘good things are going to happen.’ And by the end of the day, if nothing exciting happened, I wake up the next morning excited.”
On Building Her Brand
Once reluctant to share her successes through social media, Musk laughs that she’s since “become very comfortable bragging. It brings me work.” She’s not wrong. Musk, who has amassed close to 225,000 Instagram followers, has perfected the art of building her global brand across platforms. She credits social media with fueling the demand and opportunity for more diverse models such as herself to represent the face of all women.
On Making History As A CoverGirl
When Musk received the news that she had won the ground-breaking CoverGirl contract in 2017, she described it as the “biggest moment” of her modeling career. “Beauty is for all ages,” she announced on Twitter at the time.
The milestone sent a powerful signal of possibility to an underrepresented audience in an industry that has traditionally prized youth. “It gives so much hope not only to women not only in their 60s and 70s, but to younger women too, because they fear age less.” As Musk works alongside models fifty years her junior, she’s proud that “younger girls who were scared they’re nearing the end will meet me and tell me that they’re so inspired that there’s hope for them.”
On Raising A Family Of Entrepreneurs
The Musk siblings have their mother to thank for demonstrating the power of creating your own opportunities and defying the odds. Alongside Elon, her “genius boy,” Musk’s daughter Tosca is a noted filmmaker, and her son Kimbal is leading a sustainable food movement. “They watched me work hard and set a good example,” Musk says.
While Musk recognizes that fame and success go hand in hand with outspoken critics, she’s quick to defend her eldest child Elon who’s no stranger to controversy and setting social media ablaze. “I would say 98 percent really appreciate what he does, but those two percent that are nasty are out there in full force being nasty all the time,” she says. “My children and publicist have to tie me down when something nasty comes out because I’m ready to fight.”
On Her Best Career Advice
“Take on a profession that you enjoy, that you love doing and that you will continue to study and work hard at. And keep on going at it,” she guides. You can’t be a genius and sit in the basement and not let anybody know about it. You need to get out there.”
On Pushing Past Fear
When asked about the piece of advice she wishes she could share with her younger self, Musk reflects on the courage it takes to leave a difficult situation. She admits that she stayed in unhappy situations for too long for fear of financial loss, losing friends or starting anew. “It still has to be better than what you were in before,” Musk stresses. “You have to get out. Don’t think it’s going to change. Accept the consequences and be responsible for yourself. You can survive.”
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More Info: forbes.com