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Under the Grandfluence: Baddiewinkle

Ian Chaddock

BY Ian Chaddock

17th Jul 2023 Life

Under the Grandfluence: Baddiewinkle

The first in our new series of interviews with older grandfluencers taking the internet and social media by storm, Ian Chaddock talks to fun-loving American icon Baddiewinkle, who has over 3 million Instagram followers

“Age is just a number,” goes the saying. Older grandfluencers going viral, with millions of followers, are proving that you can have fun, spread positivity and inspire people, whatever your age.

In this new series of interviews, we will talk to grandfluencers who may be older but are still living life to the full, while also fighting ageism and archaic beauty standards.

Baddiewinkle

Baddiewinkle standing in a bright outfit in front of a flowering bush
Baddiewinkle lives life colourfully. Credit: Kennedy Dechet

Helen Vanwinkle—better known as “Baddiewinkle” online—is as colourful and upbeat as the most famous influencers. She’s also now in her mid-nineties, but proving with her love for life, fashion and fun that we may get older, but the sparkle doesn’t need to fade. Having started her Instagram account ten years ago, she became famous in 2016 (while in her eighties) for her uplifting message and was seen with celebrities. Also, her motto is amazing—“Stealing your man since 1928”!

Currently working on a personal release of a range of colourful canes designed to her specific taste with her great-granddaughter Kennedy, Baddiewinkle is a hero to her millions of Instagram followers.

Life in (bright) colour

Looking chic but casual in a velour purple hoodie on our Zoom call, Baddiewinkle explains how her home state of Kentucky is “a great state with great basketball”.

Please can you tell us a little about your life before becoming an influencer? What were some of the major highlights that you look back on with joy?
“I worked, of course, for 28 years. I worked at a factory. I enjoyed my work, and I had a great time at work. I retired at 62 and the big boss came and the highlight of that was that he gave me a big kiss on the lips! (laughs) He was a great kisser. He had lunch with me and we had a great time at my retirement party.”

How did it come about exactly that you became a social media influencer at age 85? It seems like family members and Rihanna both played a part in it?
“My great granddaughter, Kennedy, convinced me to take a picture for the internet. So, I did and I was taking care of her while her mother was on a trip. She was still in high school. She would come home and say, “Granna, guess how many followers you have?” (laughs) It just evolved from there and just went viral.”

"I’ve stolen a lot of men! Men like me, and I love men! I mean... it’s been fun"

You are known for your humour, eccentric clothes and battling against ageism. Have you always been so outgoing and colourful, or has it come later in life?
“I’ve always loved colours and worn bright colours. I don’t think that my age had anything to do with the colours that I like to wear. I always liked to dress colourful.”

Your tag line is “Stealing Your Man Since 1928”. Have you ever actually stolen someone’s man?
“Oh, I’ve stolen a lot of men! Men like me, and I love men! I mean... it’s been fun.”

What are your reflections on how fashion and styles have come and gone over the years? What were some of your favourite looks from the decades?
“They’ve kind of gone back… back to the Forties, that I remember. The short dresses and things like that—the fashion is not really that different from this day and age to my day and age… it’s about the same. At least I look at it about the same. Of course, I love all fashions.”

Baddiewinkle with purple hair, a bright outfit, colourful cane and blowing a kiss
Baddiewinkle is working on a range of colourful canes. Credit: Kennedy Dechet

You’ve worked on campaigns for brands like Smirnoff and Sally Beauty and met celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Fergie. What are some of your favourite memories and best times you’ve had as an influencer?
“Yes, I have met them. (laughs) I spent time with Miley and she’s a great girl, by the way. We had a great time. With Fergie, I really loved it. We had a really good time, with her. They’re both great girls. The ad campaigns I’ve worked on have done quite well and I love to do them. It’s been fun and everybody has been so nice to me. Everybody has been super nice.”

You fight against ageism. Why do you think there is still ageism in society? Do you see yourself as an example to other older people to live their life loudly, proudly and unapologetically?
“Yes. Older people are kind of overlooked. I think I started a trend that an older person could have as much fun as a 20-year-old and look as a 20-year-old! I think, you know, the older people should begin to, and they have some, to take an example from me.”

"Older people are overlooked but I started a trend that an older person could have as much fun and look as good as a 20-year-old"

What’s the funniest thing you’ve experienced at a live event or awards show?
“Oh gosh! (laughs) They’re always funny. Before an awards show I ate a cookie… with marijuana in it. I didn’t know anything about marijuana, at the time. I’d never had any. I swear I could hardly walk! (laughs) It was so funny.”

What do you think of the beauty industry, both in the past and today? Do you think it contributes to ageism?
“It does. I think that more older people are using make up, which is good, where they didn’t in the past. I think I had a lot to do with that as well. Older people now are getting on the internet more and doing more things, and having more fun, I think.”

You fight to legalise marijuana as well. Are you happy to see the legalisation of marijuana in an increasing number of US states?
“Oh, yes. I think it should have been legalised years ago. I really do. You know, it’s everywhere anyway, so why not legalise it? I’ve learned not to eat a whole cookie of it though. (laughs)”

Baddiewinkle posing in a skin-colour bodysuit with sparkles
Living life to the full with this striking awards show outfit. Credit: Kennedy Duchet

Some of your posts get a lot of likes and comments. Is it exciting that you inspire so many people?
“I like to inspire people and I think that I do. But I haven’t been on the internet for a while, because of my health. After all, I’ll be 95 in July! (laughs) But my health is good, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve slowed down a lot, but I’m still going strong.”

What does Baddiewinkle think of 2023 compared to previous decades? Do you think the internet and social media have improved our lives?
“Yes, I think it’s improved our lives a lot. The internet is the thing, or I think it is. (laughs) Oh my gosh, I have seen so much in my lifetime. Everything has improved, from the time I remember until now. And everything just keeps improving.”

From your time as an older social media influencer, have you met and made friends with other older social media influencers?
“I have met older influencers. They’ve been on the internet and when we’ve been places, we run into each other and made friends. Don’t ask me for their names though.”

"I think the internet and social media have improved our lives a lot—I've seen a lot in my lifetime and everything keeps improving"

Are you recognised out in public?
“Oh yeah, I have a lot of that. When I go out, they’ll come up to me, talk to me and have a picture with me. That’s people of all ages.”

Do you have a message for our older readers of Reader’s Digest, especially those who might have a fear of new technology?
“Yes, I do. If you want to get on the internet and you don’t know how, get somebody to show you how. It’s very easy anyway, so the older people can pick it up right away, if they get someone who knows about it to show them how.”

Banner photo credit: Kennedy Dechet

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