Instagrandma Baddiewinkle Says She's 'Always Been A Rebel'

Jul 8, 2017

It's rare to talk to a celebrity who hits as many demographic heights as Baddiewinkle. She's an Instagram influencer with more than 3 million followers; she's been featured by two major cosmetics lines; and she turned heads when she wore a bedazzled nude bodysuit to the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards.

Baddiewinkle is also a great-grandmother, and at the age of 88 she's written a new book: Baddiewinkle's Guide to Life.

The Instagram star, whose real name is Helen Ruth van Winkle, says coming up with her account name was pretty easy. "I'm a bad bitch; always been a rebel. So we decided 'bad' — 'baddie.' And then my last name was van Winkle, so we put the Winkle on."

Before she became famous, Baddiewinkle lead a pretty normal life in Waco, Ky. "I had a little 6-acre farm. I took care of it by myself for 15 years," she says. "I did everything that you're supposed to do: mowed, trimmed, had a little garden. I kept busy at all times."

Then one day her great-granddaughter saw her in a pair of cut-off shorts and a tie-dye shirt and said, "Let's make a picture, Grandma, you look awful cute today."

"So I said, 'OK!' " Baddiewinkle recalls. "But from there, you know, it went viral and I was so surprised."

What did people see in that photo? "I think they saw a great-grandmother that didn't care what anybody thought about her," Baddiewinkle says. " 'Here's a rebel. We like her.' "

In her new book, Baddiewinkle shares her life story. So we had to ask: What's the key to a happy life?

"The key to a happy life — now this is my version: You're always smiling at people even though you just meet them on the street (most of the time [you'll] get a smile back), and go to church (I'm a very Southern lady), and always be kind to every human that you meet. ... I have met a lot of people and I think that they would say that about me."

Ian Stewart and Barrie Hardymon produced and edited the audio of this interview. Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It is a rare and precious moment to talk to a celebrity who hits as many demographic heights as Baddiewinkle. Ms. Winkle is an Instagram influencer with more than 3 million followers. She made a bedazzled nude body suit look positively bedazzling at the MTV Video Music Awards. She's been featured by two major cosmetic lines. She's also a great-grandmother. Her Instagram bio says, stealing your man since 1928. At the age of 88, Baddiewinkle is living her best life. And now she's written "Baddiewinkle's Guide to Life." She joins us now from the studios of WUKY in Lexington, Ky. Ms. Winkle, may I call you Baddie?

BADDIEWINKLE: Yes, you may.

SIMON: Thank you for joining us.

BADDIEWINKLE: Well, I'm very excited to be here.

SIMON: Your parents didn't name you Baddie, right?

BADDIEWINKLE: No, they did not.

SIMON: What was your name at birth?

BADDIEWINKLE: My name at birth was Helen Ruth Elam.

SIMON: Yeah. And so how did you get Baddie?

BADDIEWINKLE: Well, it was kind of a short story. After I was on Instagram, we just came up with, I'm a bad bitch. I've always been a rebel. So we decided bad - baddie (ph). And then my last name was Van Winkle, so we put the Winkle on.

SIMON: You know that word you said with a B, I think on our show, if you're over 85, you can say that on the air.

BADDIEWINKLE: Yes. In fact, I will be 89 in July the 18.

SIMON: Can you tell us about your life before you became so famous?

BADDIEWINKLE: You know, I just - the usual things. Went shopping, went to movies. I had a little 6-acre farm. I took care of it by myself for 15 years. I did everything that you're supposed to do - mowed, trimmed, had a little garden. I kept busy at all times.

SIMON: Yeah. How did your celebrity on Instagram get started?

BADDIEWINKLE: With the one picture in a pair of cut-off shorts.

SIMON: Yeah. This is the one your great-granddaughter took?

BADDIEWINKLE: My great-granddaughter Kennedy said, you know, let's make a picture, grandma. You look awful cute today. So I said, OK. But from there, you know, it went viral. And I was so surprised.

SIMON: What do you think people saw in that picture that made them react?

BADDIEWINKLE: I think they saw a great-grandmother that didn't care what anybody thought about her and could see here's your rebel. We like her.

SIMON: So I don't get a chance to ask this question of a lot of people who would know, but I think you would know.

BADDIEWINKLE: OK.

SIMON: What's the key to a happy life?

BADDIEWINKLE: The key to a happy life - now, this is my version.

SIMON: Yeah.

BADDIEWINKLE: You're always smiling at people, even though you just meet them on the street. Most of the time you get a smile back. And go to church. I'm a very Southern lady. And always be kind to every human that you meet.

SIMON: I love that advice.

BADDIEWINKLE: And I have met a lot of people. And I think that they would say that about me.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, I would and I just met you.

BADDIEWINKLE: Oh, OK (laughter).

SIMON: Baddiewinkle, stealing your man since 1928 and author of the book "Baddiewinkle's Guide to Life." Baddie, Ms. Winkle, thanks so much for being with us.

BADDIEWINKLE: Well, thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUANTIC'S "THE SOUND OF EVERYTHING (WATCH TV AND SENORLOBO REMIX)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.