The Stunning Transformation Of Christy Turlington

One doesn't have to be a fashion junkie to know who Christy Turlington is. In the prime of her glorious career, the supermodel was a ubiquitous presence across fashion magazines, global runways, brand endorsements, and that one eternal video for George Michael's "Freedom." She got an early start in the business as a teen, quickly making her way up the charts through the 1980s and into a core group of celebrity models who changed the modeling game forever. In a fast-evolving industry notorious for ephemeral successes, Turlington retained her top spot over the decades and, to this day, remains one of the most famous faces in the world. 

Turlington's widespread appeal becomes obvious with just a single survey of her still-life charisma before the camera. But her originality extends beyond Vogue veteran Grace Coddington's measure of her as "the most beautiful woman in the world" (via Tiffany & Co.). Not one to over-indulge in the excesses of her fame, Turlington spurned the grandiose supermodel honorific that is so synonymous with her and shifted gears to become a champion of real-time issues concerning maternal health. Even as a younger generation of models take charge — her own daughter included — Turlington sits securely on her throne as a timeless icon whose elegance is only increasing with age. Take a look at the life, times, and transformation of Christy Turlington. 

Her childhood dreams were far from fashion

Christy Turlington didn't grow up wanting to be fashion royalty. Her interests lay in something supposedly contrarian to the universe of ramp-walking: books. "I was a voracious reader, and when I traveled, I would take a stack of books in my bag and just read," she told Glamour, impressing upon her girlhood dreams of becoming a writer. (Life would eventually come full circle for Turlington, who went on to author two books on yoga.) There was also some talk of becoming an architect or a pilot (like her father).

For the California native, poring over school textbooks inside classrooms didn't hold great appeal; she much rather preferred spending her time outdoors, indulging in all kinds of sports — from soccer to horse-riding. The latter, as has now become fashion legend, was a catalyst in Turlington being discovered as a model. 

She was 14 and riding a horse in Florida when she was famously scouted by photographer Dennie Cody. The gilded gates of the modeling world thus opened up for Turlington, who was anything but keen to walk through them. "I didn't really want to do it — I didn't even really know what it was all about," she told The Gentlewoman about her initial endeavors before the camera. Of course, one could say there's no one today who knows the game better than her!  

She began providing for her family at a young age

Getting a head-start as a model at 14 turned Christy Turlington into an earning member of her family far earlier than her peers. By the time she reached the momentous age of 18, Turlington had developed enough of a passion for the vocation she only reluctantly began. Financial empowerment was an added advantage. "I started to earn money and have some freedom," she told The Wall Street Journal. As the 1990s approached, she packed her bags for New York, embarking on a golden career in modeling that was nothing like the industry had ever known before. 

Through the decade, Turlington ruled the modeling world, most notably as part of an elite clique together called the Big Six that comprised a new strain of supermodels. She raked in big bucks, ranking among the highest-paid supermodels for consecutive years. Her eminence was probably best immortalized in her friend and fellow supermodel Linda Evangelista's proclamation: "We don't wake up for less than $10,000 a day" (via Forbes). 

Turlington's early beginnings as a working girl accounted for the familial responsibilities she took during her father's final months. "I had this paternal role ... I was able to provide stability for my family," she told Town & Country. That said, Turlington has been candid in airing her reservations about starting a career prematurely. 

Surprisingly, she doesn't enjoy her supermodel status

Aspiring models wait entire lifetimes for a breakthrough in fashion like the one Christy Turlington got. The model's decades-long career (still ongoing) is a dazzling tapestry of magazine covers, billboard displays, brand deals, ramp walks, and global recognition. Younger models have come and gone in her reign as Turlington, now into her 50s, still commands the industry as one of the originals who gave the supermodel status eternal meaning. But, consistent with the prudence she has always exercised in regarding her career, Turlington isn't the biggest fan of this honor that sits on her head. "The supermodel thing is not me," she told Town & Country, which highlighted Turlington's acute distaste for this exclusive title the world bestows upon her. 

Her opinion stems from a shrewd challenging of the romantic notions attached to the supermodel status. "At a certain point, it became synonymous with the things in the culture that were not great — excess, over-the-top, big hair, a lot of makeup," she explained to WWD. Turlington's aversion to being typecast in the wake of this distinction even led her to make the ultimate, indisputable declaration: "I don't identify as a supermodel." Though this revelation could dishearten fans who hold Turlington in high regard, it quite aligns with her famously unassuming, down-to-earth spirit.

Her marriage to Edward Burns was delayed by two years

Much of the world is familiar with the more popularly quoted version of Christy Turlington and Edward Burns' love story — how they met at a charity event in 2000, enjoyed a short courtship, and were eventually engaged to be married. But according to Burns, their story began earlier. "I was a production assistant at a television show and we interviewed Christy back when I was just a lowly PA," he told HuffPost. As luck would have it, Burns — who later rose to stardom as an actor himself — was tasked with getting coffee for his future wife. "Fortunately she was very nice." 

Their romance kicked off enthusiastically but a string of hitches shelved their marriage. The 9/11 tragedy was reportedly a factor, with Burns keen on postponing the celebrations on account of "what was going on in the world," reported. The pair eventually parted ways but only for a short while. They wedded in 2003 before a star-studded gathering, with Turlington's close friend and U2 frontman Bono walking her down the aisle. 

The secret to their successful 20-year marriage lies in the virtue of practicality, per Turlington, who takes the good and the bad as they come. As she told Vogue, "Every day and year is an opportunity to grow closer and deepen the relationship."

Her daughter followed her footsteps into the modeling world

Christy Turlington never expected her daughter to follow her footsteps into the world of fashion. In fact, on being asked by The Gentlewoman if she would let her daughter get a start in modeling similar to her own, Turlington was straightforward in her answer: "No, I would not." But if ever there was a model destined to carry forward Turlington's magnificent legacy, it had to be her own daughter, Grace Burns. At 19, Burns made a dazzling debut on the runway, with a strut down the ramp in Italy that was evocative of her supermodel mother's prime youth. 

Finding her niche as a model could be really easy or really difficult for Burns, whose brand will eternally be tied to her mother's. But the young aspirant — who is a student at New York University, also like Turlington — is already dreaming big. For instance, the newcomer expressed a desire to turn muse for renowned Chinese photographer Luo Yang, raving to Homme Girls about "the way she captures both the power and bravery of young women while also alluding to their vulnerability and insecurities." 

Part of a glamorous crop of model daughters taking after their iconic mothers, Burns got the opportunity to collaborate with Turlington during the nascent phase of her career in a Carolina Herrera campaign. The mother-daughter duo rode through Spain on horseback in coordinated outfits, making special memories that Turlington expressed gratitude for. 

She became a forerunning champion of maternal health

The birth of her first child was a life-changing event for Christy Turlington. Not simply because she brought a new life into the world but also because her own life was put at risk in the process. After she delivered Grace Burns in 2003, Turlington experienced severe bleeding on account of a postpartum hemorrhage, which the World Health Organization deems "the leading cause of maternal mortality world-wide." Turlington, facilitated by modern medical care, was convinced she would overcome the complication but postnatal clarity opened her eyes to the disadvantage women without similar resources around the world were at. 

"At first, I learned about the global statistics, but while traveling abroad I learned the US was ranked really poorly as well," she told Vanity Fair, calling attention to the alarming state of maternal mortality rates and lopsided access to safe motherhood options. The awareness moved Turlington deeply enough for her to do something about the issue across mediums — initially with a documentary titled "No Woman, No Cry" and eventually with a nonprofit called Every Mother Counts (EMC). The organization, which Turlington has called her "third child," commits itself to a multitude of problem areas concerning maternal health, from education to resource access and healthcare facilities. 

She has been outspoken about the fashion industry's shortcomings

The glaring irony of the fashion industry is that it is hardly a place as unblemished as it makes its occupants out to be. A whirlpool of vice, excesses, and power exists behind the veil in this glamorous universe that is coveted by thousands on the outside. Senior models like Christy Turlington have not been afraid to candidly speak their minds about the reality of their workplace, especially in a post #MeToo world. 

Speaking to WWD, Turlington confirmed the open secret that relates to the harassment of models. "The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experienced at some point in our careers," she said. While her VIP distinction kept Turlington protected from any serious safety mishaps, she admitted to experiencing her fair share of off-putting encounters.

That hasn't deterred her from coming to her industry's defense against accusations around the projection of damaging beauty standards. "People have to get over the idea that realism is being projected here," she told Town & Country. Notwithstanding the earth-shattering success she found in the modeling industry early in her life, Turlington isn't encouraging of young people to pick it up as a career. As she put it to Vogue: "No job can't wait for a girl to become a woman, or a boy to become a man."

Aging naturally doesn't scare her

In an industry that thrives on appearances, the pressure to look young is real. Not for the original supermodel. Christy Turlington has outlived younger successors in the business by decades, without once cosmetically meddling with her face. Wrinkles and fine lines don't bother her. The 50-something icon has embraced the natural process of aging with grace and still remains one of the top-billing names in the industry. To her, "Our face is a map of our life; the more that's there, the better," she told Elle. Her daring stance on the subject is rare to come by in her competitive workplace and is possibly inspired by her evolved take on what beauty actually means. 

"People look outside themselves to define it, but I've learned over time that beauty is a feeling, a sense of wellness, and even acceptance in a way," she told Marie Claire. The idea fits in well with the modest disposition Turlington has come to be defined by. She neither overindulges in the memory of her yesteryear glory nor in the fear of future prospects. Her hope is to stand among the likes of Jane Birkin or more broadly, "women who have stayed away from augmentation of themselves." Turlington is famously low-maintenance, a quality that has put her at ease with her natural self (including body hair and the works). 

She went back to studying after finding success as a model

Christy Turlington wasn't a particularly keen student when she was of typical school-going age. But a good many years of blazing success as a model changed all that. She was at the peak of her golden '90s period when she took the plunge back into education. It seems she had found her long-awaited motivation to study. "It wasn't until I had the professional experience, had been living on my own, made the choice on my own, paid for my own education, applied, did all the work, and then I was ready," she told Glamour.

Turlington was 26 when she attended New York University for a degree in comparative religion and philosophy. This time, she went all-out nerd — front seat, good grades, et al. Besides the tuition fee — which, paid for by herself, probably helped keep her focused in class — there was also the obvious price to pay for being the Christy Turlington. Students didn't much bother her in class but (unbeknownst to her) used to follow her home, she recalled for The Gentlewoman. 

That didn't deter Turlington from going back to school once again at 39. Alongside her balancing act in modeling, motherhood, and advocacy, she successfully graduated in public health from Columbia University. And guess what? Her voracious appetite for learning still isn't sated. She could do it all over again. 

Her iconic friendship with fellow 90s supermodels is still going strong

There's good news for all those of us who ever wondered whether the original supergroup of '90s models is still going strong. Their friendship isn't just existent but thriving, per The Guardian, sealed formally by that ultimate milestone that deems a bond sacred: a WhatsApp group. Christy Turlington — together with Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista — formed the core group of BFFs within the original supermodel sorority that also included Cindy Crawford and Tatjana Patitz. The Trinity, as they were famously known, were a powerful unit in fashion in the '90s, owing to their shared projects together but also their tight friendship off-camera. 

"The moment that I met you, I knew that you were really special and so much fun. And I remember that first shoot, we just danced and laughed the whole time," Turlington told Campbell in a video for "No Filter with Naomi." The duo met early on in their careers, forging a relationship that spanned a golden period of living and modeling together, and a sisterhood that would transcend time and generations. Thank goodness for Instagram, where Turlington and her gang of girlfriends keep the nostalgia alive with pictures of vintage throwbacks and modern-day meet-ups. The next-gen is taking the legacy forward, with some like Crawford and Turlington's model daughters sharing a friendship that preserves their mothers'. 

She enjoys disconnecting from the world every so often

Christy Turlington's outdoorsy nature is a great advantage to her appetite for plugging out of technology for a while. As she told Town & Country, "I like to be in remote places where there's no internet — and oftentimes no hot water." Disconnecting from everything but herself is a feature that extends across major aspects of the supermodel's life — in particular, her well-being. It boils down to something as simple as not using music as a crutch while running. "I feel like there's very little time in my life, or in most people's lives, these days where we're not connected to some kind of device," she expressed to Byrdie. "And so when I run, it's really just to be there with myself, just my breath." 

Turlington is a committed mother and wife who isn't apologetic about portioning out her life to devote time to herself — a different kind of disconnectedness, but important nevertheless. Her marriage to Edward Burns has been built on lots of space "that allowed us to find a separate corner and be able to do our thing," she said. Being a busy career woman for the better part of her life — with her expanding roles in advocacy — has understandably given Turlington a greater appreciation for solitude. 

She is quite the passionate traveler

Christy Turlington has been on the move since forever. Like she told The New York Times: "I was practically born into traveling." She grew up in a family that indulged in travel around the United States quite a bit, before landing a job that took her around the globe as a successful model. From Asia to Russia, the fashion icon posed for the camera in some of the world's most exquisite locations, often being able to mix work with leisure during her international getaways. The second innings of her career — which saw Turlington turn to advocacy for safe maternity care — kept the supermodel jet-setting, but with evolved ambitions. 

Tanzania, for instance, kept calling her back for a multitude of reasons over the years: first as a model, then as a climber, and eventually as a champion of safe motherhood. Photographer Arthur Elgort, who accompanied Turlington on one such project in Tanzania, described her as "the best traveler" to The Wall Street Journal. "Her father was a pilot and her mother was a stewardess, so we used to laugh that she 'flies well ... It's in her genes.'" How does she balance all that wanderlust and her domestic life? She pins the credit to her homebody husband Edward Burns — or Steady Eddie, as she calls him. 

Yoga has been a longtime integral part of her life

Christy Turlington plans her life around yoga. That is not to say that she force-fits it into her schedule. A longtime enthusiast of the practice, the model consciously makes time for it as part of her daily routine. "It's really important, and so having it be the centerpiece of my day is how I try to approach it," she told Oprah Daily. It's something she has stuck with since she was 18 and on the cusp of her fast-flying success as a supermodel. Adjudged against that context, yoga came to Turlington just at the right time, when the need to keep her head would presumably have been high.

It translated well for her self-growth. "Throughout every phase of my life, I've had this ability to center myself even when I'm working too much or I'm traveling too much," she said. In fact, Turlington was thinking about yoga even while delivering her first child, per The Times. Through 12 hours of labor, she mined her knowledge of rhythmic breathing to cope with the pain. Though Turlington is otherwise not wary of stepping out of her comfort zone, she enjoys familiarity when it comes to her fitness routine: "I'll always be a student, there's constant learning and getting better," she told Harper's Bazaar.

Believe it or not, her beauty secrets are really basic

Keep it simple. This easy-to-remember mantra has kept Christy Turlington ruling the fashion game unchallenged for decades. She is apparently not one to splurge on extravagant beauty products or indulge in trending regimens, sticking instead to basic wellness routines. "I don't do a lot of facials or anything like that, I just try to eat well and exercise because that's the best thing you can do for your skin and your health," she told Vogue

Her no-frills lifestyle could come as a surprise, given that Turlington has been the face of the biggest beauty brands. Her modeling career is so far removed from her real life that on the odd days that she showed up at home wearing makeup, her family was positively taken aback. "My daughter looked at me like I had three heads," she recalled for Glamour. 

Some of Turlington's most iconic runway moments show her in dramatic makeup — something she has left behind in her supermodel days of yore. Basic essentials like chapstick and cheek tint do the trick for her now. As she put it to Vogue: "I don't like the feeling of much on my skin." It all circles back to her evergreen interpretation of beauty: it's more about how one feels than how one looks. (And drinking lots of water.)