The stunning transformation of Heidi Klum

Heidi Klum is a force to be reckoned with, with a decades-long career in modeling that includes highlights on any model's bucket list. Not only has she graced the covers of magazines and walked on runways all over the world, but Klum has also conquered the world of television, showing that she's capable of holding her own no matter what she does.

But believe it or not, the woman with the million dollar legs wasn't born into fashion royalty, as stunners like Kaia Gerber were. Rather, Klum's origin story began years ago in Germany, a long way from New York Fashion Week. That's where the now legendary Klum hails from, as is evident by her lingering accent.

So what was Klum's childhood like? What did her parents do, and how did they shape her journey? And when did Klum realize that she wanted to be a model and would become a household name with millions of fans? Read on to witness Heidi Klum's stunning transformation.

Growing up, Heidi Klum's family wasn't rich

Heidi Klum was raised in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, a town not too far from the city of Cologne in the west of the country. The child of a hairdresser mother and a father who worked in the cosmetics industry, Klum's early years were fairly ordinary as she tells it. "We weren't poor, but we didn't have a lot of stuff," she recalled in an interview with Forbes. So in a nutshell, Klum came from a regular middle class family.

While Klum didn't have the ambition to be a model when she was young, she was known as "the pretty girl" at her school. She also enjoyed dancing, and, for a while, she thought that might be the path that she would take in her life — but that was not to be. "I wasn't good enough to make it a career," she continued. Fortunately other opportunities were waiting on the horizon.

As a child, Heidi Klum wanted to be a designer

In addition to dancing, Heidi Klum had other artistic aspirations that she enjoyed pursuing as a child. Part of that is thanks to her parents, who nurtured her creative impulses and taught her about clothing. "The passion for designing was always there, and I've always made things like Barbie clothes or Karneval [a German festival] costumes with my mum," she shared in an interview with Harper's Bazaar. "We're a very arts-and-crafts family."

While Klum wasn't skilled enough to make it as a professional dancer, as noted by Forbes, she did have real potential in design, and she had her sights set on that as a career. She told the magazine that she was "accepted at a fashion design school in Düsseldorf," and she planned on attending. But, of course, Klum's destiny would drag her away from design, at least for a while.

A modeling contest changed the course of Heidi Klum's life

When Heidi Klum was 18 years old, she was flipping through a magazine when she saw an advertisement for a modeling contest in 1992. Curious but not too deeply invested, she mailed in some photographs for consideration and watched the contest play out on television with amusement, as explained by Forbes.

But then the show got in touch with her and invited her to participate. In the end, Klum won first place, beating out a whopping other 30,000 contestants to claim the prize: a $300,000 modeling contract with a "catch was that she had to earn it all back." After not finding much success in Europe, Klum hopped on a plane to the United States, starting first in Miami and then in New York City. Initially Klum struggled and worried about failure, but she eventually landed modeling work for J.C. Penney and the like, never taking her eye off of the prize. "They told me I had great boobs and curves and that I should start doing Victoria's Secret," she told Forbes. "I nagged my booker until I got a call with them."

She signed a contract with Victoria's Secret in 1997, a job Klum would hold onto until 2010. But she was only beginning her meteoric rise.

To get to the top, Heidi Klum put in the work

Heidi Klum may have won a modeling contest, which helped her kickstart her career, but that doesn't mean she got where she did with sheer luck alone. Rather, from the second she started modeling, she made certain that she was putting in the work, even if that meant spending long hours in front of the camera. "You have to really want it," she explained to Harper's Bazaar. "I think some models don't want to work on weekends or after the end of the shoot, whereas sometimes I stay longer and do something extra with the photographer or client."

That willingness to hustle paid off, as Klum was able to do what it takes to get noticed by the big dogs. "I think that, and being passionate about what you do, is the key," she continued. "I was always eager to learn more and do more, and I always had a lot of drive to do things outside of modelling."

In 2006, Heidi Klum landed Germany's Next Topmodel

Once Heidi Klum put herself on the map with Victoria's Secret, eventually becoming one of the richest Victoria's Secret models, she started increasing in her popularity, thanks to her work as an Angel for the company. Then after an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman and an especially racy photo on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, Klum was officially an It girl, as noted by Forbes.

Klum's next big success was landing the role of host for Germany's Next Topmodel in 2006, which got off to a rocky start. In a chat with Harper's Bazaar, she noted that she didn't "want these girls to do weird challenges that have nothing to do with the preparation for being a model."

After that first season, Klum was reticent to continue with the entertainment gig unless some changes were made. "They wanted me to sign a contract to continue for a few more years, but I said, 'I'm only going to participate if I have creative control over what happens, because I know what the fashion business is like — you guys don't because you are TV producers," she revealed. 

When Heidi Klum first met Seal, there was instant chemistry

Just before Heidi Klum became the host of Germany's Next Topmodel, she found herself lucky in love after her five-year marriage to stylist Ric Pipino dissolved in 2002 (via USA Today). That spark was kindled when she met British musician Seal in a hotel lobby, and the chemistry was instant. "He's a very handsome man," she gushed in a 2008 interview with Redbook. "You would think that he's very intimidating because he's so tall and strong, but he's really a gentle giant."

Klum and Seal started dating, and made the decision to tie the knot in 2005. "He's very gentle and he wants to have a family and we like a lot of the same things," she continued. "[It's about] looking for someone to get old with and having fun and obviously being physically attractive to each other."

Start a family they did, as the pair had four children: Leni (biologically the child of Klum's ex-boyfriend Flavio Briatore, though Klum has called Seal as her father), Henry, Johan, and Lou.

Becoming a mom made Heidi Klum appreciate the simple things

Becoming a mom can teach you a lot about life, even if you only do it once. But Heidi Klum did so four times over in a fairly short amount of time, rendering her quite the expert on the subject. And of the numerous lessons that she took away from the experience, Klum says she learned "to be more simple" about things. "Sometimes random things that you wouldn't think mean anything mean so much to them," she shared in a chat with Redbook. "With kids, you can say, 'Let's go pick some flowers' or 'There's a snail. Let's investigate that.'" Suddenly what used to be mundane can become full of wonder all over again.

Even regular household chores became something special for Klum, as teaching her children about what she was doing made her see things in a new light. "I was vacuuming, and Henry had fun cleaning up crumbs," she continued. "It just brings you back to the simplicity of things."

Heidi Klum knew her body would return to normal after pregnancy

Ask anyone who's ever given birth, and they will likely tell you that it changed their body. Whether it's an increase in your bust line, a drastic change in your pelvic floor, or weight fluctuation, bringing new life into the world definitely has an impact on you.

Given that Heidi Klum has given birth four times, you can imagine that she's been through it. But she was confident she'd maintain her fit and svelte figure, thanks to her resilience. "I always think, look at how people were before they were pregnant," she revealed to Marie Claire. "If you were a toned, healthy, energetic person, most likely you will be like that again."

But Klum isn't going to sugarcoat it for the others who have asked her if they can do the same. "A lot of people come to me, and they're like, 'Will I look like you after I have the baby?'" she continued. "And I say, 'Well, how were you before?' You can't kid yourself."

In 2013, Heidi Klum won an Emmy for Project Runway

While Heidi Klum was raising her family with Seal, she didn't exactly take much time off to do so. Rather, she still had quite the active modeling career in addition to working in television. Most notably, she spent 16 seasons as the host of the popular show Project Runway alongside her "television husband" Tim Gunn. And in 2013, after a slew of nominations, she finally won an Emmy Award for her work on the show. Congrats, Heidi!

Although she loved the show, Klum eventually decided to leave Project Runway to work on a new program, Making the Cut. "It's really hard for me too, in a way, because it's been my baby," she explained on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. "I helped create the show, sell the show to the networks, and really get it off the ground."

Klum is also a longtime judge on the reality show juggernaut America's Got Talent alongside Simon Cowell, Terry Crews, Howie Mandell, and others. According to Hello! magazine, she considers herself lucky to have that gig.

Heidi Klum and Seal divorced in 2014

While they definitely had a good run, and have beautiful children to show for it, Seal and Heidi Klum couldn't make their love last forever. To that end, the pair divorced in 2014. But that didn't mean that Klum was super depressed, as she was determined to take it all in stride. "People say, 'Oh, God, how devastating to go through a divorce,'" she revealed in an interview with Marie Claire. "Did I wish for this to happen to my family? No." But everyone is in good health, something Klum is very grateful for, and they're all continuing on with their lives.

That's not to say that Klum was thrilled with the divorce, though. "It's not what I wanted," she continued. "It's not what anyone wanted — but it's not a real problem."

The split essentially made Klum a single parent, too, but she refused to let any of it negatively affect her children. "I want them to be happy and feel like they always have me and that I'm always there for them," she told Harper's Bazaar.

Heidi Klum married Tom Kaulitz

Perhaps the third time is the charm when it comes to Heidi Klum's love life, as she one again found love with Tokio Hotel guitarist Tom Kaulitz — something that she never expected. "I've done it twice and it didn't really work out for me that well so I was kind of shocked that this was going to happen again to me," she gushed in an interview with On Air with Ryan Seacrest, "but I'm super excited."

The pair got engaged in December of 2018, according to a post on her Instagram page. "I said yes," she wrote in the caption. Two months later, Klum and Kaulitz got married, as reported by People magazine.

By all accounts Klum and Kaulitz have been enjoying their married life, and Klum has been 100 percent over the moon. "He is the kindest, sweetest, most caring, loving person," she told the magazine. "I feel so lucky. I don't know the last time I was this happy in my life."

Halloween became Heidi Klum's jam

One thing that Heidi Klum is known for, outside of her modeling career and television duties, is her absolutely insane love of Halloween. In fact, she throws a big party on the holiday every year (a tradition she started in 2000), and she dresses up in costumes that seem to get more and more elaborate as time goes by. So elaborate, in fact, that she starts planning her costume in the summertime!

Klum went a step further in 2019, in that she underwent a transformation into a gory alien in front of a live audience in New York City. "I thought it was such an amazing process," she explained to USA Today. "So I didn't want to hide in a hotel room somewhere and do this. I wanted people to see what [the artists] do." That they did, as she said the process took about ten hours!

Heidi Klum's husband also got quite the makeover that year, as he was a bloody astronaut to compliment her costume. 

Heidi Klum wanted Making the Cut to benefit designers

While Heidi Klum clearly enjoyed working on Project Runway, enough to host the show for over a decade and a half, when she was developing Making the Cut, there was an important change that she wanted to implement. "I feel like what we never had on Project Runway was [to] do something for the designers, where the designers create something that then actually can end up on your closets," she shared on an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Finally, you can purchase your favorite piece of the season! No more lusting after what you can't get your hands on.

Making the Cut is streaming on Amazon, a platform that Klum picked for a reason. "I also think it's the future," she continued. "We love television, but we shop different now." She does have a point!

The first season of Making the Cut dropped on Amazon in March 2020.

Heidi Klum will always have her German culture

Heidi Klum has lived in the United States now for far longer than she lived in Germany, first in New York City and later in Los Angeles where she's raised her family. And while she's likely going to be stateside for a while longer, her foundation is rooted in her homeland. "I do have certain German, how would you say it, attributes, such as punctuality and trustworthiness," she explained in a chat with You Magazine. "And I am not afraid to say when I think something is not right."

Additionally, Klum's no-nonsense German approach to life has served her well, she says. "I think this has helped in my career," she continued. "I never stamp my feet. I find a reasonable argument to explain why something should be done differently." She added that she may not come across as nice as other folks at times, but she values being straightforward too much to be dishonest just to spare people's feelings.