Old is gold: Maye Musk, 70 is the new 40
You’d never say she’s 70, would you? That’s probably because Maye Musk has never concerned herself with age. The model and nutritionist was born in Canada, but has a long association with South Africa. Her famous son, tech billionaire Elon Musk, has attracted some negative press, but it doesn’t diminish her personal achievements. She picks up the story…
“My parents are the only people to have ever flown from South Africa to Australia in a single-engine plane,” she says. “They went all the way up Africa, across Arabia and Asia, without any navigation. Who else would do that with a compass and a map?”
Pushing boundaries is a Musk family trait. And this 70-year old grandmother of 10 and mom to Elon, Kimbal and Tosca Musk is no exception.
Maye has appeared in a Swarovski advertisement. She’s walked in a runway show for top fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana. She’s graced the pages of Vogue magazine in Korea, Britain, Germany and Australia. Harpers Bazaar magazine threw her a 70th birthday party in New York. She has 170,000 followers on Instagram. A video of make-up brand CoverGirl, featuring her, had 4.1 billion impressions and 11 million views in only a few days.
Her greatest achievement? Having three great kids and surviving, she says. And survive she sure has. From South Africa to Canada to the United States.
“I’ve never feared aging and my mom didn’t either,” she says. “She died at 98 and stopped working at 96. My mom never worried about losing her confidence and I suppose that’s helped me a lot because I feel the same.”
Coming to South Africa
She was born Maye Haldeman and emigrated with her parents from Canada to South Africa in 1950. She was seven when her parents, who she describes as adventurers and explorers, took off on a three-month voyage to Australia. A family friend moved in with Maye, her twin-sister Kaye, and their three siblings to take care of them. When not on their way to far-flung places in their single-engine aircraft, Maye’s parents worked in their chiropractic practice next-door to the family home in Pretoria.
“My parents were entrepreneurs, they ran their own business and my brothers and sisters and I started working when we were about eight,” she says. “We would do their monthly bulletins and photocopy newsletters, and then put stamps on the envelopes.”
When they were 12, the twins were paid to work as receptionists for their dad before and after school. Maye’s work ethic and zest to keep busy stayed with her throughout her teens. At 15 she started modeling, already standing 5’8” (1.72m) tall, with shoulder-length brown hair. Believing her fashion career would be short-lived, she did a BSc degree in dietetics. It was taught in Afrikaans – one of the four languages she now speaks, but didn’t know back then.
“I was a model, I was very proud, and I wasn’t going to fail,” she remembers. “I said, ‘I don’t wanna be the dumb blond, I’m going to study sciences, and I’m gonna pass it. Even if it’s in another language.’ And I did.”
Maye married within months of graduating and had sons Elon and Kimbal and daughter Tosca over the next three years. She juggled motherhood and modeling, as well as working as a dietician two afternoons a week. In 1979, Musk and her husband parted ways. The 31-year-old single-mom worked to build her dietician practice by cold-calling doctors and sitting in their waiting-rooms for hours in the hope they would meet with her and send her clients. She also flew all over South Africa doing modeling work. In 1983, she went back to university to get a Masters degree.
Making it big abroad
Maye and her sons eventually made their way to Canada, as she regained the Canadian citizenship she was entitled to by being born there. She was 41 and decided to look into PhD programmes and connecting with a modeling agency in Canada, with a view to relocating the whole family to North America. Deciding on Toronto as her new base, she applied her mind to starting-from-scratch in another country. She worked hard to establish herself and provide for her children.
“I had five jobs,” she says. “I was a research officer at the University of Toronto. I was teaching two nights a week at a nutrition college and two-night weeks at a modeling agency. I modeled and I gave talks, and I had a private practice.”
Not only did Musk understand the power of PR, she also knew the importance of dusting herself off from rejection, and that relentless drive was necessary to achieve her goals.
“When I wasn’t working, I was marketing myself,” says Musk. “Sending out newsletters, raffles, contacting the TV stations, the radio stations. Most said no or just ignored me, but that’s what happens. But then it slowly started changing.”
Her tenacity paid off. She built her dietician business, became President of the Consulting Dieticians of Canada and landed lucrative television commercials and runway modeling jobs.
By 1994 all her children had left home.
“They all went their own ways and for the first time I had no children and it was actually wonderful,” says Musk. “I had no idea. I could actually work out at night. I didn’t have to go home. I didn’t have seven loads of laundry on a Sunday afternoon.”
When they achieved major business success, her sons delivered on a promise of buying her a home. She decided on an apartment in New York so that she could continue her ascent in the modeling world, frequently traveling to Europe, and having her up on the giant billboards of Times Square.
Maye is now signed to the major IMG model agency and in higher demand than ever. In November 2017, she appeared in a campaign for American cosmetics brand CoverGirl. Called Simply Ageless, the campaign celebrated women in later life. She hopes this and other brands lauding old age will help to bring about a cultural shift in how older women are perceived and perceive themselves. She’s been called a ‘boundary-breaking cultural change agent’.
“It just seems that women are scared of aging, and I’ve never feared aging,” says Musk. “I think this gives hope to women as they age, that they can continue to work and be relevant and confident and comfortable with themselves.”
Now living in Los Angeles, Maye still works as a dietician and gives wellness talks. Her close-knit family gets together most weekends.
Source: Forbes Magazine