It taught me that you walk this way just one time, so you've got to make every minute count and surround yourself with joy
The 88-year-old Internet sensation @baddiewinkle now has 2.4 million Instagram followers, who come for style inspo (neon faux fur, crop tops that read "Queen," rainbow sunglasses)—and permission to be themselves. A Knoxville, Tennessee, native, Helen Van Winkle created Baddie ("because I've always been a rebel") Winkle in 2014 and now walks the red carpet at the VMAs, models for fashion brands like Missguided and Dimepiece LA, and counts Rihanna and Arianna Grande as fans. Soon, she'll debut her own clothing line. She explains why it's never too late to change your luck—or uncover the real you.
Helen Van Winkle: "I used to love getting dressed up and going dancing, but after losing my husband in 1983, and my son 16 years later, I couldn't draw myself out of my grief. For years, I didn't connect with others, or myself.
"Then, about two years ago, I was visiting my 17-year-old great-granddaughter, Kennedy. I was playing around and put on some of her clothes: a tie-dyed T-shirt, a pair of cut-off shorts, and some knee socks. She took a photo and posted it to Twitter; we captioned it 'Peace and Love.' And it just exploded.
"Becoming Baddie completely changed things for me; truly, it saved my life. It taught me that you walk this way just one time, so you've got to make every minute count and surround yourself with joy. For me, that's putting on big earrings and colorful clothes and connecting with people every day. I have millions of friends, from ages 6 to 80; I'm never alone.
"I like to think if my husband could see me now, he'd say, 'Go get 'em, baby.'"
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Women's Health. For more older women who inspire us, pick up a copy, on newsstands now.