February 28th 2018
Helena Christensen: "Why aren't we asking men about ageing?"
December 12th 2017 / 0 comment
We sat down with the photographer and supermodel and talked pole dancing, parenting, Victoria's Secret bodies, living to a 100 and what she thinks of the anti-ageing conversation (not a lot)
GTG: "You don’t look any different to the way you did in the era of the supers when you were in your 20s. Do you feel different?"
Helena: “No I don’t, except I am physically more active. I started working out pretty late, in my mid-30s. I wish I had started earlier but I was busy with work and never really lived in one place long enough to get a routine going.
“So then [when I started working out] I just did everything: boxing, tennis, swimming, ballet, sprinting. The latest thing has been pole dancing - it’s so hard. I don’t know if I will ever be able to do it, if my height works against me but it is so beautiful to watch. It’s almost like it shouldn’t be possible and I like that. It makes me want to learn it.”
How did you discover pole dancing?
“I was inspired by a girlfriend who lives in Athens, Georgia. There is a huge pole dancing and aerial and hoop community down there - it’s insane. They are all in troupes, they dress up in the most beautiful costumes and send their kids to learn from when they’re little. I thought, ‘Wow this is so incredible I want to learn!’ I thought maybe it would be hard to find somewhere in New York [where Helena lives] but there are so many pole dancing studios - and aerial, where you use the hammock and also the Lyra aerial hoop workout. I had no idea.
“I go to Body and Pole on 27th Street. I love the whole atmosphere when you walk in the girls sitting in the splits in their legwarmers, almost like the ballet schools. They’re all in crazy positions - I can’t even lift my leg halfway. I’m so jealous of them, but I like feeling part of it."
What has pole dancing done for your body?
“So far just bruises and pain, which they all say. All the pole dancers at the studio, they say it’s going to be hell. I now have a pole in my dining room. It takes years to master. I can climb it and I can do a few positions, I can hang off it, I can do the Fireman Move. [In the picture above] I was squeezing so hard, I could have killed somebody with that thigh squeeze."
And apart from the pole?
“I box three times a week and then I swim and I sprint. On the days that I don’t do something more hardcore, I do yoga. I am very interested in anatomy, especially with my boxing. Learning from a professional boxer has got me really interested in how you can recruit different muscles groups and shape your anatomy by doing certain exercises – but always with the right form. Learning about that has been inspiring and keeps my joy up as I’m not somebody who runs to the gym, I would definitely rather sleep two more hours."
WHEN IWAS MODELLING, YOU just rocked up as you were, which made it so much easier. I think it was very cool that we were just accepted for how we looked. We all had different body types.
How do you fuel your workouts?
“It is very important to make sure I am eating the right way, taking the right supplements to keep the energy going for my pretty heavy workouts. I have always taken supplements and I really feel like they have made me feel better.
“I had all my levels tested [recently] and was told where I was low the and even over-taking. I had to stop taking vitamin C, for example, because I was taking way too much. I now take [the wellbeing supplement] Lumity, £85 , which simplifies the whole routine to three capsules in the morning and three in the evening. It has all the basic vitamins in, including vitamin D. Over the years, I've earned how important vitamin D is for your wellbeing and especially for your mental wellbeing. It’s maybe one of the most important vitamins a human being can take and most of us are way too low.
"And turmeric. With cancer being in everyone’s life, whether it’s a family member or friends, we are all so freaked out about how to keep it at bay and want to make sure we do everything we can to avoid it. Turmeric was something I heard about, when we would talk about that horrible disease. Turmeric is Lumity, so I was very happy about that because I wasn’t taking it.”
How do you feel now you've streamlined your supplements?
“Feeling less tired was one of the first things I noticed. I’m never somebody who jumps out of bed in the morning, my energy levels are normally much better in the afternoons onwards (I get very inspired by the twilight and the darker hours of the day). I definitely needed that extra energy in the morning. Now I don’t wake up in a haze. I wake up and then I’m on.
“People have told me, that my skin looks glowing and say, ‘what did you put on your skin?’ You never know. I’m thinking that it all made a difference. Taking the right supplements will make a difference and it’s so much easier to do when you have them all in the same package.”
Do you follow a particular way of eating?
“Yes, I am very strict about eating as much as I can of everything - and exercising it off. The three most important things in my life are my family, eating because I am obsessed with food and then working out so I can keep eating as much as I possibly can.
“I’m not a snacker and that might be my saving grace. But then again not - because the other day when I had my blood levels checked for vitamins, I was told I should be eating more in between meals – nuts and fruit. My blood sugar was a little low. I eat a lot at main meals, but it’s maybe not the right way.
“You’re supposed to eat a big healthy breakfast and lunch and very little in the evening with snacks in between. There’s always a new way of eating - first coffee’s great for you and then it’s not great for you. It’s complicated! Therefore, I try to abstract from that and literally eat whatever I feel like, when I feel like it. I do force myself to drink more water though, because I don’t drink enough.”
When did you first start to become aware of your health?
“I have never been health-conscious and still am not. I love food and it was never an issue for me eating healthily because I would eat everything. I also got the healthy stuff, though. It was more a question of how much can I eat of everything. This, and a desire to feel strength, was what got me into sports. I love feeling physical strength in your arms. It’s hard for a woman to get strong arms - the biceps and triceps are very hard muscles to recruit.
“I was tired of feeling weak. I thought, it can’t be true that it’s so hard to walk up three flights of stairs. That’s what got me going with boxing. I want to jump up and carry heavy stuff and not feel weighed down by it."
Do you feel strong mentally as well as physically?
“My southpaw would definitely get me far if anyone tried anything. Not that I would want to be in that situation, but I wouldn’t hold myself back. What I do is old-fashioned boxing. The place I go to is very gritty and smelly and sweaty and the only type of gym I could go to.
“I tried the corporate gyms, but I felt so out of place. I couldn’t stand the cleanliness and the people in front of the mirrors pumping themselves up. They don’t develop strength, it’s just for appearance. I’m like, 'I can’t do this, if I’m gonna do it, it’s got to be real' and I want to be screamed at - and I’m going to scream back.”
Do you ever felt been anxious or down?
“Of course. I go through all those kinds of emotions and I think that’s a gift. If you feel it, then it’s actually a good thing connecting with your emotions and not sweeping them under the carpet. You need to let them out and let them come alive and feel through them. That is one kind of anxiety/depression/feeling down. Then there’s another kind, which can be very heavy and which you might need extra help for.
Ever had therapy?
"No, I feel like I have always been very good at connecting to myself in my head, talking myself through whatever I might be feeling."
Who do you turn to on a bad day?
“Just me in my head. I never wrote my feelings down, that wasn’t for me. I wish I could turn them into songs or poetry. If I’m really down I don’t make beautiful art, it’s when I’m really happy or somewhat happy that my art comes out. I don’t feel you have to be miserable and on the brink of depression and darkness for art and creativity to come out. I feel creativity when I am in a good place.”
You used to be a Victoria’s Secret Angel and these days, their bodies are sculpted within an inch of their lives with specialist trainers. When you were modelling, was there the same emphasis or did you just rock up as you were?
“You just rocked up as you were, basically, which made it so much easier. I think it was very cool that we were just accepted for how we looked. We all had different body types, very different faces, a lot of us were mixed races, there was the Indian (as in from India) American, a lot of South American mixes, me, Christie [Turlington, half Salvadorian. Helena is half Puerto Rican, half Danish]. Then there was the all-American Cindy [Crawford] then there were the Germans.
“There were so many mixes and I loved that about us and because we all had unique personalities and I feel very much that we were celebrated for that, rather than conforming to certain demands and perceptions of what we should be like and look like. I feel like our feminine shapes were respected for what they were and celebrated for what they were. Whether you had a very slim athletic body or whether you had a shape, designers and magazines worked with that. And if you look at the magazines from back then there were all different kinds of shapes."
Denmark, where you grew up, is the home of hygge, which has become a global wellness craze recently. Was it on your radar as a child?
“Yes, it was all around us. When you grow up with it, it [hygge] becomes a natural extension of life. I didn’t go ‘Oh, my mum puts candles everywhere!’ it was just there. Anything that made you feel safe and loved and cocooned in your childhood will absolutely have an effect on what happens later in your life. We all know how important your childhood years are for your formative self. Even by your teens, the paint dries pretty fast and you are the person that you are. You might be in your 30s, 40s or 50s and want to change, but I don’t think that’s easy. I think you are who you are a very early age and the childhood years are so important.
What values were you brought up with?
"A certain form of strictness, in a good sense. It was a very close-knit family. We had, not rules and regulations exactly, but a South American mum, who kept her girls tight. She would be in the kitchen cooking, there would be the Spanish music playing, the television, we would always sit down at a certain time and all have dinner as a family and that became a foundation as well. Those kinds of traditions are very important for a child because they need routine. We had a lot of love, but a lot of routine.
“I was jealous of my girlfriends who would stay out late or their parents were always out and so they could have parties in their houses. Meanwhile, I would come home from school and my mum was there with pancakes and hot chocolate and I was like ‘Oh you’re always home!’ but I realised that all the other girls wanted to come to my house because the mom was there and she was giving all the love to all the kids. That made me want to be there when my kid came home from school, so I have always tried to do that."
How did that affect the way you brought your own child [Mingus Reedus, now 18]?
“I stuck with every single routine no matter how hectic my life was. I would say no to jobs if they interfered with the routine of me and my kid. I brought him with me, and I brought my mom with me. He would sleep every day at the same time on the hour. No matter if I was in the middle of doing a show, my mum would build a little cave for him with darkness and he would be in there and she would tell everyone to be quiet around him. We would always make our own food for him and it was always home cooked. I never opened a can for him and I think that’s hilarious, now because I’m like ‘Wow, how did you even do that? That’s ridiculous because you could have found a really nice organic food company….’ I did the healthy diapers for a while and then I was like, no way that’s too complicated."
Fast forward 20 years, how would you like to be?
“I never make plans for the future, but my grandmother is 100 years old [Helena's grandmother Ketty died shortly after our interview] and I would love to be 100 and have the mind that she has. Actually, there is a 75-year-old at the pole dancing club who does it still and who looks amazing. I hope I’m boxing by 90."
Would you ever have anything done facially?
“Yes, I would have my entire face pulled back in a little knot! Who is to say, hopefully by then we could push a button and everything looks naturally lovely."
The conversation on ageing is changing anyway…in 20 years we won’t be asking these questions
“We shouldn’t be asking them already! It’s so boring anyway, let’s ask men about it. What do you do about ageing?”
Eyes and cheeks
"I hardly put anything on my eyelids apart from a cream eye shadow. I use an eyeliner because I like that dark smudged look - I like it when it looks imperfect, then lots of cream blush."
"I love a red lip. If you don’t put anything else on your face and take really good care of your skin, then the red lips alone will make all the difference.
"My favourite lipstick is Chanel Rouge Allure La Fascinante £28. It’s such a beautiful red. There are a lot of amazing reds but this one but this has been consistent in my life. I usually use a lipstick as a blush, I dab it on. I also like bright, bright, bright reds and I just found one I like from Rodin (Rodin Luxury Lipstick £28) it’s completely new."
'I like coconut oil for body, and hair and face as well. I use coffee grounds as an exfoliator for the body – you can mix them with the coconut oil. We go upstate and there’s a river and we put mud all over us and let it dry in the sun and it is unbelievable what it does to your skin, it’s full of minerals.'
'I’m the face of a South African skincare brand called Nimue. It’s the most effective beauty product line I have ever tried. It’s professional skincare so you can actually only get it in salons [find Nimue stockists here]. It’s unbelievable, it totally changes your skin. If you have sun spots or problems with acne it goes down so deep that you will actually look worse at first because it goes down so deep it pushes everything out. So if you have any dark spots they get darker and then they clear up. I have used it and I can feel firmness and tightness. That might also be taking Lumity. I love the combination of both."
'My hair in real life is this big [mimes general bushiness]. When I wake up in the morning it’s almost like dreadlocks so I use a lot of conditioner. If I’m at home working, photo editing all day or in the countryside, I have mask on continuously and that could be something as simple as the coconut oil. I keep it on all day. If I take a plane, I keep it in overnight. It just looks wet the whole way so I just tie it up in a bun. I have used the Oribe Signature Moisture Mask £57 recently and Christophe Robin Regenerating Mask with Rare Prickly Pear See Oil, £53. It’s really lovely and smells amazing."
'I go to a facialist in New York called Joanna Vargas, who uses microcurrent which stimulates your collagen production. That’s the most active thing I’ll do for my skin. Besides that, I'll have a facial with organic products, where somebody is massaging your skin. Maybe once a year, I’ll go for a thorough cleansing where they get everything out.
'I go mostly for neck and back massages and I love reflexology. The boxing makes you very tight. I love manicures and pedicures. When you live in New York you get them every week.'