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Instagrandma Baddiewinkle Says She's 'Always Been A Rebel'

Baddiewinkle's <a href="https://www.instagram.com/baddiewinkle/">Instagram bio</a> reads, "Stealing your man since 1928."
Ryan Hall
/
Courtesy of HarperCollins
Baddiewinkle's Instagram bio reads, "Stealing your man since 1928."

It's rare to talk to a celebrity who hits as many demographic heights as Baddiewinkle. She's an Instagram influencer with more than 3 million followers; she's been featured by two major cosmetics lines; and she turned heads when she wore a bedazzled nude bodysuit to the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards.

Baddiewinkle is also a great-grandmother, and at the age of 88 she's written a new book: Baddiewinkle's Guide to Life.

The Instagram star, whose real name is Helen Ruth van Winkle, says coming up with her account name was pretty easy. "I'm a bad bitch; always been a rebel. So we decided 'bad' — 'baddie.' And then my last name was van Winkle, so we put the Winkle on."

Before she became famous, Baddiewinkle lead a pretty normal life in Waco, Ky. "I had a little 6-acre farm. I took care of it by myself for 15 years," she says. "I did everything that you're supposed to do: mowed, trimmed, had a little garden. I kept busy at all times."

Then one day her great-granddaughter saw her in a pair of cut-off shorts and a tie-dye shirt and said, "Let's make a picture, Grandma, you look awful cute today."

"So I said, 'OK!' " Baddiewinkle recalls. "But from there, you know, it went viral and I was so surprised."

What did people see in that photo? "I think they saw a great-grandmother that didn't care what anybody thought about her," Baddiewinkle says. " 'Here's a rebel. We like her.' "

Baddiewinkle turns 89 on July 18.
Ryan Hall / Courtesy of HarperCollins
/
Courtesy of HarperCollins
Baddiewinkle turns 89 on July 18.

In her new book, Baddiewinkle shares her life story. So we had to ask: What's the key to a happy life?

"The key to a happy life — now this is my version: You're always smiling at people even though you just meet them on the street (most of the time [you'll] get a smile back), and go to church (I'm a very Southern lady), and always be kind to every human that you meet. ... I have met a lot of people and I think that they would say that about me."

Ian Stewart and Barrie Hardymon produced and edited the audio of this interview. Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.