The Nicoya Peninsula, on the coast of Costa Rica, is not the easiest place to get to. It’s home to a beautifully chaotic town called Santa Theresa, full of expats and world-class surfers. Here, being far from everything is exactly the point, especially for the person who invited “Sunday Morning” here: Gisele Bündchen.
This is her home away from home – the perfect place, she says, for this supermodel to find renewal. “I’m in a different place in my life,” she said. “I’m able to choose more of what I want. I think before I was more surviving, and now I’m living, which is different.”
At 43, the mother of two still has one of the most sought-after looks in the business. That said, she’s largely been pulling back from the runway, not because she had to, but because, she says, it’s now about time to show the world what all those designers and photographers missed: her true self.
“They weren’t hiring Gisele; they didn’t even know me,” she said. “They just liked the way I looked and they liked the way my body looked in clothes, I guess. I’ve done that. I understand that. And now, I get to be me.”
What “me” is, she says, is not the spotlight-loving personality you might think. “I’m a Cancer,” she said. “I’m a little crab. I like my little home. You know the crab; she has a little shell. She likes to go in her shell and feel safe, that’s me.”
“But being an introvert and then becoming a supermodel seems entirely opposite,” said Cowan.
“But I had her. Her. She saved me.”
“Her” is how she refers to the alluring chameleon who’s been staring back at her from billboards and magazine covers for decades.
Why? “For so many reasons. It was easier to deal with criticism that way as well. You know, We need to change the hair. It’s not working. We need to change the makeup or the clothes. Everything is terrible. And then if you’re young and you’re thinking, I’m terrible, like I’m doing something wrong…”
“But I can’t imagine, though, when you were 14 and people are talking about your eyes are too close or your nose is too big?”
“I still have the same nose and the same eyes. I’m gonna keep it!” Bündchen laughed.
“Right, but that’s hard to hear at any age. But if you were 13 or 14 years old…”
“This is why the ‘her’ was very important.”
It was a veneer that shielded her from the often-brutal side of the fashion business – while also allowing her to flourish in it. Her long list of lucrative contracts made her one of the highest-paid models in the world. Seemed like she had a talent for the business side of show business, too.
But it was between the glitz and the glamour – the rare times she was alone — that she sometimes wished she’d never been discovered at all. “Everybody looked at me from the outside and thought I had it all, right?” Bündchen said. “And I was feeling like I was living this life that was just, like …”
Killing you?“Exactly. You know, drinking mocha frappuccinos for breakfast with three cigarettes; drinking a bottle of wine at night to calm down from all the coffee I was drinking. Not sleeping and traveling and working. Like, I basically burned out my adrenal glands and my nervous system couldn’t take it anymore. I felt bad about it, I felt like I couldn’t tell people that because they looked at me and they’re like, She has everything. Like, they wouldn’t even understand.”
Cowan asked, “How did the anxiety start to present itself?”
“You know, I was in tunnels; I couldn’t breathe,” Bündchen said. “And then, I started being in studios, and I felt, like, suffocated. I lived on the 9th floor, and I had to go up the stairs because I was afraid I would be stuck on the elevator, and I’d be hyperventilating. Because you know, when you can’t breathe even when the windows are open, you feel like, I don’t want to live like this, you know what I mean?”
“Did you really think about jumping?”
“Yeah. For, like, a second, because you’re like, I can’t…!“
She didn’t jump – instead Bündchen said she stopped everything in a single day, a complete detox – no caffeine, no sugar, hardly any alcohol – and began a new morning ritual: meditation. “I wake up at five. Yeah, I like to wake up early, I like to greet the sun. You know, sometimes you’re tired and you’re like, Okay, I’m just going to sleep in a little bit, but I feel a difference when I do that.”
A few years later, when she met NFL superstar Tom Brady, she says she was a different person: happy and healthy, and looking to focus less on modeling and more on motherhood.
When asked if she misses the spotlight, she replied, “Not at all. I was there to take my kids to school every day and make them breakfast every morning and just be with them. What a gift! They grow up so fast. And it’s like that. You wake up and you’re like, What happened?“
Bündchen and Brady now share custody of those children. After 16 years together, their divorce was as public as their careers – painful for everyone, she says. And yet…
“I look into my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said. “I wouldn’t have any other life. I wouldn’t have done it. If they say, can you change something in your life? I wouldn’t change absolutely anything.”
“Not even getting divorced?
“I mean, it’s not what I dreamed of and what I hoped for,” Bündchen said. “My parents have been married for 50 years, and I really wanted that to happen. But I think you have to accept, you know, sometimes that the way you are in your 20s, it’s sometimes you grow together, sometimes you grow apart. He’s the father of my kids, so I always wish him the best, and I’m so grateful that he gave me wonderful children, and I think, you know, when a door shuts, other doors open.”
One of those doors opened onto a blooming field of echinacea, at Gaia Herbs Farms, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. It’s been organically growing any number of healthy herbs to be turned into supplements for nearly 40 years.
Showing Cowan the farm she said, “Nature is my happy place. Anytime I’m in nature, I’m happy.”
For Bündchen, it’s as much a brand as it is a lifestyle: “That’s how I treat my kids. You know, we’d use elderberry syrup, which is a huge, amazing immune booster, and my kids and I love it.”
“Are your kids on board with all this?
“Are you kidding me? My kids have been taking it since they were born. They’re like, ‘Mom, I want to eat this food.’ I’m like, ‘Well, if you can tell me what that is, then you can.'”
She just signed on to be Gaia Herbs’ “wellness ambassador,” a role she says that’s less about business and more about teaching what she calls the wisdom of plants.
“There is different herbs that might have a bigger impact on your system than others,” she said. “So, you have to kind of, like, experiment. That is what I’ve done. Like, I have been taking herbal remedies pretty much my own life.”
She grew up in a rural town in southern Brazil, where her late grandmother had an herb garden of her own. Bündchen fondly remembers how what her grandmother plucked from it seemed to be able to cure almost any ailment. “She was magical for me, because she could fix anything,” she said. “She could plant anything. She could make anything grow. She could heal anything. She was just amazing, right? … She was so special.”
Bündchen got emotional talking about her grandmother. It’s emotional, she says, because after touring the world, she now realizes her ultimate destination may have always been home. “I’m a smalltown girl. You know, you can take the girl out of the smalltown, but not the smalltown out of the girl.”
As a model Gisele Bündchen called herself a “silent actress.” She hopes that silence is no more. “I just think now I’m allowing myself to come out as Giselle versus as ‘her,'” she said. “I don’t have to play a character. I can be me. And that’s liberating.”
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Story produced by Sara Kugel. Editor: Lauren Barnello.