Elon Musk’s Model-Dietitian Mom Maye Talks New Book, Not Being "A Bikini Type" (Exclusive)

Maye Musk AARP Session Cannes Lions - Getty - H 2019
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Signed in 2017 as the oldest spokesperson in CoverGirl history, the 71-year-old spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about her book ‘A Woman Makes a Plan,’ due out in December.

Maye Musk is scheduled for an exclusive afternoon chat Tuesday, Aug. 6, with The Hollywood Reporter, but the time is pushed back when she realizes that she needs to watch her son’s latest endeavor. Said son happens to be the visionary billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk (chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX); said project is the launch of a Falcon9 rocket transporting a $161 million Boeing satellite. Asked about the launch, the 71-year-old model/dietitian/mom responds, "The launch of the book?" And, when clarified, says, "What?! Oh yeah, I've been watching it now and it's all successful. Always nerve-racking, you know? Incredible!"

Musk, who boasts two master's degrees, can match her eldest child's thunder. Raised in South Africa, the mom of three (also producer-director daughter Tosca Musk and restaurateur-philanthropist son Kimbal Musk) worked multiple jobs as a single parent. She has modeled since the age of 15, once as a plus-size model and now as a senior cover star. Musk walks the runways at New York Fashion Week; appears in ads for Moncler, Salvatore Ferragamo, Tiffany & Co. and CoverGirl (signed in 2017 as the oldest spokesperson in company history); she even had a cameo in Beyoncé's "Haunted" music video in 2013. Now the story of Musk's life, plus her tips for living well, are summed up in her book A Woman Makes a Plan: Advice for a Lifetime of Adventure, Beauty and Success (Viking), due out Dec. 31.

Why now for your book? Tell us the backstory.

Well, you know I'm on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook a lot because I don't have to go for castings if they see me on Instagram, which is great. So people keep on asking me, "What do you eat? What's your schedule in the day? What’s your beauty routine?" As a dietitian, I gave lectures all around the world on entrepreneurship and and I won an award for that. So they always ask, "How do you run your business and how do you juggle work and family life?" I answer in half a sentence because, on social media, you can only answer so many.

Usually, when I do a modeling job, I'm the only older model and the others are between 18 and 23 [years old] or something. They also ask me questions and I tell them how it was before social media, that you depended on your agents, and now you have more freedom. And the harder you work, the more work you get. They say, "Oh Maye, all the things you told me today, they're so inspiring. You make me feel so good about myself. I was giving up and now I realize I can keep on going." I had no idea that I had inspired them that much. [My publicist] Kanessa told me, "You've got to write a book about the things you said." And I couldn’t even remember what I said! When we decided that a book needs to happen, we started keeping track of the questions.

I appreciate that you also opened up about your personal struggles with weight as a plus-size model and with ageism as an older model. Can you speak to those topics?

All I can say is that, when I told my kids that I was writing a book, they said, "You’ve got to bring in your struggles!" All right, so these last three years have been fantastic. And, of course, everything's fantastic on Instagram anyway. But they said, "You need to talk about your whole life, you know? The struggles and how you survived, as there will be other women in the same situation and maybe they can make a change."

So that's [how I came up with the title] A Woman Makes a Plan. It's actually based on "n boer maak 'n plan," an Afrikaans saying in South Africa [meaning] that if things are going wrong, then a farmer makes a plan. So when things are going wrong n boer maak 'n plan. From there, it became a woman makes a plan. And if men are in unhappy situations, they need to change, too. And men are interested in reading this, too!

So some or all of your children weighed in and consulted with you about the book?

Yes. Well, I ran some ideas past them and then they gave me some ideas. They brought up some topics that they wanted in the book and that's what I put in! [She later spills that there is a chapter on dating.] And it has my sense of humor; that's why I’ll be reading the book as well on the audio book. Because it’s not like, "Oh, woe is me!" It's more like, "Yeah, I got out of it and you can, too" kind of thing.

What inspired you to become a dietitian?

I was just such a science nerd, so I wanted to do a bachelor of science when I was 17, and I wanted to do microbiology and biology and biochemistry. My dad said, "Well, you should have a profession at the end of that." So I looked into dietetics. I had to then go to an Afrikaans university and learn another language at the same time. But it did me well because I could always be self-employed, so have time for the kids, and model, give talks and presentations, consult and write. [Being a single mom] is easier than a bad marriage.

As a model, what do you think about Victoria's Secret signing the first transgender model, and today's petition by 100 models and Time's Up to end industry abuses?

For me, as a former plus-size model and now as an over-70 model, I think that's wonderful. But I don't think I really want to model a bikini! I never have modeled a bikini; I wasn't a bikini type…. The plus-size models today are beautiful and they've got beautiful bodies, you know, so they can model swimsuits [if they choose].

What were the key factors, would you say, that have contributed to your success and to your children's phenomenal success?

I think it's the same as what my parents did. They worked hard. They set a good example. I've always worked hard. My children had to be very independent and make their own choices and they did, all in different areas in their professions. And they're all happy to work in those careers. Especially Tosca with [her streaming service] Passionflix. She is loving making these romance movies and I'm cheering for her!

Tell me about some of your brand partnerships. 

Well, CoverGirl is a huge campaign. I’m very happy about it, because 50 people will meet me in the street and say, "I wonder what age that is!" [from the commercial's tagline, "They say at a certain age you just stop caring. I wonder what age that is."] So I realized they were seeing that ad a lot.

The book cover is lovely.

Mark Seliger shot the cover. He was one of the first photographers to shoot me for Vanity Fair. I was the oldest "It" girl in Vanity Fair!

The content of this interview has been edited for length and clarity.