THE ICONIC SUPERMODEL AND FOUNDER OF EVERY MOTHER COUNTS ON FASHION, TRAVEL AND FINDING HER REAL MISSION IN LIFE.
“I’m not a great dancer,” says Christy Turlington Burns, a name synonymous with the supermodel era of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Born in Walnut Creek, California, to an American pilot and Salvadoran flight attendant, the genetically blessed icon’s alleged two left feet have never held her back from soaring into a storied career that encompasses countless catwalk appearances, numerous lucrative contracts, hundreds of magazine covers and a host of memorable shoots with famed fashion photographers, such as Herb Ritts and Irving Penn.
She also appeared in a handful of show-stopping cult-classic films and music videos, from Robert Leacock’s Catwalk to George Michael’s “Freedom.” (Who could forget when Turlington Burns glided through those double doors barefoot and wrapped in a white sheet?) And in 1993, the Metropolitan Museum of Art declared the rising star the “Face of the 20th Century” after famed fashion designer Ralph Pucci created 120 mannequins modeled after her exclusively for the Met’s Costume Institute. No big deal.
But Turlington Burns is more than just the world’s most humble supermodel; the wife (she married actor and filmmaker Edward Burns in 2003) and mother of two (Grace, 9, and Finn, 7) is also a super humanitarian. Determined to gift the globe with more than just a striking physical presence that includes an entrancing green-eyed gaze and legs for days that support her 5-foot-10 frame, the 44-year-old activist’s instinctual empathy for others inspired her to start giving back in a major way. “My parents passed their awareness of the world and love of travel onto me, so early on I knew that I wanted to live a life of purpose and was always searching for ways to be useful,” she reveals. “I found personal experiences—such as efforts to rebuild post-war El Salvador (1993), my mom’s birth country, or losing my father to lung cancer (1997), or even my own childbirth complications (2003)—have inspired me to engage in a more meaningful manner.”
Turlington Burns became a global maternal health advocate when she became a mother in 2003. After delivering her first child, she experienced a childbirth-related complication. Since then, she has worked closely with humanitarian organizations such as CARE, ONE and (RED). In 2008, she entered the master’s program at Columbia University’s Mailman School and started production on No Woman, No Cry. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2010.
Every Mother Counts (EMC) was founded the same year. EMC is a campaign to end preventable deaths caused by pregnancy and childbirth around the world. EMC informs, engages and mobilizes new audiences to take action to improve the health and well-being of girls and women worldwide. “Meeting women who feel the same as I do about this cause has been the most rewarding aspect of my work with EMC,” Turlington Burns notes. “When people learn about these statistics, they want to take action.” EMC has gone on to reach a number of exciting milestones, including raising $140,000 during the ING New York City Marathon in 2011 and releasing a second Every Mother Counts compilation album in 2012 that featured moving contributions from the likes of Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith, Lauryn Hill and David Bowie.
Since 2012, she has served on Harvard Medical School’s Global Health Council as well as the Dean’s Board of Advisors at the Harvard School of Public Health. Her advocacy goal is to inspire action in other women to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for all moms. “I’m a woman. I’m a mom,” says Turlington Burns. “Those two things are very much at the front of who I am.”
Turlington Burns is the latest subject of Citizens of Humanity’s monthly Just Like You inspirational film series, which celebrates game-changing innovators from all walks of life through a cinematic salute that showcases their captivating charisma (past stars include legendary ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, famed tattoo artist Mark Mahoney, internationally renowned French chef Michel Rostang and Academy Award-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood, among others). In the film, Turlington Burns visits Haiti to share her organization’s landmark initiatives with the company. As of last year, EMC has begun to provide grants to support programs on the ground in western Uganda and central Haiti. “EMC’s grant provides the funds to train 17 skilled birth attendants with midwives for the country,” she adds. “We’ve been documenting the progress of the students, and this was our second trip to check in on them during their year-long training.”
Crewmembers piled into two jeeps with Turlington Burns to travel out of Port-au-Prince on a three-plus-hour drive to Hinche in the central plateau to meet at the house of EMC’s sister organization, Midwives for Haiti (Sage Femmes Pou Ayiti).
When Citizens of Humanity approached Turlington Burns for the series, she immediately knew that it was the right fit for a partnership, down to the name. “Humanity means all of us working for the betterment of all of society,” she explains. “It’s always exciting to learn that people are aware of and interested in supporting our advocacy efforts. We are always working to engage new audiences by participating in projects that allow us opportunities to share our mission with more people than we could reach on our own. It’s a really nice acknowledgement to be part of such an esteemed group of humanitarians.”
Turlington Burns’ unwavering passion for EMC is a labor of love that consumes most of her time these days, but she’ll never forget her groundbreaking fashion roots and where her work in the industry has taken her—even though “model” is one of the last titles noted on her Twitter bio, after mom, wife, daughter, yogi, marathoner, founder and author. So what does the supermodel, supermom and superwoman want to be remembered most for? “I try to live in the present, which doesn’t really allow for such musings,” she explains. “But I guess I would want to be remembered as having lived life fully.”