Thanks to unfiltered pictures, caustic captions and 280 witty characters, CHRISSY TEIGEN has become the woman that everyone wants to befriend. CHRISTINE LENNON discovers that whether it’s postpartum depression, her “unglamorous” modeling career or wanting people to like her, no subject matter is out of bounds for the queen of social media
As one of the most outrageous and entertaining voices in modern American culture, Chrissy Teigen has built a mini empire out of honesty, surprising vulnerability and some of the best jokes ever typed with thumbs. And she’s done it (almost) all in a sheet mask, wrapped in a towel, from the comfort of her sofa. “People think I am so wild, but I never leave the house,” Teigen says, erupting into her famous head-thrown-back laugh. “I’m very much an introvert. This is my happy place.”
You can see why. A five-bedroom contemporary in Beverly Hills that Rihanna once owned, the home Teigen shares with her husband, recording artist John Legend, and their two kids (Luna, three, and Miles, one) is situated at the end of a winding road with views across Los Angeles. Inside, it’s a hive of domestic activity. “Do you have farts from the garlic?” Chrissy calls to Miles, who is speeding around in a baby walker, avoiding a nap. Luna returns from preschool, wearing a pink tutu and carrying a Godzilla toy, and Teigen shouts “Toons!” to greet her. Teigen’s mother, nicknamed Pepper (real name Vilailuck), who also lives here, wanders through wearing Yeezy slides.
Teigen herself is curled at the end of a velvet sectional in her living room, wearing a Caravana jumpsuit and Chloé cardigan, her hair up in braids. Paul Barbosa, a chef who collaborates with Teigen on her Cravings cookbooks and upcoming website of the same name, walks in from the kitchen to fill two glasses of rosé. This is mission control for Teigen’s team; here, she’ll take meetings (to discuss new recipes, or her homeware collaboration with Target), play with her kids, film content for social media and entertain friends. “We’ve had some ragers in here,” she admits. “Don’t worry about spilling anything. It’s all been done before.”
“John and I believe a LOT of different things. He shares his view, I’ll explain MINE. He knows everything I don’t know. I know everything he doesn’t know! That’s why it WORKS”
Teigen still has plenty of gigs in the outside world. She has co-hosted Lip Sync Battle on Spike TV with LL Cool J for five seasons. She also recently completed filming the first season of a comedy competition for NBC called Bring the Funny. “I can’t believe how lucky I am. My job was to show up every day and let people make me laugh,” she says. “I love watching comedy, sketch, stand-up, all of it. There was a nursery on set for Miles and Luna. Everyone was so accommodating. John was on the same lot doing The Voice and we could have lunch together every day.”
But her TV commitments aside, Teigen’s social-media persona is now pretty much a full-time occupation. Though she has been on Twitter since 2009, it was in 2017 that her popularity took a particularly sharp climb. One reason was that she chose to share her story of postpartum depression. People were won over by her candor and vulnerability. Today, she shows no signs of the debilitating anxiety that plagued her after Luna’s birth. “Yes, totally, and it’s because I’m obviously medicated,” she laughs. “I was prescribed Lexapro [an antidepressant] when I was a teenager, and then I just quit cold turkey, not thinking it was a real thing. I thought everyone had problems like mine, like it was part of life.”
Years later, as a first-time new mom, the symptoms crept back. She lost her appetite, didn’t have the energy to walk upstairs to her own bedroom, slept on the couch, and had unexplained aches and pains. “I felt bad [about it] because we had so many resources. John was great and helpful. My mom was here… I was embarrassed.” Now, with medication and a positive work/life balance, she is thriving. Working on her cookbooks is her favorite way to relax. “I’m at home with my babies. They’re in the videos with me. I can experiment and cook. Paul and I cook all day. People come in and out all day! And we make them try things for the site. It’s just fun.”
“There’s NOTHING that happens that we really feel we can’t post. We don’t want to post pictures of the KIDS that they may be embarrassed by, but that’s it. We’re not pretending that LIFE is perfect”
To say that Teigen and Legend’s life together is the subject of fascination is an understatement. They have endorsement deals with brands from Google to Pampers because they’re a marketer’s dream: they’re beautiful, funny, relatable and wide open on social media. Everything from their television-watching habits to their romantic life is fair game. “There’s nothing that happens that we really feel we can’t post,” Teigen admits. “We don’t want to post pictures of the kids that they may see in ten years and be embarrassed by, but that’s it. We’re not pretending that life is perfect. I’m not the person who goes to work and posts the glam photos. When I’m on set, I love to be present.” Despite their dissimilarities, Legend and Teigen clearly make a good match. “John and I believe a lot of different things. He shares his view, I’ll explain mine. And it’s just a dinner conversation for us,” she says. “He knows everything I don’t know. I know everything he doesn’t know! That’s why it works.”
Teigen first made headlines when she appeared in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 2010, though the half-Thai, half Norwegian-American grew up far from bikini-country. Born in Utah, she and her stay-at-home mom and older sister, Tina, moved around a lot due to her father’s job as an electrician. When her family relocated from a suburban farming community in Washington to Orange County, Teigen took a job at a Huntington Surf & Sport store to fit in with the beachy SoCal scene – even though she couldn’t swim. That’s where a model scout spotted her at 18.
“I never thought of myself as a real model. I made consistent money working for catalogues and websites, where they didn’t care if your eyes were open or closed, because you didn’t even see my face. I was modeling the back of a shirt with words on it. Honestly, it was the least glamorous way to model,” says Teigen. Her agency encouraged her to move to Miami Beach where, during the ‘season’, thousands of young women flock to work: “I was living in a two-bedroom model apartment with five other people. I would sleep on the sofa. We were all just working to break even, just to pay the rent. My roommates were drinking diet tea and eating cotton balls soaked in chicken broth to stay skinny. I remember my friend got a job working at a burrito restaurant and that’s all I ate for months. Free burritos.”
“Everything ‘BIG’ I’ve ever said [on social media] was just heat of the moment and sometimes REGRETTABLE. It’s good to learn that’s not necessarily the way to go EVERY time”
In 2007, while still in Miami, the then 21-year-old was cast in the video for Legend’s song Stereo. The two hit it off immediately but weren’t exclusive for some time. “He would play a show at the Fillmore and he’d be staying down at the Ritz-Carlton. I’d stay there with him and then he’d leave really early the next morning, and I would call my friends and say, ‘He’s gone! Come over.’ We’d eat these huge breakfasts.” Six years later, Legend and Teigen married at Lake Como. Their lives since have been dutifully documented on social media, sometimes to the chagrin of Legend’s devotees; one memorable Teigen riposte reads: “I lovvvvvve John fans that hate me. It is the best. You’re so right. I don’t deserve him. He should be with you.”
Of course, another reason for Teigen’s spike in popularity – and notoriety – has been her outspoken criticism of Donald Trump, which culminated post-election in 2017, when Trump wrote, “We must keep ‘evil’ out of our country,” and she replied, “What time should we call your Uber?” The President later blocked her. Teigen and Legend are regular fixtures at political rallies, campaigning on issues including prison reform and immigration rights, and were invited to the recent Democratic retreat for the US Congress, where they spoke about dealing with strife on social media. “John’s always been very politically active, and I probably wouldn’t be if I wasn’t with him,” she says. “Seeing his passion is incredible.”
“It’s funny when everyone thinks you’re TOUGH and you don’t care. It’s good to care. And it SUCKS when people don’t like you. It makes you realize the POWER words have”
Teigen has become a punching bag for conservative pundits, and while she is determined to remain outspoken, she is now proceeding with more caution: “Everything ‘big’ I’ve ever said was just heat of the moment and sometimes very regrettable,” she says. “I just pop off too quick. Honestly, it’s good to learn that’s not necessarily the way to go every time.”
She’s learning – sometimes the hard way – that speaking freely and critically and wanting to be universally loved are impulses that can be at odds with each other. “Sometimes I will scroll through [comments] and I will just keep reading and reading the positive ones until I find something negative. And then I’ll stop, and I’ll be mad,” she says. “Or sad. And I’m like, ‘Why did I keep going? There’s no point in that.’ There’s always going to be that person, no matter whose page you go to. The women I love and look up to have that s**t, too… It’s funny when everyone thinks you’re so tough and things just roll off your back and you don’t care,” she continues. “It’s good to care. I think you should want to be a respected, liked person. And it sucks when people don’t like you. It makes you realize the power words have.”
Teigen's own words connect people more often than they divide them, which is the greatest power of all.
Bring the Funny starts July 9 on NBC
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