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Rebecca's Youth Part 1


If you'd seen Rebecca as a child, dancing around to show tunes in her family's home in Berkeley, California, you wouldn't surprised that she wound up basking in the spotlight. "She wasn't a quiet, passive little girl," admits her mother, Elizabeth Kuizenga. Romijn admits that she was shy and awkward, wearing long johns under her pants to augment her skinny legs. Tamara vouches for it: "She was terribly shy. When she wanted to go buy something, I would take her by the hand up to the counter, and buy it."

Rebecca and her younger sister, Tamara, who works as a massage therapist, were raised in the free-spirit, hippie environment that California in general and Berkeley in particular were famous for in the 1970s - mostly because the family couldn't afford a more aspirational lifestyle. Her father made simple wooden toys for Rebecca to play with, though she longed for the colourful plastic ones made by Fisher-Price. And her nutrition-conscious mother's homemade molasses breads didn't satisfy little Rebecca's cravings for Fruit Loops. "I didn't want that home-baked crap," she says. The best advice she received from her parents was not the obvious golden rule, but to take lots of vitamin C. "My mom's always said she wasn't a hippie because she couldn't afford the outfits," says Rebecca. Nor were the Romijns particularly active in politics or into drugs: "I don't think my mom has ever inhaled a cigarette." Rebecca says she smoked pot once, with friends of her parents, when she was ten, hated it, and never touched drugs again.

Rebecca first entertained the idea of modelling during her freshman year at the University of California at Santa Cruz, when a friend hooked her up with a European modeling scout who was visiting nearby San Francisco. They did some test pictures, and the scout invited Rebecca to Paris for the summer.

Having never considered herself the model type, Rebecca figured she'd make some quick cash over the summer and then return to school in the fall. Soon, however, she was getting offers she couldn't refuse, like the cover of the French Ell and a Biotherm cosmetics contract for big bucks. Three years later, she was still in Paris doing print work and runway shows.

Despite the regular work, Rebecca still felt unfulfilled. One day while sitting at the top of the Eiffel Tower with her mother, who would visit every year for the fashion shows, "we had this long conversation about cashing in on one's looks and whether or not that was okay," recalls Rebecca. "Coming from Berkeley, which is a very anti-vain place, that was my big dilemma." Rebecca's mom then pointed out that it was also part of Rebecca's upbringing to make the most of the chances that life presented her. "Ultimately," says Rebecca, "my mother was proud that I had nabbed the opportunity."

Original article: Cosmopolitan 7/2000 & Premiere Magazine 4/2004

Her mother says Rebecca's upbringing helped her thrive when she started modelling. Elizabeth, who still lives in Berkeley and raised the girls alone after she and Jaap divorced, says: "I think that being from an unusual background made Rebecca more grounded. She didn't grow up being told she was beautiful. Even though she was a gorgeous child. Rebecca and Tamara were allowed to experiment with all sorts of things. They were exposed to nudity, to free-thinking and to drugs at a certain level. And for that reason they were never tempted to go off the rails in later life. "She's very laid-back, she works hard and she's funny. It's ironic: she has rebelled by becoming conventional."

Original article: Sunday Magazine 4/2003

As a kid, as now, she was often naked. Romijn grew up in Berkeley, the northern California test tube of hippie experiment; her friends were named Blueberry, Forest, Meadow and Rainbow. The Hog Farm, a historic commune cofounded in the mid-1960s by Wavy Gravy, the activist who emceed at Woodstock, was a block from the Romijn house. As Rebecca remembers it, her father, who builds custom furniture, roamed the house nude, answering the door or greeting his daughter's dates in the buff. The Romijns didn't have much money: Rebecca's mom, who teaches English to immigrants, bought negligees at thrift stores and sewed them into veils and gowns, which Rebecca and a younger sister wore to school. One morning young Rebecca said, "Mom, I don't have anything to wear." Her mother went and looked in Rebecca's closet "and she almost started to cry, becaus I didn't have anything to wear. There was nothing in my closet," Romijn recalls.

When she was seven, she says, her parents broke up, although her mother simply moved across the street, and the couple remained close friends. "It was very confusing. My sister and I would ask, 'Why can't they just be together?'"

There was only one way to rebel against a nudist dad and a mom who sang along the South Pacific: listen to hip-hop. Soon after seeing her first concert, Pince's Purple Rain tour - she and her friends had asymmetrical hairdos, just like Wendy and Lisa - she heard Licensed to Ill, her first favorite record. (When she saw the Beasties while cohosting the live preshow at the MTV Video Music Awards this year, she turned speechless in awe, and worried that she might have to interview them.) She first smoked pot at age eleven, but "I hated it, and I never smoked it again. Well," she replies to a skeptical look, "I may have tried it a couple other times."

She never went to a Dead show, but she's still in a good position to answer the question: Are hippies dirty? "Some of them were. If one kid in the class had head lice, all the kids had head lice. And my mom would always say "Don't go in the sandbox," because every time we went in, we got pinworms."

Pinworms? Romijn points at her backside, then - and this doesn't happen often - goes silent. "I don't wanna tell ya. It's gross." For those of you who do not know, pinworms are intestinal parasites that lay eggs in the host's anus, often causing severe itching. They can be prevented by good personal hygiene, which no doubt was rare in Rebecca's neck of the woods. It probably didn't help that she was likely naked in the sandbox, too.

And yes, in the obligatory model's tale of adolescent woe, she was a tall, lanky teen, who "just hated my body." She drank cream instead of milk, wore long johns under her pants - "anything to bulk up. And my mom used to say, "I know you don't believe me, but someday you're gonna have the body every woman wants."" The body lots of men want too, if Conan O'Brien is at all typical.

Original article: Details 1/1999

Rebecca Romijn was a late bloomer - she didn't get her period or breasts until she was sixteen - and she grew up in an environment that was antithetical to modeling and glamour, in eggheady, hippie-filled Berkeley.

"Berkeley was an amazing place to grow up as the offspring of the anti-establishment generation" says Rebecca.

Her mother, Elizabeth Kuizinga, is a Dutch-American minister's daughter and teacher of English as a second language, and her father, Jaap. is a furniture builder. (Thought they divorced when Rebecca was seven and her sister, Tamara, was four, they have remained close and are still neighbors.)

Her childhood "was all about getting good graded and having a personality, not being pretty," says Romijn. She never learned the basics about makeup, hair, or fashion; she wore pajama bottoms and long johns to school. "I was kind of a mess. I didn't know how to put myself together at all." Her mother adds that growing up, "Rebecca didn't think she was beautiful - she wasn't happy with how long and thin her body was."

Her mother imposed a healthy diet, making granola and yoghurt at home, serving protein shakes and sprinkling wheat germ on everything. Romijn was so sugar-deprived that when she arrived at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1991, the first thing she did was buy herself a box of Froot Loops. (To this day, she has a sugar jones; she has chocolate every day at 4:00, and she's been known to eat an entire angel food cake in one sitting.

But when she dropped out of college to take up a modeling agen't invitation to fly to Paris (at the relatively ancient age of nineteen), it wasn't an act of rebellion so much as a pragmatic decision: She wanted to see the world and make some money. Of course, she also enjoyed the liberation of finally allowing herself to cultivate and enjoy her looks.

"I lived in crappy apartments, had no money, couldn't speak the language, and I took the metro in high heels, running from job to job. It was nutty. After the first year I relaxed and started to love it"

says Rebecca. She dated a string of male models, and got so accustomed to men murmuring "Ooh la la" when she walked by that once, when she had cut her hair off on a whim, she cried to her roommate, "Nobody said, 'Ooh la la!'" - "I worried that I'd cut off my sex appeal" she says.

But she was also conflicted. She'd taken some women's-studies courses at Santa Cruz, and after she left school, an aunt teased her: "Wow, you've had a pretty impressive year. First you became a feminist, and then you became a bikini model."

"That hit me hard," Romijn says. But then her mother came to Paris during the fashion shows, and they had a heart-to-heart talk at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Romijn confided her ambivalence about selling her looks, coming from their "wholesome, politically correct family," but her mother surprised her: "She told me to take advantage of every opportunity, as long as I'm having fun. She told me she wished that she'd done it when she was young - that she felt like she'd wasted her beauty." Kuizenga adds, "I did some local modeling when I was young, but it never occured to me to [pursue it] - I was in Michigan. It was small thinking, and I didn't want my daughters to have small thinking."

Original articles: Elle 03/2001 & Parade Magazine 04/2003 & Sunday Telegraph Magazine 03/2003

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