Last updated: Jan 09, 2009
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Jack Guy

When a supermodel marries a rock star, it sounds like a fairy tale…and a recipe for exceptionally unhealthy living. Yet Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp, 39, has managed to spin her glam life—shes modeled for Ralph Lauren, Victorias Secret, and J. Crew, and has graced the cover of Vogue—into a warm, well-balanced one with her family in the country. She and her husband, John Mellencamp, 57, have been married for 16 years and are raising their sons Hud, 14, and Speck, 13, in a house on Lake Monroe outside Bloomington, Ind. In fact, the Almay spokes­model not only embraces life in Indiana but uses it to her health advantage by practicing boxing, fencing, and even running football plays with her sons.


Just one day before the family heads off on a five-week tour of Australia and New Zealand, Elaine opens up about the joy of having boys, the importance of staying physically strong, and the health scare that made nutritious eating a family priority.

You started modeling at 15 and still do it part-time. How is it different now?

Before, I was like, ‘Oh, ow. I felt poked and prodded. But now, having someone do my hair and makeup? Its great! It feels like a spa day!

What are your strategies for eating healthy?

Im a vegetarian, but my family isnt. If I can keep everything in my house healthy, I dont have to worry as much when I eat out. I always try to slip healthy things by my kids. I give them sweet potato French fries and fake chicken nuggets.

So you like to cook?

I generally cook—we dont go out too much. But I was a terrible cook! When John and I were first married, I would make two whole meals as backup, in case one didnt turn out right.

Do you crave unhealthy things?

Oh yeah, sure! I think if youre feeling like an M&M, you have an M&M.

An M&M?

OK, youre not going to eat just one M&M. For me, peanut M&Ms are always good. Peanut M&Ms and pretzels, the combo? Oh yeah.

Do you have a skin product you swear by?

Almay. I love their Nearly Naked line. Its really sheer and pretty for every day.

Have you ever felt pressure to stay thin because you are a model?

I was a bit of a tomboy when I started modeling. And Ive always felt athletic and strong. Thats how I approach things now, too: by whether or not I feel good or strong or healthy. I never weigh myself. Thats the best advice I can give—never step on a scale. You know if youre being healthy, if youre exercising. You dont need to be undermined by some crazy number.

Your marriage has lasted 16 years. Whats your secret?

Well, John and I do a lot together, and we include our kids. We all travel together. And you have to have a good sense of humor, because, you know, in every couple theres always a chance that one person might accidentally say something thoughtless.

John had a heart attack two years after you were married. That must have been tough for you.

His family had quite a history of high cholesterol and heart disease. He just didnt know the risk factors and heed the warnings, but he works out a lot now. He does a lot to be healthy.

Did it change the way you eat, drink, and live?

Oh yeah, absolutely. We tried different things to lower Johns cholesterol just through his diet alone, which is quite a commitment because its always oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! That didnt help as much as adding the cholesterol-lowering drug, but it did make me more health conscious about what I grabbed at the store.

Any favorite family rituals?

I want everyone to come to dinner. We watch 60 Minutes on Sundays. And John and I have been to every football practice. I like to play sports. Speck and I take fencing lessons. And Hud is an amateur boxer. The best shape I ever get in is when Hud is training for a boxing tournament because I train with him.

That seems like something John, the dad, would do.

Well, he doesnt like to run. I love to run. I even run football plays with the boys.

How are your parenting styles different?

Im probably more patient. Johns very strict. He has more of an idea of how kids in his generation were raised.

What about when its just the two of you? Whats the most romantic thing Johns done?

Hes a grand-gesture guy. Valentines Day he did 20 bouquets of roses and put candles in the bathtub.

You have spent your life giving. What causes mean the most to you?

Last year was the 22nd Farm Aid concert, [which helps family farms]. John is actually a founding member. The movement is all about eating clean food and supporting small family farms versus big factory farms. You want to be associated with things that you implement in your life. It makes it a real, heartfelt mission.

Where do you feel happiest?

With my family. We have a little beach house in Georgia, and sometimes Ill be walking by the lighthouse, the wind is blowing, the kids are playing, Johns sitting on a chair, and Ill think to myself, This is perfect.