Throughout her long and successful modeling career, Gisele Bündchen has proven herself to be much more than simply "the Body," as she was dubbed by Alexander McQueen, or, as Dolce & Gabbana called her, "the boobs from Brazil." As a model, she’s graced hundreds of runways and magazine covers; by the age of 24, she’d become the face of Victoria’s Secret and had appeared on the cover of Vogue 76 times (via The Guardian). In 2016, Forbes named Bündchen one of the 100 top-earning celebrities.
So, how did Bündchen achieve this meteoric rise? Well, as the star explained to Vanity Fair, it’s been quite the journey. "Life is meant to be a challenge," she shared, "because challenges are what make you grow." And she certainly has grown. From her childhood in a small, middle-class town in Brazil to the upper echelons of the modeling world, here is the stunning transformation of Gisele Bündchen.
Gisele Bundchen grew up in a small town in Brazil with her sisters
Gisele Bündchen never expected to become a model. In fact, she was raised in a small town in Brazil and didn’t even know it was a job. "I wanted to be a volleyball player," she told The Wall Street Journal.
On July 20, 1980, Bündchen was born to a bank clerk pensioner and a university teacher (via Lifetime). Her childhood was spent in a small, three-bedroom white brick house in the tiny town of Horizontina with her five sisters. "We all got along like six best friends," she continued. As Bündchen went on to recall, she was a real tomboy as a child, and was fond of climbing trees and running around outside — it’s easy to see why modeling wasn’t initially in her plans.
Bündchen’s upbringing was Roman Catholic and she was raised speaking Portuguese as her first language. She also has some German heritage from both parents, and, apparently, she learned a little German in school.
Gisele Bundchen was extremely hyper as a child
Gisele Bündchen has been described by interviewers as speaking "a mile a minute." As it turns out, the supermodel has always been highly energetic; as she put it to Vanity Fair, "I was extremely hyper when I was kid, like bouncing off the walls." In fact, she even added, "I think that if I was in America they’d probably give me medication."
While Gisele’s energy might have been a lot to handle for her parents, it’s clearly a quality that’s helped her get to where she is today. Her twin, Patricia Bündchen, told the publication, "Unlike me, Gisele was very talkative, and she wasn’t afraid to be away from home for some time even when she was little." Sounds like she showed signs of being a real personality even from an early age.
Because of her excessive energy, Gisele’s parents put her in lots of classes as a child: ballet, gymnastics, and, you guessed it, modeling.
It took awhile for Gisele Bundchen to become confident about her appearance
These days, Gisele Bündchen is known all over the world as being a categorically gorgeous supermodel. However, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, as she revealed to Vanity Fair, as a child, Bündchen struggled to get used to her striking looks. "I was tall and really thin," she recalled. "The kids in school called me Olive Oyl and Saracura, which is a bird with really skinny long legs."
While this classic model look eventually led to Bündchen’s hugely successful career, as a kid she was bullied and ostracized for her unusual appearance. Bündchen confessed that she disliked her nose. As she once explained to The Wall Street Journal, she called herself "strange looking."
Instead of focusing on her looks, Bündchen worked at getting good grades, making good friends, and taking part in sports; she was captain of her school’s volleyball team. Bündchen enjoyed her childhood, even if she was a little self-conscious. "If I were told I could come back as anything, I would have chosen the same life, the same family, the same experiences, the same friends," she affirmed.
Gisele Bundchen left school and moved to Sao Paulo at 14
Gisele Bündchen’s happy childhood was cut short when she was just 14: she was one a school trip to Rio when a modeling scout spotted her. After that, Bündchen dropped out of school and dove into the world of modeling (via Vanity Fair and IGN).
In a letter to her younger self for CBS This Morning, Bündchen reflected on her fated meeting with the model scout. "To your surprise a model scout approaches you because of your unique look," she said. "It turns out, the bullies at school who tease you for being different are wrong." Bündchen also recalled moving to New York City two years later, not knowing English. "In the beginning," she continued, "jobs are scarce, and you’ll have to learn how to manage your money so you can have enough to eat."
At first, Bündchen did struggle to make it big. "In the beginning," she told the The New York Times, "everyone told me, ‘Your eyes are too small, the nose is too big, you can never be on a magazine cover.’" Of course, soon enough, she proved them wrong.
Gisele Bundchen had a harsh introduction to life in the big city
After being scouted, Gisele Bündchen left her small town behind and moved to São Paulo. As the model explained to Vanity Fair, it wasn’t easy for her as a small town girl to adjust to big city life. "The first time I traveled by myself, it was to a city of 22 million people," she explained. Her father had given her $50 for a cab to her new apartment, but she decided to travel by subway to save money. "I thought I was being very smart," she continued.
However, it turns out, a pickpocket stole Bündchen’s wallet and she lost all of her money. In the end, she had to walk to her new home. "There was a lot of those times, but I learned pretty fast," she added. It sounds like life in the big city taught Bündchen a lot about being street smart.
Gisele Bundchen worked hard to learn how to model
As a teenager entering the modeling industry, Gisele Bündchen was essentially clueless; despite having taken a modeling course, she had a lot to learn. "I had no idea what modeling was," she confessed to Vanity Fair. However, soon, Bündchen learned that it was about becoming something other than yourself. "It’s not you," she continued.
However, even though Bündchen was new to modeling, she was hooked very early on. After years of enduring bullying and name calling, suddenly, people found her attractive and beautiful. "It was a different standard of beauty," she added.
As her twin sister said, even though Bündchen was inexperienced, she was determined. "Her willpower made her successful," she recalled. "She has never let the critics put her down, and this has never changed." Soon, Bündchen’s hard work, perseverance, and thick skin paid off. More and more jobs started to come her way, and her career seemed to be on course to take off.
Gisele Bundchen quickly rose through the ranks of the modeling world, becoming "the Body"
Once Gisele Bündchen found her feet in the modeling world, the jobs started coming in. Her first big break was through Alexander McQueen when she was 17, and Bündchen is grateful to him for it. As she told Love, "The great thing about McQueen was that he wouldn’t look at anybody’s books. All he cared about was that you could walk in impossible heels." It was at this time that Bündchen became known as "the Body."
Another major moment in Bündchen’s career came one year later, when Big magazine made her the focus of an entire issue. Bündchen believes that it was these early opportunities in the world of British fashion that catapulted her to stardom. "Ninety per cent of the power people in fashion are British," she explained. "I think people understood I could be cool after that."
Soon enough, Bündchen was everywhere. In fact, her rise to fame in the late ’90s is often credited with the end of the heroin chic fad. A few years later, she was the highest-paid model in the world (via The Guardian).
Gisele Bundchen had to learn about prioritizing her health
For Gisele Bündchen, becoming a supermodel was both thrilling and a little dangerous. These days, she’s known for her healthy lifestyle, but it wasn’t always this way. Early in her career, Bündchen explained to The Guardian, she was over eager to do every job that came her way. The pressure soon became too much and she started to experience panic attacks — and her lifestyle didn’t help. "I was eating steak and fries every night. I was drinking a bottle of wine and smoking cigarettes and having a mocha cappuccino for breakfast," she recalled.
Bündchen’s unhealthy lifestyle soon sent her spinning into a cycle of insomnia and anxiety. She finally realized she needed to make a change when she was 24, when she reached her lowest point — as she confessed, she once considered harming herself. "What I realized was that I am creating this for myself: we are creating the lives we are living with our actions and we have a choice," she continued.
Bündchen soon committed to a new routine of meditation, yoga, lots of sleep, and healthy plant-based food, and hasn’t looked back since.
Gisele Bundchen had a rocky relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio
While Gisele Bündchen was on the cover of just about every fashion magazine out there in the noughties, she also graced plenty of tabloids. This was largely thanks to her relationship with superstar Leonardo DiCaprio. According to The Sun, the pair dated from 1999 to 2005. However, the relationship was definitely a pretty rocky one. As W revealed in 2002, they broke up at least once. At the time, Bündchen stated, "No time for boys. There’s nothing else to say."
Then a few years later, there were rumors of marriage. As Bündchen revealed to Vanity Fair, the relationship did have its positives. "We were very young, and we grew together in a lot of ways," she revealed.
In the end, Bündchen realized that DiCaprio didn’t fit into her new, healthier lifestyle. In her memoir Lessons: My Path to a Meaningful Life, she explained that as she cleaned up her lifestyle, she began to notice that DiCaprio wasn’t keen on doing the same. "Was I alone in wanting to do some serious soul-searching while he stayed the same?," she wrote. "In the end, unfortunately, the answer was yes."
Gisele Bundchen was very influenced by Buddhism
Part of Gisele Bündchen’s healthy regime is a daily Buddhist meditation routine. As Love reported, she even has a tendency to quote Buddhist texts in everyday conversation.
For Bündchen, meditation is a crucial part of feeling her best — in fact, without it, she wouldn’t be who she is today. "Meditation has been a great tool for me in my life," she explained in a chat with People (via Transcendental Meditation). "It helps to quiet my mind and helps me see things more clearly. It brings a sense of peace to my day."
Over the years, Buddhism has brought Bündchen a greater sense of wisdom and healing, too. "I have been meditating since my early 20s and I must say that words do not express enough the significance of its gifts in my life," she said. It sounds as though discovering Buddhist meditation completely transformed Bündchen’s life for the better.
In 2009, Gisele Bundchen got her dream wedding with the love of her life
Shortly after breaking up with Leonardo DiCaprio, Gisele Bündchen met someone new: Tom Brady, a famous quarterback. As the model told Love, all of her friends had been trying to set her up. Eventually, she agreed to meet Brady on a blind date. "It was really like doing a favor for a friend," she confessed.
Bündchen had set aside half an hour for the date, but it ended up lasting three hours. In fact, as Bündchen confessed to Vanity Fair, she practically fell in love with Brady on that first date. "I knew right away — the first time I saw him," she continued.
Even though Bündchen had been happily single for a year prior to meeting Brady, she was totally smitten. Three years later, the pair married in a super private ceremony in Santa Monica. As Bündchen explained, the wedding cemented their strong relationship. "We’ve been together over two years; we’ve been living together," she added. The ceremony simply made it a little more official.
Gisele Bundchen became a prominent environmental activist
While Gisele Bündchen is probably best known for her modeling work, she’s also carved out a reputation as a passionate activist over the years. As the model explained to Elle, her passion for the environment goes way back to a trip in 2004 to Brazil’s Xingu region, where she "got to see firsthand the problems [the people of the local tribe] were facing because of the pollution of the river." Bündchen decided she could make a difference. "I’ve been advocating for social and environmental causes ever since," she explained. A few years later, she and her family created Projeto Água Limpa ("Clean Water Project") in Brazil.
Bündchen even became a Global Goodwill Ambassador as part of the UN’s environment program. As it states on the UN’s website, "With a uniquely global reach, Bündchen uses her influence to bring attention to our planet and how society can collectively work to protect it. She is often noted among the world’s most generous celebrities."
Becoming a mother completely transformed Gisele Bundchen
Gisele Bündchen had two children with her husband, Tom Brady: Benjamin Brady, born in 2009, and Vivian Brady, born in 2012 (via Marie Claire). For most parents, having children proves to be a momentous milestone in life. For Bündchen, motherhood was utterly transformative. "It’s a cliche," she told Love, "but there is no bigger thing." She also explained that having kids completely changed her perspective. "I don’t want him to say his mom was a successful model," she explained. "I want him to say that she took care of him… that she was a good person."
Of course, adjusting to life as a mother wasn’t easy. As she wrote in her memoir Lessons: My Path to Meaningful Life, "When I became a mom, I kind of lost myself. It was like a part of me died." Bündchen had to get used to being responsible for someone else. "I suddenly felt l couldn’t do other things and that was very hard for me." While she was thrilled, it was, as she put it, "a shock" (via People).
Gisele Bundchen is looking towards the future with a sense of confidence and balance
Gisele Bündchen turned 40 in 2020. And while she may be getting older, she appears to be doing it with her usual dose of grace and enthusiasm. To celebrate her birthday, Bündchen announced on Instagram that she would be planting 40,000 trees.
And in an interview with The Guardian, Bündchen explained that the notion of aging doesn’t phase her — she plans to enjoy life as she always has. "I mostly like to be outside with nature, doing something physical like surfing, horseback riding, I play volleyball, run around with my kids or take my dog for a walk," she revealed. Bündchen went on to explain that she had no intention of starting any new exercise regimes or diets to stop the natural aging process in its tracks. As she put it, "It’s important to do those things that really nourish you, benefit you, make you feel good."