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Vendela: Model Mom

On the surface, Swedish model/actress Vendela appears to be one of those women you just love to hate. Impossibly beautiful, incredibly fit, internationally famous and rich, too, she’s a woman who has it all, darn it.

But wait. You don’t know all there is to know about Vendela. Going deeper, beneath the surface, you will find a compassionate humanitarian, savvy businesswoman, wonderful wife to Norwegian businessman Olaf Thomessen and marvelous mother to daughters Julia and Hannah.

“I’ve always loved working, and loved new challenges,” Vendela says. “But I’ ve also always wanted a family. It changes your life dramatically when you have a family.”

Vendela’s Journey
Vendela-Model Mom Shares Her Feelings on Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and FamilyVendela Kirsebom Thomessen was born on January 12, 1967 in Stockholm, Sweden. At the age of 13, she was “discovered” in a local restaurant by top modeling agent Eileen Ford, who was scouting for fresh Scandinavian faces. Just three months after arriving in the United States at age 18, Vendela was selected as the face of Elizabeth Arden cosmetics. She quickly followed that by becoming the spokesperson for Revlon’s Almay cosmetics.

She hit the “big time” when she landed the cover of the 1995 Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. With 50 million readers, the issue made Vendela a household name. Smart enough to know that the millions she makes in modeling may not last forever as she ages, Vendela turned her focus to acting. With roles in Batman and Robin (Mrs. Freeze to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze), Model Behavior and the remake of The Parent Trap, as well as appearances on The Larry Sanders Show, Murphy Brown and other TV programs, Vendela is attempting to launch herself as a film star.

But this model mom has more in mind than the silver screen. She also works on “business deals focusing on branding my name” and “finding products that will go with me.” Having launched successful campaigns for Baked Lays potato chips and Hanes Hosiery, among others, Vendela aspires to maximize her reach and potential. However, she knows how to balance her life.

“I feel very fortunate that I don’t have to work every day, that I don’t have a boss,” she says. “I can work one week, then take off two weeks. I can work at night, making phone calls, after the kids are asleep.”

Pregnancy and Postpartum
Vendela-Model Mom Shares Her Feelings on Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and FamilyVendela sailed through two smooth pregnancies, though her birth experiences were very different. The first one, which she experienced in Europe, was tough because “there was a lot of pain that nobody told me about.” The second one, which she experienced in the U.S., was “a lot easier because I knew more, and you know what you’re in for.”

In Europe, Vendela found a push toward natural childbirth. “They didn’t want you to use medication,” she says. “It was painful. In the U.S., I used an epidural. Maybe I have a low threshold for pain, but if they can take away pain without hurting the baby, then why not?”

Pregnancy was a time when she felt especially good about herself. “I worked a lot, doing a lot of pregnancy-related things, like Liz Lange Maternity,” Vendela says. “It was a lot of fun and I worked until the day I delivered.”

An advocate of breastfeeding, Vendela enjoyed nursing Julia and spending a lot of time with her as a baby. When she became pregnant for the second time, preparing Julia for the new arrival became the focus. “We read a lot. That’s the great thing about the States – there are lots of things available to tell kids about the new baby,” she says. After Hannah was born, “It was always ‘her baby.’ [Julia] wanted to have her pacifier that she hadn’t used in a while, and a blanket like the baby.”

Her Most Important Role
As busy as she is, Vendela’s first priority is Julia and Hannah. The family relocated from the U.S. to Oslo, Norway, after her husband received a job offer there so they could be closer to their families. Growing up surrounded by extended family ensures that the girls grow up with a lot of love and attention.

Vendela frequently travels for business. She and her husband make sure that one of them is always with the kids. “When I’m gone for a little while, I come back home and feel such joy seeing my kids,” she says.

But life with children isn’t always easy. The kids get along for the most part, but discipline issues can be frustrating. “Hannah, the little one, has a temper; she’s feistier,” she says. “Julia, the older one, is a sweetie. She never does anything back to [Hannah].”

It’s hard to figure out what to do, for example, when Hannah wants to draw on the same piece of paper that Julia is drawing on – and things get physical. “I tell her that there’s no hitting, no biting, but I need to figure out what to do because I don’t believe in spanking,” Vendela says. “I’ve tried time-outs, but Julia liked them, so there was no point. Sometimes I lose my temper and go ‘Ahhhhh!’ I try not to go crazy.”

The Other Children in Her Life
Vendela-Model Mom Shares Her Feelings on Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and FamilyVendela is proud of her role as an international spokesperson for U.N.I.C.E.F. She travels to third world countries to educate parents about the importance of breastfeeding, safe motherhood and girls’ education. “Breastfeeding is especially important in the third world,” she says. “It’s great for bonding, great for health.”

What she doesn’t like is when busy moms take shortcuts. “When mothers are so busy and on the run, you see things like babies in car seats being fed, she says. “If you’re cuddling with your child, you can bond even when bottle-feeding.”

Vendela also works with the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and The American Cancer Society. Her next trip is to Vietnam, and she will be attending a conference in Japan about the sexual exploitation of children.

How Life Has Changed
Life with children is a wild and crazy ride, but it’s never boring. “It never stops: the laundry, cooking, working out schedule, picking up, dropping off,’ says Vendela. “But every weekend we spend together. It’s fantastic – we’re never wondering what to do.” And that includes cooking – Vendela loves to eat. “The best part is spending time together. Julia helps me cook. When she puts salt in the sauce, and I hear them giggle, the house is full of laughter.”

There are no picky eaters in the Thomessen household, and that may be because the kids were never given much choice. From the time Vendela began making her own baby food – by mashing vegetables and adding breastmilk or water – the girls have been eating whatever their parents want them to eat. “My kids eat everything we eat. They’ve eaten most of the things I’ve put on the table.”

So how does she keep her model figure? Vendela’s workout schedule has changed, but she still stays in shape. “I work out three times per week by running and working out with weights. But with kids, it’s not always practical. I’ll take the kids to swimming lessons, and then swim myself!”

Advice for Fellow Moms
Vendela-Model Mom Shares Her Feelings on Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and FamilyVendela feels strongly that moms should take as much time with their babies as they can. “It really goes by fast,” she says. “Even if everything seems new and scary, it’s really wonderful if you can enjoy it. A lot of moms are worried about finances and getting back to work right away. But take time with your baby, even if you’re not paid.”

Vendela notes that in Scandinavia, every mom receives a year of maternity leave, while in the U.S. we are lucky to get 6 to 12 weeks. “I think a year is perfect,” she says. ” It’s terrible to leave a 6-week-old baby to go back to work. Our children are so important – the first connection should be with the parents and not with someone else. It’s very hard on moms and on children. This should change in the U.S., and should be a big issue in the next election.”

Vendela has so much advice for expectant and new moms that she wrote a book about it called Model Mommy (McGraw-Hill, 2002), that includes commentary on pregnancy, postpartum, physical and emotional issues.