The one lesson I hope to pass onto my daughter is that she is worthy. I wish I had known not to be afraid — that I'm worthy. And to have kindness and compassion for all people. My name is Wini Burkeman. I’m 56 years old. I have two children, Max, 19 and Eve, 13, as well as two dogs, Pedro, 3 and Mushy, 16. And I have been with my husband, db, for 30 years.
I was born on 204th Street in Inwood, Uptown Manhattan and moved to The Bronx when I was 14. My parents were Irish immigrants. Most of my friends' parents were also immigrants from various countries— I grew up in a melting pot. My block was mostly Irish, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Polish. It was an amazing childhood, classic NYC. Summers playing stick ball, eating Mr. Softee, stoop sitting, and running around getting into mischief. My brother kept a pigeon coop on the roof. I went to Catholic high school and worked at Baskin Robbins on Fordham Road in the Bronx.
By the time I was 14, I'd already had two guns held to my head and a knife pulled on me. This was New York in the '70s and I was there for it all — the Summer of Sam, blackouts, garbage strikes. I guess I’m street smart. I got into fist fights and I can smell crazy a mile away. You can’t let your guard down. I’m also loyal, very open, generous and will talk to anyone who will listen.
I moved to London in 1989 to get out of NYC. I didn’t know anyone when I moved there. All I can say is it was mind blowing. It opened my mind to possibilities beyond The Bronx and the U.S. It was the U.K.’s Second Summer of Love and everyone was loved up on ecstasy and we would go to the most amazing raves and warehouse parties. That’s actually when I stopped wearing makeup – I would dance and sweat. The whole experience was so real and raw that makeup felt like a mask. I was waiting tables and modeling with an agency called Z (pronounced zed) and traveling around Europe and Greece and with the Vidal Sassoon hair stylist team. London girls were a huge influence on my own style. I saw the beauty and the simplicity in just a tee shirt, jeans and trainers.
I don’t have a beauty ritual. I started taking care of my skin when I was young. I guess growing up in a city saved me from frying myself at a beach. The one thing I do everyday is wash my face with LESSE Refining Cleanser. The smell, the feel just makes me so happy. I also pile on the Ritual Serum several times a day. At 56, my skin is so dry and just sucks it up.
I love to take Epsom salt baths several times a week. I dye my hair every 6 weeks. I get a facial from the same woman who has been doing it in her house for 17 years. I haven’t done botox and fillers. Trust and believe I have moments – especially when I catch myself on FaceTime. I ask myself, "where did my top lip go?" Once a year, when I get my moles checked I’ll inquire about it and go "O.K. No, thank you."
So many people have shaped me.
My first true love who I met when I was 14. He was charged with a crime when he was just 17 and sentenced as an adult. It was so devastating to me. Throughout my high school years I would take these bus rides and visit prisons, mostly in Upstate New York, including Sing Sing. I dragged my friends to Rikers in our Catholic School uniform. Can you imagine? I felt very depressed, helpless and angry. He didn’t stand a chance. That was a huge part of my teen years — besides doing crazy shit with my friends. I would ride these buses (they left Downtown Manhattan and would go to the prisons) with families who were in a lot of pain. It taught me compassion and made me want to fight for what is right.
My best friend Gary Lennon was born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen. His family were part of the Westie world (the Irish gang). He lost his mom and dad by the time he was 12, and my mom pretty much took him in. He introduced me to Manhattan and really changed my life. Believe it or not, Manhattan was a very foreign place to a Bronx girl. He made me see that there was more out there than just my neighborhood. He also made me feel beautiful and helped me gain confidence. He got a job at Studio 54 and Xenons when he was 16 and would take me out there. I remember being told by the door person not to smile because I had braces and I looked 10 years old. He also worked at The Odeon and I had my 16th birthday there. Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall were at the next table. I mean, wow. It was bananas.
“My mom was deaf and came from a hard life but she always maintained her amazing sense of humor. She lived on a ventilator for the last two years of her life, but until the end she was always smiling and made sure her lipstick was on. We communicated through writing. I still have all the notepads of our conversations. I’d like to think that I'm like her — I try and find the humor in all things, good or bad. ”
I met my husband db when I was 27. He introduced me to Japanese food for the first time. He was — and still is — obsessed with art and has taught me so much about it. He’s traveled a lot for DJing, and I was lucky enough to tag along. I went to Japan with him and was his dancer. In order for them to pay for my trip, I had to dress up in rave clothing and try to get the Japanese girls in the club to dance.
My mom and dad both came to this country when they were young. They were truly the hardest working people I know. My mom came here on a boat from Ireland and worked as the 'help'. My mom was deaf and came from a hard life but she always maintained her amazing sense of humor. She lived on a ventilator for the last two years of her life, but until the end she was always smiling and made sure her lipstick was on. We communicated through writing. I still have all the notepads of our conversations. I’d like to think that I'm like her — I try and find the humor in all things, good or bad. My dad taught me the value of hard work and not complaining. He was a construction worker until he retired at 66, but still worked in various jobs well into his 70s. While doing that back-breaking job, he was also a superintendent and would have to mop down two sides of a building and deal with complaints and garbage after he got back from pouring cement and busting his butt – he just turned 90.
I guess all of them opened up my world.
I personally feel most beautiful after a hot bath. And when I’m really laughing or really crying. I feel most alive when I’m dancing. I’m working on letting go of control... it’s hard. In five years, I hope to be alive and present. I’ve had so many adventures I honestly can’t think of any more. My favorite place I’ve traveled to is Ireland – it makes me cry. It’s my mom and dad’s home, and I’m an Irish citizen. I would spend my summers there as a kid and I did Irish dancing for a few years. Everyone there is just so welcoming, kind, and they just get on with it. I’d like to think I inherited those traits.
My mother’s death is the experience that changed my life the most. That was really hard. When I hear of someone who has lost a parent, I try to reach out and see if they just want to talk. After my mom’s death, I remember that I just wanted to talk to someone who lost their mother.
Also, when I was teenager I got pregnant. I was in Catholic School and I was just kind of ignoring the fact that I was pregnant. Actually with the boyfriend who was in jail — he was out on a weekend pass and there ya go! I confided in an older girl who I met working at the Howard Johnson’s counter. She was like an angel who just came out of nowhere. She took charge. Peg took me for an abortion and paid for it as I didn’t have enough money. I paid her back once I got my tax return. My life would have been completely different if I hadn’t met Peg. I hope I can be an angel to someone sometime. I find beauty in small acts of kindness.
My best advice for life is that this too shall pass; and my greatest hope for humanity is that Trump gets thrown out of office.