After weathering scrutiny as a pregnant teenager during her mother's vice-presidential campaign, the independent single mother is forging her own path. See the Bristol Palin photo shoot.
By Elisa Lipsky-Karasz - Harper's Bazaar
It's a Saturday afternoon in Anchorage, and the only sign of spring is the gentle drip of melting snowdrifts. Parked under leafless trees behind Bristol Palin's three-story gray townhouse is a cluster of giant SUVs and pickup trucks. I didn't vote for this Obamanation, reads one bumper sticker. Another features a photo of the former Alaskan governor: Don't blame me, I voted for Sarah Palin.
Inside, the real live Sarah Palin is taking a break from her Tea Partying tour of the country to celebrate the second birthday of her son Trig, who has Down syndrome, with the entire extended Palin clan. She's just jetted in from Minnesota and is wearing an ensemble that reads off-duty celebrity — all black with an army-green newsboy cap pulled low over her eyes. Under her makeup, she looks a little tired, but her Alaskan charm is in full effect.
"Have some cake," she trills, standing next to a happy-birthday sign hand-lettered by Bristol, who is watching her 15-month-old son, Tripp, play with Trig, his two-year-old uncle. We have entrée into this cozy family scene because Bristol herself texted an invite. No flacks, no lawyers, no managers — it's a world away from the media glare of the 2008 presidential campaign, when the McCain-Palin ticket dropped the bombshell that the then high school senior was five months pregnant.
Later, the rosy-cheeked 19-year-old, dressed down in cropped cargo pants and a maroon pullover, says she remembers that moment all too clearly. "It was kind of humiliating," she sighs as she clears boxes of pizza and bowls of Doritos and Skittles. "Great, I'm 17 years old, I'm 40 pounds overweight with a big belly on me, all my friends are at school watching this on the news. This kind of sucks."
Bristol never expected to find herself here: waking up at 5:00 a.m. to fix Tripp's breakfast (usually eggs), get herself ready — "It takes me so much longer with a baby, it's not even funny" — then head to work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. as a medical assistant in a dermatologist's office. "I thought I would be somewhere warm at college with my friends," she says. "But that was definitely not possible with having Tripp."
This workaday life is interrupted when Bristol steps into her other shoes, as an ambassador for the Candie's Foundation, which combats teenage pregnancy. (She has been compensated for some appearances.) One day she might be shopping at Costco, and the next marketing abstinence on Oprah, Good Morning America, or the Today show.
But Bristol is hardly unhappy, despite her hectic schedule and lack of sleep. "I love my baby more than anything," she says, which is obvious from the cuddles he gets. "He's like a Gerber baby. He's the cutest baby in the whole world."
She's also fiercely proud of her newly purchased condo. (Before she bought it, she and Tripp were living at home in Wasilla, an hour and a half away.) Though her mother's earnings have been widely reported at $12 million since she stepped down as governor last July, largely due to her book, Going Rogue, and her TV deals, it's Bristol who has picked out and paid for everything: the big leather couches, the flat-screen TVs, Tripp's toddler-size bed (though he sleeps with his mother), and the Subaru wagon in the garage. "I'm on my own," she says, in between constant texting on her BlackBerry. "I'm really proud of it. I'm a hard worker."
Her older brother Track's girlfriend, Britta, currently lives in the third bedroom, and her 15-year-old sister, Willow, often sleeps over. "I was scared to live by myself," Bristol explains. She has a point. Her neighborhood is not the picturesque wilderness many associate with Alaska; it's a modest cluster of homes halfway between Ted Stevens International Airport and the Great Alaskan Bush Company, where the wildlife accepts tips.
Not that Bristol goes out much, besides taking Tripp for walks. "I don't ever have time for friends or anything like that," she sighs. "It's just like, Right, crap, there is a hockey game tonight that I want to go to but I can't. Or, I do have to go to work today, because I've got bills to pay." (Continues here)