[email protected] continued its Fashion Week lineup with a virtual visit from Brooke Shields. Shields – a fashion, film, modeling, TV icon and recent entrepreneur – took part in a Zoom chat. The event was hosted by [email protected] member Elliot Stephanopoulos ’25.
Shields first made a name for herself in modelling, a career she began aged eleven months with an advertisement for Ivory Soap. Shields then graced the cover of Vogue at age fourteen and became the face of a Calvin Klein jeans campaign at age fifteen.
“I started at such a young age that was almost all I knew,” Shields said. She described both modeling and acting as career choices she hadn’t consciously set out to do.
“For me, modeling and even acting was a place where I got approval,” Shields said. She explained that this desire for approval, especially as a young girl, led her to consider doing the jobs she was doing.
“‘Pretty Baby’ was the first (movie) where I found a cohesive family,” Shields said. She credited that sense of acceptance she received during her first big movie for encouraging her to pursue other opportunities on the big screen.
“It was more of the experience rather than ‘oh, now I want to be an actress,'” she explained. After starring in “Pretty Baby,” Shields went on to land lead roles in “The Blue Lagoon” and “Endless Love.”
As a young girl exposed for much of her childhood, Shields described a constant struggle to recognize her face, mind and body and accept them as her own.
“I started to disassociate myself from my body,” she said. “I didn’t understand who I was. So the definition of me became ‘Oh, that’s her face’.
Shields came to this realization in college. She described her choice to attend Princeton University as a necessary step to grasping her own identity.
“I knew I had to be able to farm something else,” Shields said. “And it all started with my ideas and opinions.”
At first, college was difficult for Shields. She explained that, without her career, her mother and her fashion and film “personality”, she found herself “floating”.
“All of a sudden I was just me but I didn’t know how to do it,” Shields said. As a result, she chose to bury her nose in textbooks.
After graduating from Princeton, Shields began to feel more comfortable in her mind. She made friends, earned a degree in French language and literature and achieved balance for the first time in a long time, she said.
“(Academics were) the first place I found a level playing field,” she added.
After college, Shields began to work her way into the theater and television industries. She received two Golden Globe nominations for her work on the sitcom “Suddenly Susan” and also made guest appearances on “Jane the Virgin” and “That ’70s Show.” In addition to acting on screen, Shields has also graced the Broadway stage with roles in “Chicago,” “Cabaret,” and “The Addams Family.”
It was also around this time that she described becoming aware of her ability to really “compartmentalise”. She was able to separate her lives around friends, movies and fashion to a remarkable degree, which she says was largely a positive development, in retrospect.
“Maybe different parts of our personality are allowed to live on,” she said. “We don’t have to be just one thing.”
Although Shields was able to compartmentalize most aspects of her world, acceptance of her own body didn’t come until late in her career. She attributed this largely to the generation she grew up in.
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“I learned a lot about body image and confidence from my daughters because I’m in such a different time,” she said.
Shields described her childhood as a time when a failure to adjust to conventional beauty standards often led young girls to feel belittled. She reacted by taking the opposite position in parenthood.
“Their uniqueness is what should be celebrated and what is beautiful,” she said of her daughters.
“There’s such freedom in not comparing yourself,” Shields said. “And sometimes you just have to put on blinders.” Shields further emphasized the value of acceptance and support by highlighting the supportive energy she noticed in the world today.
“People show up for each other, they support each other, they stand up for each other,” she said. Such mutual support is what led Shields to launch The beginning is now – an online platform and wellness brand intended to serve as a community for women of all ages, everywhere.
After turning 40, Shields described “feeling sexier than I’ve ever felt, (having) more ownership of my body, less comparison, less belittling, less self-mockery.” Yet when she looked into the fashion and movie industries, she found that the deals had slowed.
The initial and primary target of Beginning Is Now are women in positions very similar to hers.
“We don’t want to be told we’re done,” Shields explained. “We want to be told that we are just getting started.”
From a business perspective, Shields described the launch of Beginning Is Now as both a lesson in confidence and a learning process.
“It’s been so interesting for me,” she said, “to just answer from my gut, and not from this place of ‘oh, I don’t have to know how business works because I’m not than an actress”, or “I’m just a model, or I’m just something.
Although she recognizes that she has less experience in the business world, she relies on her instincts and the advice of those who can bring their own expertise to help her succeed.
“Every time I make a mistake,” she said, “I propel myself forward.”
Shields ended her virtual tour with a short Q&A — most of which focused on the advice she wanted to give to students.
She pointed out that an undergraduate education is a gift, taking breaks is important, and stopping to find joy in the little things is perhaps even more so.
“It’s your moment right now,” Shields said. “You don’t have to be anything specific yet.”