Women’s History Month: The Legacy of Brooke Shields

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By Ellie Tarr, Second Year English and Classical Studies

Ellie Tarr celebrates the legacy of Brooke Shields for Women’s History Month

If there’s any doubt in your mind as to who Brooke Shields is, imagine a striking, statuesque, silkily-maned and bushy-eyebrowed beauty. Or, just look up, ‘The Face of the ‘80s’, as that’s what she was titled by Time Magazine in 1981, when she was barely sixteen.

Shields was born in the spotlight, getting her first modelling gig before she was even one year old, and then staring in the controversial film Pretty Baby, in which she played a (usually nude) child prostitute. It was between this 1978 film and 1981’s Endless Love (in which she was a lovestruck, lovesick teenager) that she stared in those infamous advertisements for designer Calvin Klein. The camera pans, its gaze trailing down a pair of long, slender denim-clad legs. Then, the shot refocuses and we see a beautiful, glossy-haired girl, and she’s staring at us.

‘You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins?’ she asks. ‘Nothing’.

This commercial catapulted Shields to stardom, and she soon found herself mingling with some of the biggest names in show-business – George Michael (whom she briefly dated, and whom she called ‘an absolute gentleman’), Michael Jackson (who understood Shields’ struggle with growing up in the spotlight)... the list goes on. As she grew older, though, Shields’ modelling career dwindled, but this was more so out of choice.

She gained a place at the prestigious Ivy League university Princeton, eventually graduating in 1987. In the ‘90s, she played the title-role in the successful sitcom, Suddenly Susan, during which time she also married her first husband, tennis ace Andre Agassi. The marriage only lasted a few years.

After this, Shields somewhat retired from the spotlight, marrying again and having two daughters. Since the turn of the century, Shields has spoken out about her close relationship with her new husband, and the worries that she has for her daughters growing up with a famous mother. Shields’ own mother, Terri, who passed away a few years ago, was the driving force behind her career.

Terri Shields has often (many times unfairly) been styled a selfish alcoholic stage mom, and Brooke’s recent autobiography discusses this complicated mother-daughter relationship in depth. The first line is even, ‘Who was my mother?’

Brooke Shields returned to the headlines some ten years ago, with the news reporting that she had had a heated quarrel with Tom Cruise (who had his big acting break with Endless Love). In her book Down Came the Rain, Shields had detailed her struggles with post-natal depression after the birth of her first child; she also detailed how she was helped by anti-depressants. Cruise condemned her for this, but Shields recognised the aid that such medication could give women suffering from past-natal depression, and she rose to her own defence.

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Brooke’s life on set and makeup routine 💄

A post shared by Brooke Shields Fan Page (@fansofbrookeshields) on

In a similar vein, she has spoken frankly about her own difficulties with finding her own identity. Shields has said that she ‘didn’t know why [her] mother ended and [she] began’. On top of this was the fact that Brooke’s appearance, her make-up, her clothes, were all carefully-chosen and decided for her. As such, she has said to The Guardian: ‘I do sort of regret having hairdryers with my name on them and a Brooke doll and all these failed endeavours that were cool to do in the 1980s’.

In her first autobiography, On Your Own, published in 1985, she spoke openly about her status as a virgin in her twenties. Since, Shields has admitted that she would have lost her virginal status earlier, had it not been for the fact that she was ‘America’s Virgin’ and she had, as she says, such a poor self-image.

Of course, Brooke Shields had a privileged upbringing, but she has certainly put her background and fortunes to good use. She chose education over her acting/modelling career; she is adamant that her daughters won’t enter the modelling industry until they are old enough to know what it actually entails; and she has become an important figure in an industry that is all too slow to embrace ageing women.

Harking back to her famous (or should that be infamous?) CK Jeans advert, she has jokingly said that she would – for the first time ever -- be open to modelling underwear, because, as she told The Guardian, ‘It might be kind of a good message to be a 52-year-old... working hard at staying in shape... being proud of everything, and being a mom’.

Featured Image: Thatgroovyshow / Instagram


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