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Brooke Shields Reveals The Horrors Of Her Child Modeling Days— And How She Thrived and Overcame
Brooke Shields

Brooke Shields Reveals The Horrors Of Her Child Modeling Days— And How She Thrived and Overcame

The legendary TV personality digs deep into the objectification she endured as a teenager in the eighties, and the world she wants to leave behind for her young daughters.

Brooke Shields is holding nothing back in her new documentary Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields.

Although most people now recognize Shields as a charismatic and successful television actress with an air of old-school dignity, her early years in front of the camera were marked by shocking experiences. As a child model, she was subjected to intense scrutiny and sexualization that had a lasting impact on her life.

Shields's breakthrough role was in the 1978 film Pretty Baby, where she portrayed Violet, a 12-year-old sex worker who is forced into a world of exploitation, drugs, and dysfunctional family dynamics.

In a cruel case of life imitating art, Shields found herself thrust into the spotlight as a teenage superstar in the eighties, where she was once again subjected to widespread media objectification and harassment. Shields' latest Hulu documentary marks a significant step forward in her willingness to discuss her experiences, shedding light on her struggles and the steps she's taken to overcome them.

Brooke Sheilds First Film Roles Catapulted Her to It Girl Status & Objectification

In her documentary Pretty Baby, Shields reveals she made her first appearance on camera at the startlingly young age of 11 months. From there, she was plunged into a turbulent vortex of the unpredictable Hollywood culture, where she found herself gracing the covers of numerous magazines and receiving offers purely based on her looks. 

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At just 16, she posed on the cover of Time magazine, with the tagline “The ’80s look.” Shields notes in her documentary how she can’t believe how anyone thought it was appropriate to have just one teenager represent an entire decade. “I was on the cover of Time magazine as the face of that whole era. Who decides that?” she says. She also told New Yorker that Barbara Walters was discussing her “measurements” at one point. “There was nothing intellectual about it. You saw these adults, who were supposed to be the smart people in the world, be so lowest common denominator.”

Reflecting on the Pretty Baby performance that catapulted her to fame, Shields recalls being oblivious to the controversy. But the memory of agonizing working conditions still lingers, like when she was forced to “wear antique shoes that lacerated her feet.”

Co-star Susan Sarandon decided that they couldn’t “fake” a slap scene and Shields was “whacked” across the face for “nine consecutive takes.”

At the tender age of 11, Shields recounts her first kiss which took place on film, with 29-year-old actor Keith Carradine.

Following Pretty Baby, Shields was cast in 1980’s Blue Lagoon, where the film’s director allegedly “tried to engineer a real relationship between Shields and her 18-year-old co-star, Christopher Atkins.”

She Was Sexually Assault by a Hollywood Producer in Her 20s

Black and white photo of young Brooke Shields wearing a hat.

Aside from her filmography, Shields rose to global fame through Calvin Klein commercials, uttering the now-famous line, "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins." Both ABC and CBS banned the shoot after deeming it too provocative. Shields acknowledges her cinematic roles were unconventional but it was the media's fixation on her that caused the most distress. “They’re shocking,” she told Vogue. “I felt more objectified and abused by [that],” says Shields. 

Despite the challenges that came with her celebrity status, the now 57-year-old Shields cherishes her time in the spotlight. She may have made some “non-thespian choices” just to afford certain practical necessities, like a car or an apartment. 

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The most startling disclosure in the documentary was Shields' account of sexual assault after graduating from university. She met with a Hollywood “power player,” a studio executive who wanted to discuss film opportunities with her. Following their dinner, he requested she call a taxi from his hotel room.

“He was right on me. It was just like wrestling,” she recalls in her documentary. She eventually froze and decided not to fight back in case he threatened her life. “God knows I knew how to be disassociated from my body. I’d practiced that.”

Why Shields Chose to Come Forward and Share Her Story

Brooke Shields in white suit holding a Brooke sign.

As with countless other survivors of sexual assault, Shields struggled to come to terms with her trauma and internalized feelings of guilt and responsibility for years after the incident. Her attacker manipulated her with a facade of trust and companionship, causing Shields to question her own role in the events that transpired. "It's such a tired cliché, it's almost pitiful," she reflects.

The Lipstick Jungle actress says that it took a long time before she felt any semblance of “ownership” over her own existence. Despite the difficulty of revisiting her painful past, Shields felt compelled to speak her truth in the documentary, not only for her own healing but also to offer solace and solidarity to other women who have suffered similar experiences. “This story is not uncommon, with regard to abuse or objectification.”  

What Her Teen Daughters Think About Her Harrowing Story

The mother-of-two once wrote a letter to her assailant, expressing how his actions had shattered her sense of trust. Fed up with feeling like a victim, she sought a way to break free from the cycle of sadness and pain. “I wanted to erase the whole thing from my mind and body and just keep on the path I was on,” she notes.

Shields' experience of sexual assault left her with a deep sense of distrust towards the entertainment industry and a feeling of disappointment with the lack of resources available to survivors of such trauma. “So I just had to get stronger on my own,” she says. 

RELATED: Mariah Carey’s Parents: How the Pop Star’s Neglected Childhood Shaped Her Life

Today, as a mother of two teenage daughters, Shields recognizes the significance of building self-assurance, mental resilience, and personal boundaries. “It was interesting to see [my daughters] say what they felt about it. Their big issue was that I was my age. I was proud of them for being able to talk about all of [the documentary].”  

What Brooke Shields Teaches Us About Gaining Strength With Our Past

Brooke Shields happy and smiling by a pool.

Shields reflects on the attention she garnered during her teenage and young adult years and has come to accept that it was not her her fault. She was propelled into the scene, and although she found some aspects of it amusing, she was not a willing participant in the media circus. “At every step of the way, every time someone criticized, it so clearly became about them,” she said. As a result, Shields has learned to champion her abilities, assert her worth in public settings, and set clear limits.

Brooke Shields' choice to share her story serves as a reminder that taking the time to reflect on your past can lead to healing and acceptance. Although life may be influenced by external forces, your strength can withstand any circumstance. It's never too late to delve into your past and come to terms with painful experiences. By doing so, you can gain new insights and understandings that can propel you forward on your path towards self-discovery and self-love.

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