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Encore: Brooke Shields is getting older in the public eye and wants to talk about it


Our next guest has been in showbiz since she was 11 months old - 11 months. That is when Brooke Shields took her first turn before the cameras as the face of Ivory soap. More ads followed, then movie deals, TV, stage and, almost always documenting her every move, paparazzi. Shields grew up in the public eye, and now she is aging in the public eye. And she wants to talk about it, as she did with us this past spring. At the top of Shields' list - the idea that women in their 50s are not represented in lots of places, including advertising.

BROOKE SHIELDS: Why are we forgotten? And we're forgotten just in this middle chunk because there's 20s, and then there are people, you know, say, more in the more aged age or geriatric world. You know, and it's like you go from sexy to Depends. And there's this whole margin in the middle that is actually...

KELLY: (Laughter) Yeah, quite a few decades in the middle there. Yeah.

SHIELDS: Quite a few decades in the middle that are vibrant. I always say I don't like to talk about it as aging as much as vitality.

KELLY: And Brooke Shields is on a mission to highlight the vitality of women over 50. She started an online community, signed with the winemaker Clos du Bois to rebrand Chardonnay. And the one-time face and body of Calvin Klein jeans is doing ads for Jordache.

I read that you told them, do not even think about retouching this. I want people to see my body and the way it looks as I'm 56. Why?

SHIELDS: A, because I worked really hard to get to that picture-ready place. And you know what? Sure. It's - you look at yourself with a filter and a this and a that or whatever. And you're like, oh, OK. Then you look in the mirror, and you're like, OK, not the same.

KELLY: Yeah.

SHIELDS: Don't look the same. But what am I going to do? You know, it was brilliant lighting. It was an amazing photographer, hair and makeup and wardrobe. Everybody was on top of their game. So I was very secure within what was going to be represented. What I didn't want was to be made thinner. I did lose weight, you know, hit it a bit harder. I worked every day. You know, I had to work at 5 a.m. because that was the only time that I could get this training session. And I worked really hard for it. You know, I don't look skin and bones. I just didn't want to be dishonest with how much work I put in to doing it and saying, why can't I be sexy at this age?

KELLY: Well, I, in the interest of full honesty, will say you look gorgeous in this ad. I also was like, you're Brooke Shields. You're more gorgeous than the rest of us combined, whether you're getting up and working out at 5 a.m. or not, and even you had to do that. I mean, that's the reality. And I wondered, you know, I could work out at 5 a.m. every day for the rest of my life. I'm not going to look like you do in Jordache jeans. Do you worry at all about that, about the, like, women, whatever age we are, and the unrealistic body expectations that get put out there?

SHIELDS: Listen. It is all true. You know, I can't apologize for what I look like. But I know that I've worked hard at it, and I've made sure that I wasn't just that.

KELLY: Yeah.

SHIELDS: And it's about the dialogue that you have with your children, with people. It's about aligning with companies that do believe in body inclusivity. I'm one version of that. I can say that this is my age. You know, this is my age. And this is where I am today. I'm having my own - I have to find my own pride in my own shape. And it looks different now than it did...

KELLY: Yeah.

SHIELDS: ...You know, when I was - everything was all up higher.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, there's a special resonance in talking to you, Brooke Shields, about doing a jeans ad because you, of course, starred in one of the most famous jeans ads ever, the Calvin Klein ad from 1980, which was controversial then because you were so young. It would be more controversial today. I wondered as I watched you, you know, in this new, very sexy ad - I mean, you're wearing jeans and nothing else, right? You're barefoot. It's - you're topless. It's shot from behind. How has your understanding of that, of wanting to be in an ad where you are - where it is all about the sex appeal - how has that changed over 42 years?

SHIELDS: I think it's probably the first time I've ever felt the sex appeal. You know, you don't - you can't really feel it at 15. It was all about doing a really good job. When I did it, I did not own the sexuality of it in the same way that I understand it and do now. And it's taken me a lot longer. I have a very fraught, you know, historical relationship with sexuality and virginity and, you know, all of that for decades. Now I understand it differently. So it's - I'm much more inclined to do something that is more overtly sexual that I understand...

KELLY: And own it. Yeah.

SHIELDS: ...Because I own it now. It's mine, you know?

KELLY: How do you think about the line - is there a line - I think about this all the time - between wanting to look good and wanting to look young? - because it's so ingrained that they're the same thing.

SHIELDS: That's hard.

KELLY: Yeah.

SHIELDS: That's hard because, you know, it's like - it's one thing to say, oh, you know, these wrinkles are from laughter. And everybody's like, oh, that's good. You know, OK. Yeah. But they weren't there then. And I look at my little baby girls' faces, and they are just flawless. It's like I gaze at them, and then I think, wait a minute. I was once that. I didn't even know it. So then I look at myself, and I think, OK, no, I don't look like I did in my 20s. And my skin is looser. My butt's lower. My love handles and - you know what I mean? It's like...

KELLY: Yeah.

SHIELDS: ...You look at all those, and you take them apart. And then you look at these sort of nubile bodies that are just emerging into these incredible women. And you're just like, oh, my God, I have to be careful not to compare myself. And, you know, the thing for me that's more important than the look of it is I'm partially broken down. Like, my knees are bad. You know, weight loss is more difficult.

KELLY: Yeah.

SHIELDS: I can't drink in the same way that I used to, even though I love it as much - I mean, actually, more than I ever did. Those are the kind of things that I'm fighting more than just what I look like in the mirror.

KELLY: What do you want women to hear from watching you feeling conflicted and wrestling with all of this still at this point, at 56 and still living your life so much in the public eye?

SHIELDS: I don't think there's any shame. There's no shame in being older and getting older. There's a sense of pride, I think, that comes with it. But I don't want to wait for that pride to have to look like ancient wisdom. You know, I'm not stopping a thing I love doing. Yes, I'm limited in a lot of the physical activity, but I'm still going. I'm still taking on new jobs. There is still more to come. And this is all a part of it. So I want that message to be out there because I want, especially women over a certain age, in their 50s, to feel like they are at a new beginning. You know, just because their ovaries are not producing babies anymore, are they supposedly not as important or not as valuable? I don't believe so.


KELLY: That was actress, author, entrepreneur Brooke Shields speaking with me earlier this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROKE FOR FREE'S "ADD AND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.