NEW YORK – Brooke Shields has been known as beautiful, smart and famous since she was a baby, but a new documentary reveals why it’s taken decades for her to feel confident in her talent.
With a dazzling array of archival photos and footage, and in-depth interviews with Shields, “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” is a firsthand examination of her success as a model, actor, author and now lifestyle entrepreneur, despite being sexualized and objectified at a young age and managing her alcoholic mother — the original “momager,” Teri Shields.
Like other recent documentaries on Britney Spears and Pamela Anderson, “Pretty Baby” includes a cringeworthy barrage of media clips where mostly older men reduce her to a pretty face and have little interest in her answers to their questions. The film, which drops in two parts on Hulu on Monday, looks back at how women were treated in the 1980’s and 1990’s — including Shields revealing she was the victim of a sexual assault by a Hollywood executive after she graduated college.
Shields spoke to The Associated Press recently about what she learned from the project, how she overcame being shamed for her personal choices and gained confidence, and how she sees her future.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
AP: In the series you say “I’m owning my identity fully.” What did you mean?
SHIELDS: I made myself small for so long, either to be relatable or to not be threatening or humbled, you know? Don’t be a snob. Don’t be arrogant. Have people like you. Be kind to everyone. It was like this the way I grew up, and I was rewarded for it. I’m saying that it’s okay to pat myself on the shoulder a little bit. It’s okay to say I really do have talent because I wouldn’t still be here if I didn’t. It’s not just because I’m smart or just because I look a certain way. I’ve maintained a career and kept challenging myself, and I don’t think I ever felt confident enough to say it out loud. I always just wanted other people’s approval about my talent, never thinking that I could give it to myself.
AP: The documentary details the press scrutinizing you for years, how have you felt promoting the series?
SHIELDS: What I noticed when I was a little girl was that nobody really wanted my answers. They wanted their narrative to be the soundbite that I gave them. And being very stubborn always, I, in my own way, refused to give it to them. Now, I don’t ever feel like I’m on the defensive because I’ve learned that I’m not at anybody else’s mercy. Looking back, I can see that that’s what I was doing, and I don’t need to do that anymore, which is very empowering but, you know, it took 40-something years (laughs).
AP: What was the hardest part to reveal in the documentary?
SHIELDS: I was worried about the #MeToo stuff just because I didn’t want it to be reduced to just a headline. And yet I knew that if I didn’t, I would have felt like a hypocrite or inauthentic. I haven’t been able to talk about it up until now, and then it felt like, you sort of owe it to yourself. And I just hoped that out of two hours and however many minutes, the one brief story — I mean, I knew it’s going to be clickbait — but I was worried that I would get let down again by the press.
AP: It sounds like compartmentalizing was a survival technique for you?
SHIELDS: I think that happens with a child of an alcoholic. You know, you really do learn to compartmentalize. You love a person who is very broken and has a disease that they cannot seem to get under control. But you can’t afford to have their love not be real. So you learn, when things felt …not in control…I would become very organized, and that sort of was my center, that was my meditation, you know, redoing my Filofax or refolding my socks.
AP: You recently started a company aimed at celebrating women’s lives after 40. Why is that important to you?
SHIELDS: I decided at an early age that if I was going to speak about anything, it was going to be about things that I believe that could help other people. Over the years I’ve thought, how can I not feel alone? I can share my story and I’m sure there’s someone else who can identify with it. Before COVID I was healthy and I was working out a lot and I felt good. I was feeling so easy about things. My kids are all right. I like my life. I’m proud of it.
The irony was that whenever I looked outside of myself, there wasn’t anything addressing me. You know, your agents tell you, ‘Well, you’re of a certain age...’ I’m not dead and I don’t have one foot in the grave, come on! I was shocked. You have to own how hard it is just to get to this age, and with your wits about you, and good people in your life and how much more there is.
AP: What are your dreams now?
SHIELDS: To be in another television show. I really want to find the right (one) because “Suddenly Susan” to me was such a revelation and it was the happiest time for me. And I want to feel that whole thing again because it was a very healthy, pure place for me to be. And I really, really loved it.