Fashion@Brown continued its lineup for Fashion Week with a virtual visit from Brooke Shields. Shields — an icon in fashion, film, modeling, television and recent entrepreneur — participated in a conversation on Zoom. The event was moderated by F@B member Elliot Stephanopoulos ’25.
Shields first made a name for herself in modeling, a career she started when she was eleven months old with an Ivory Soap advertisement. Shields then hit the cover of Vogue at fourteen and became the face of a Calvin Klein jeans campaign by the time she was fifteen.
“I started at such a young age that it was almost all I knew,” Shields said. She described both modeling and acting as career choices that she hadn’t consciously set out to make.
“To 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, caused her to consider doing the jobs that she did.
“‘Pretty Baby’ was the first (movie) where I found a family that was consistent,” Shields said. She credited this feeling of acceptance she received during her first major film for encouraging her to pursue other opportunities on the silver screen.
“It was more of the experience rather than ‘oh, now I want to become an actress,’” she explained. After starring in “Pretty Baby,” Shields went on to score leading roles in “The Blue Lagoon” and “Endless Love.”
As a young girl who was on display for so 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 kind of dissociate with my body,” she said. “I did not understand anything about who I was. So the definition of me became ‘Oh, she’s the face.’”
Shields came to this realization in college. She described her choice to attend Princeton University as a necessary step in grasping her own identity.
“I knew that I needed to be able to cultivate something else,” Shields said. “And it first started with my ideas and opinions.”
At the start, college was difficult for Shields. She explained that, without her career, mother and fashion and film “persona,” she found herself “floundering.”
“All of a sudden, I was just me but I didn’t know how to do it,” Shields said. She chose to bury her nose in textbooks as a result.
After finding academic success at Princeton, Shields began to feel more comfortable in her own mind. She made friends, earned a degree in French Language and Literature and achieved balance for the first time in a while, she said.
“(Academics were) the first place that I found a level playing field,” she added.
Following college, Shields began to make her way through the theater and television industries. She received two Golden Globe nominations for her work on the sitcom “Suddenly Susan,” and has made appearances in “Jane the Virgin” and “That ’70s Show” as well. 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 then that she described becoming aware of her ability to truly “compartmentalize.” She was able to separate her lives revolving around friends, film and fashion to a remarkable degree, which she said was largely a positive development, in retrospect.
“Maybe different parts of our personality are allowed to be alive,” she said. “We don’t have to just be one thing.”
Although Shields was able to compartmentalize most aspects of her world, acceptance of her own body did not come until late in her career. She attributed this largely to the generation in which she grew up.
“I’ve learned a lot about body image and confidence from my girls because I’m in such a different era,” she said.
Shields described her childhood as a time in which a failure to fit into conventional beauty standards often led young girls to feel reduced. She has reacted by taking the opposite stance in parenting.
“Their uniqueness is what should be celebrated and what’s beautiful,” she said about her daughters.
“There is such freedom in not comparing yourself,” said Shields. “And sometimes you just have to put blinders on.” Shields further stressed the value of acceptance and support by pointing out the supportive energy she has noticed in the world today.
“People are showing up for each other, they’re upholding each other, they’re championing each other,” she said. Such mutual support is what led Shields to launch Beginning Is Now — an online platform and wellness brand that is meant to serve as a community for women of all ages, all across the globe.
After turning 40, Shields described “feeling sexier than I’d ever felt, (having) more ownership of my body, less comparison, less putting myself down, less self-deprecation.” Yet, when she looked out into the fashion and film industries, she realized that offers had slowed down.
The initial and primary target of Beginning Is Now is women in positions very similar to her own.
“We don’t want to be told we’re done,” Shields explained. “We want to be told we’re just beginning.”
From the business standpoint, Shields described launching Beginning Is Now as both a lesson in confidence and a learning process.
“It’s been so interesting to me,” she said, “to just respond from my instincts, and not from this place of ‘oh, I must not know how business works because I’m just an actress,’ or ‘I’m just a model, or I’m just a something.’”
While she acknowledges 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 visit with a short Q&A — most of which focused on advice she wished to impart upon college students.
She stressed 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.
“This is your time right now,” Shields said. “You don’t actually have to be anything specific yet.”