Brooke Shields on Aging in the Public Eye: "Since I've Turned 50, There's Been More Focus on My Body Than Ever"
On a fall afternoon, Brooke Shields pops out of a black SUV, kissing her younger daughter, Grier, goodbye. As Grier continues on to her after-school activity, Brooke—N.Y.C.-mom chic in a T-shirt, buttery leather jacket, jeans (Calvins, of course), and black flats—settles into the back table of a fairly empty West Village café.
"This is so bad, but I haven’t really eaten anything today. I’ve just been running around," she says, ordering a Cobb salad and an iced green tea. "I’m so tired lately, and I haven’t had any coffee. I stopped drinking it when I went to the Ranch in Malibu with a girlfriend, and just recently, I’m starting to want that jolt again." And really, who can’t relate to needing a little extra juice?
True, Brooke has been famous her entire life (she appeared in an Ivory soap ad when she was 11 months old). And she has a résumé that would eat up all the pages in this magazine—highlights include movies (The Blue Lagoon), TV (Suddenly Susan, Lipstick Jungle, and a recent recurring role on Law & Order: SVU), Broadway (Wonderful Town), and books (her postpartum depression memoir, Down Came the Rain, and her autobiography, There Was a Little Girl). But these days, she’s also just a busy working mom trying to juggle all the balls.
What does it feel like to age so publicly, when your face and body have been on display since you were a preteen?
What’s odd is that it used to just primarily be my face, and the emphasis was never really on my body. I always had body doubles in movies, so I didn’t have any stress, because I knew I was gonna get some gorgeous-looking body to be my double. Since I’ve turned 50, there’s been more focus on my body than ever.
And you’ve never looked better, stronger, or more athletic.
Well, thanks. I have never been skinny. The thing is, I was in an industry where [being athletic] was not celebrated. I have friends who are supermodels, and I never had that body. I’ve never been asked to walk in a Versace show. I was doing the covers of the magazines while they were cruising the clothes down the runway, and then they’d bring me the clothes and I’d have to photograph them.
How did that feel?
Well, for years, stylists insisted on bringing me sample [sizes]. Insisted! And then finally one day I said to my publicist, "I want you to tell them that unless they want to make me feel bad or make me cry"—because it’s slightly limiting and you feel it’s your fault—"then stop bringing me sample sizes!" Then the next thing they say is, "Oh, don’t worry! We’ll leave it all open in the back, and we can cut it." I’m like, "That makes me feel so confident, with big clamps and things sewn into it." I’m like, maybe I can act, but I’m not a magician! I was always considered the athletic one, and that translated into big. I was the big one. Thankfully, so many more body types are accepted these days. What I’ve been trying to do, and I’m seeing more now with my girlfriends, too, is celebrate other people. A mom came into school the other day and her legs looked amazing, and I just started going, "Oh my God, will ya look at those legs? It’s ridiculous!" She was like, "Stop!" But you could tell it made her feel good. She works so hard, and she’s a mom, and I really meant it. I train with a friend of mine, and she’s super thin, and she said to me, "God, I would do anything for your butt." And I was thinking, "That’s amazing to me." Because we all say that about each other in some way: "Oh, if I could just have…." And it never ends. And I think [comparing yourself with someone else] is dangerous.
It’s tricky with girls, too—how do you talk to your daughters about healthy body image?
I will say that they both think they look fabulous, and it’s so great to watch them primp and preen and look at their bodies. The part of it I appreciate is that I never celebrated myself or my body. It felt indulgent or wrong, so there was a disconnect. I was wearing a bathing suit over the summer—I always wear bathing suits that cover everything, the bottoms in particular—and my older daughter said, "You know what? You cannot wear that bottom. It goes all the way under your butt and [makes it look] so much bigger." And I said, "I’m not gonna have my ass hanging out!" And she goes, "You know what? You are." So she finds me a new bathing suit, where that whole little shelf was out, and I was horrified, but my husband said, "That bathing suit looks great. Rowan’s right. If you show a little bit more, it’s actually more flattering." So, I had to learn from her. She said, "Mom, face it, you’ve got a great butt. I don’t know why you try to hide it." And that type of validation is a big deal for me, because in the next breath, she hates me.
How do you manage to juggle everything?
I’ve given myself a bit more of a break in that I can’t say yes to everything. I have to prioritize, and obviously it starts with your children. But I used to be much later on the list. I’ve started putting myself within a safe distance from that first priority. You just have to remind yourself to not forget about your relationship and to not forget about yourself. And it’s interesting, because I have a very fraught relationship with working out.
I’ve spent so many years dancing and being in Broadway shows that by the end of a run, I would be freakishly jacked. My skin was thin over my bones and muscles. And I was injured a lot, always. So that’s all I did. And then the show would be over, and I would do nothing, because I was so tired. It was only through injury that I found something that has actually made the biggest difference.
What did you find?
I have a trainer, and I’m not a trainer person. I don’t like the attention. I don’t like the one-on-one scrutiny. But I’ve had to enter into a very sort of rigorous rehabilitation program to avoid surgery on my back. I’ve already had four surgeries on my feet and two on my knee—all from Broadway dancing injuries. On Broadway, they don’t really rehab the dancers like they do in sports. It’s, "The show must go on." Maybe you’ll get five minutes with a physical therapist, or they’ll get someone to come in and tape you with kinesiology tape, which is what I sort of lived on for a long time.
So what’s a typical workout for you now?
The trainer is zero frills. And I have to mix it up. I started SoulCycle about 12 years ago, and I was there this morning at 7 o’clock. I’ve started Pilates, both a class and with a private teacher. But all of that, it’s expensive. I find the psychology interesting: It’s easier for me to justify doing something like going to the gym and making it a priority because it’s from an injury. If it was just because I liked it, which I do, it feels like a luxury to me. And I feel guilty about that luxury. There’s a stigma about how working out is somehow for people who don’t have a job, or it’s an indulgence.
Do you have a favorite move that’s changed your body?
I’ve just started hanging upside down in inversion boots, doing hamstring pulls and sit-ups. I’m amazed at how great it feels on my back. I’ll just hang there and then start doing a whole series of crunches and things like that. It’s really hard, but it’s really great, and I notice a difference. And balance—I never put too much into balance because I danced, and it was fine, but now they have this balance board, you know the Indo Board? And now I can do it. Six months ago, I couldn’t. And I thought to myself, "I’m so strong. Why?" And [my trainer] said, "Everything’s not firing. You’ve really got to just ignite and wake up certain little muscles."
How do you stay focused on eating healthy?
We’ve been taught, "Deny yourself pleasure." But moderation is harder because it requires really committing to balance. I find that if I say, "I’m not gonna eat ice cream" or "I’m not gonna drink,” all I want to do is drink and eat ice cream. It’s some kind of psychological battle. When I tell my trainer I had a glass of wine, he’ll say, "Liquid bread!" And I’m like, "Ugh, but it was a nice one." It’s a matter of checks and balances. And I finally found out how to set myself up to succeed. But I still need to commit to it. And everything gets exponentially harder the older you are. Fifty is a terrifying number for some people.
Was it hard for you?
No, I ended up loving it. Because I don’t feel that age. Fifty sounds like it’s for older people. I’m stuck at like 38 or 42, max.
What’s your day-to-day beauty routine?
I always put on a mask of some kind. I just found this new thing, where I could have just bought a plot of land on the water. [Laughs] It’s one of those rollers, and oh my God, I love it. It’s so crazy. It doesn’t feel like a miracle. It just opens up your pores for whatever you put on after. I like Neova cream that my doctor gave me. I’ll use a bit of Renova at night for resurfacing. I use Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum ($80; dermstore.com or sephora.com). At times I need a chemical or two to make sure it really, really works. If it stings, I feel like it’s a good thing. Which is horrible, right? [Laughs]
Are you a resolution maker?
When I was younger I looked forward to making resolutions, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized I don’t want to make them, because it makes it such a one-off. I would pick something and I would sort of set myself up for failure. So instead of "I’m gonna lose five pounds" or "I’m gonna give up chocolate," I make this promise to keep upholding a certain quality of life throughout the year. I do like the idea of a fresh start, but it’s about trying to keep balance.
Eating- or drinking-wise, do you do anything different leading up to an event or a photo shoot?
I try to drink more water and not drink as much alcohol the night before. Notice how I said "as much?" I’m not stupid.
Styling by Stephanie Tricola for Honey Artists. Hairstyling by Tim Nolan for Serge Normant at John Frieda. Makeup by Sam Addington for Kramer + Kramer. Manicure by Liang using YSL Beauty for Honey Artists. Prop styling by CJ Dockery for Mary Howard Studio.