When it comes to being in the spotlight, few have more experience than Brooke Shields. And while I’d personally kill to look like Shields, the actress — like everyone— has had her fair share of insecurities. SheKnows sat down with Shields to talk about body image, social media, and learning to give yourself a break, and her answers gave us a lot of insight on what it’s like to grow up in the public eye. But most surprising of all? Shields still doesn’t seem to give herself the credit she deserves.
I spoke with Shields at a SculpSure event: As their spokesperson, the actress was sharing her experience with WarmSculpting, a “body contouring laser treatment” using SculpSure technology. After having kids and after turning 50, Shields says she found herself with “stubborn” areas: parts of her body that no amount of diet or exercise seemed to touch. WarmSculpting treats that in a non-invasive way, using heat to destroy fat cells — and Shields became hooked.
I have to admit, I went in skeptical. Shouldn’t we be teaching women to embrace their bodies, stubborn bits and all? But within minutes of sitting down with Shields, my judgment disappeared. “Women work really hard,” she tells me emphatically. (No arguments here.) “You shouldn’t feel bad about taking advantage of what the options are.”
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Shields would know. According to her, she’s an expert in beating herself up over things she shouldn’t, especially when it comes to her body. After rising to fame at age 12 for her role in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby, Shields spent decades following strict diets and workout plans. “My environment was saying, ‘If you’re not skinny, you’re not worth anything,'” Shields reveals. “And I didn’t — I was never that person. I was always athletic, I was always someone who was working really hard.”
By the time she was in her twenties, Shields was more determined than ever to keep herself in perfect shape — no matter what it took. “I was always strict about everything. Everything,” she says. “I just needed order, and it was one of my ways of finding order in my life: by creating plans and programs.”
Inevitably, Shields’s routines — and the pressure she put on herself to look a certain way — became too much. “It wasn’t until I hit my mid-forties that I started giving myself a break,” Shields recalls. “[I was] like, ‘God, if perfection is what you’re seeking, you’re always gonna fail.’ And in my life, I had thought that that was it. I needed to be perfect. I needed to be the best.'”
So, what did it take for Shields to finally break that cycle? Getting older helped, she admits, and so did having kids. “It took a lot of … emotional work and mental work to forgive myself, because I always thought I should have looked like other people,” Shields reflects. “[But] I thought, ‘Who am I doing this for?’ I want to be a good example for my kids. At a certain point, I can’t put them on this path. They’re going to be miserable.”
All parents worry about their kids. But, in Shields’s case, there’s another factor she’s worried about: Instagram, which she says is “brutal” for teen daughters Grier, 13, and Rowan, 16. “I think Instagram — social media — is the perfect environment to destroy people’s self-worth,” Shields says. “I watch them think that everybody else’s life is somehow what it purports to be. And it’s not! It’s filled with falsity, with manipulation.”
When Shields’s daughters are inevitably crushed by something they see on social media (“I watch them retreat,” she tells me), she does her best to remind them, patiently, that others’ lives aren’t the fantasy they present. “Life is really hard. It’s hard for everybody. It’s hard for everybody all the time,” Shields says, matter-of-factly. “I say to them, ‘Listen, just know that this is not necessarily reality. You have to focus on what really is reality, and who makes you happy in your life, what gives you strength in your life.’ But it’s really brutal. It’s hard to do that every day.”
It’s not just hard to see her daughters upset. Shields also wants to know that her girls appreciate what they have. “We’ve provided a really beautiful, strong life for them, and we’ve worked really hard to do that,” she says of herself and her husband, Chris Henchy. “I watch them look at other people’s lives and think everybody has a life that’s better than theirs. … It still somehow pales in comparison.”
Shields understands where her daughters’ feelings are coming from. “You’re comparing yourself to something that’s not real,” she says. “And that’s what I sort of did my whole life.” Even now, at age 54, Shields isn’t totally free of the voice in her head that says she has to work harder than everyone else, to keep living up to this image of perfection.
When I ask about how she stays healthy these days, Shields tells me that she eats fairly well, and that she’s working out with a trainer for the first time in her life. (Along with, of course, the occasional WarmSculpting treatment.) But then she says this: “I work out a lot [because] I have to. I’m not a petite person. I’m a bigger girl.” (Shields has since clarified that she meant “bigger” as “big-boned and tall.”)
It isn’t necessarily a self-deprecating comment, but it has the lilt of one, and she flashes me a quick look. I must seem a little disbelieving. “Seriously,” she insists. “My whole life.” Later that night, I search for “Brooke Shields.” And then “Brooke Shields bikini,” just to see if I am missing something. But nothing about Shields looked “bigger” to me.
Maybe I’m blowing the comment out of proportion, and it shouldn’t have made me sad to hear it. But as someone who works (maybe a little too hard) on looking a certain way too, I’d secretly hoped that celebrities like Brooke Shields really had that elusive, bulletproof body confidence that always feels a little out of reach. After all, I assumed my own body woes wouldn’t exist if I looked like Shields.
But the truth is, everyone’s renegotiating their relationship with their body all the time — and I can’t begrudge Shields for having hang-ups like everyone else. In a speech to kick off the event, Shields is frank about this. “We all need help having confidence. We just do,” she tells the crowd. “I’ve spent my life trying to gain more of it. … [WarmSculpting] is the thing that actually took me to the next level.”
Brooke Shields isn’t interested in teaching anyone how to have a “perfect” body that you feel perfectly good about. She’s here to shatter the idea that any of that exists, and help you come to terms with that. And, in the end, maybe that’s really what we all need to hear.