Brooke Shields on being sexualized as a child star: ‘Hollywood is predicated on eating its young’

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Brooke Shields reflected on being sexualized as a child star in Hollywood. 

The 58-year-old actress rose to fame at the age of 11 when she played a child prostitute in the controversial 1978 film “Pretty Baby,” which featured Shields in multiple nude scenes. As a 10-year-old, Shields posed naked for the Playboy publication Sugar’n’Spice.

On Friday, Shields marked International Women’s Day as she appeared alongside Meghan Markle and Katie Couric on the SXSW panel, “Breaking Barriers, Shaping Narratives: How Women Lead On and Off the Screen.” During the panel discussion, she weighed on the “sexualization” of young women, especially in our country.

“I was at the center of it,” Shields said. “And I was promoting it and I was doing it.”

brooke shields 2023/brooke shields in pretty baby

Brooke Shields opened up about being sexualized as a child star. (Getty)

She continued, “And I was lucky because I was surrounded by a very strong mom. I never did move to Hollywood. I always went to regular school.”

“So I had this sort of community around me that was protecting me, buoying me. And so I did not become the type of statistic that Hollywood created,” Shields added.

“Hollywood is predicated on eating its young.”

brooke shields at sxsw

Shields spoke about her experience while on a panel at SXSW. (Gary Miller/Getty Images)

Shields’ late mother Teri managed her career from the time she made her modeling debut at 11 months old into her 20s and often faced backlash for allowing her daughter to take on racy roles at a young age. Teri died at age 79 in 2012 after a long illness related to dementia.


While appearing on the SXSW panel, Shields also opened up about ageism in Hollywood.

“At 58 you’re too old to be the ingénue but not quite the granny yet,” Shields said.

She continued, “I find my reaction is to instead of get angry, find and ferret out the filmmakers who appreciate a woman over 40 and appreciate the life experience, the ‘we’ve raised the children, we’ve had the families, we’ve had businesses, we’ve had professional lives, we’ve left them, we’ve gone back to them.”

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“There are people out there who want to cater their programming to women of that age.”

“My entire career has been built on beauty, as I’ve gotten older I want my message to be appreciative, but beauty as a wellness,” she added. “We’re not just wrinkle cream.”

“We need to change the narrative and say that there is beauty in this age.”

brooke shields at sxsw panel

Shields appeared alongside Meghan Markle, Katie Couric, Brooke Shields and Nancy Wang Yuen on Friday. (Getty)

Last year, Shields starred in the two-part Hulu documentary series “Pretty Baby, “which took an all-encompassing look back at the actress’s career and detailed the intense media scrutiny she faced as a child star.

In an interview with the Associated Press, the model explained why opening up about her sexual assault by an unnamed industry professional was the most difficult part of telling her life story.

She continued, “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.”

The two-time Golden Globe nominee explained that she developed coping mechanisms to handle the unrelenting press coverage and her late mother’s drinking problem

“I think that happens with a child of an alcoholic,” she told AP.  “You know, you really do learn to compartmentalize.”


She continued, “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.”

Shields also reflected on gaining a confidence in her talent that she didn’t have in her younger years. The “A Castle For Christmas” star elaborated on the meaning behind a statement she makes in the documentary, in which she said she is “owning her identity fully.”

“I made myself small for so long, either to be relatable or to not be threatening or humbled, you know?,” she told the Associated Press.


She continued, “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.” 

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