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Brooke Shields Talks Beauty, Business, Growing Up in Public and the Power of Vulnerability at SXSW: ‘I Am Woman, Hear Me More’

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Brooke Shields has lived her life in the public eye, and at 58, she has no intention of stopping.

The actor, author, podcast host and entrepreneur is preparing for the launch later this year of Beginning is Now, an online ecommerce health, beauty and wellness platform and social network designed to help Gen-Xers navigate their 50- and 60-something years. Shields journeyed to the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas earlier this month to tout the venture as well as her iHeartMedia podcast “Now What?”

“Every line on my face – I’ve earned them,” Shields said during the freewheeling Q&A held on March 9 with SHE Media CEO Samantha Skey. The 50-minute session was part of the SHE Media Co-Lab installation hosted during the festival by the digital women’s lifestyle brand. (SHE Media, SXSW and Variety share a common owner in PMC).

Here are highlights from the conversation:

I watched your documentary “Pretty Baby” on Hulu. I think of it as yet another example of your willingness to talk about uncomfortable things for the benefit of a larger audience of women and girls. Beauty dropped on you early. It was a big part of what you were told you were.

When you’re born, you look a certain way, right? And so when I was in the cover of Time Magazine [in February 1981] as “The Look Of A Decade”** it was so ridiculous to me because it felt so — I couldn’t understand where that was coming from. It was an arbitrary thing — did God come down and say, “This is the face?” But you learn to navigate it because if you’ve got good people around you, you start looking at it as not something that is your currency but something that, yes, can be used. It was a source of income for my mother and I, but it was also something that I started at a very early age to really associate with wellness. And when I say that, it was the external that was really so focused on. To focus on the internal was what I wanted, and not just health and all that but cultivating my brain, cultivating the things that people couldn’t see. So that I wouldn’t just become a statistic.

Beauty is a form of privilege.

Beauty — it’s not how you look. It’s really how you take care of yourself and what that means to you. You know, I was never the skinny one. I was called “healthy” in my industry, not skinny, and that’s what it was. And when you grow up with that, and you start body shaming because there’s so much that we all experience. My experience was just more public.

How do young women today make sense of your early life?

I have two young women [daughters Rowan and Grier], as we also have to learn from them as well. We have to shepherd them into understanding this is a reality [of aging]. This is what their mother looks like now. This is what your mother is living now. And my older daughter, when she saw the [“Pretty Baby”] documentary, she said, “Mom, women need to see this, women need to see this,” and she was 20. So that was a big deal because she understood what that meant. And you compare that to what’s happened in social media, and what they’re met with every day, and that started a conversation that I would have never had.

RELATED CONTENT: ‘Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields’ Review: A Documentary of Fascinating Depth Holds Our Voyeuristic Image Culture Up to the Light

At the height of your early fame you decided to go to Princeton University. Why?

I knew that I was in an industry where they just couldn’t wait to take absolutely everything away from me. They want to take my identity, they want to take my confidence. They wanted to take my youth, they wanted to every possible thing that they could get their sticky little flypaper hands on. I knew that I needed to develop an opinion and brain and that I needed a family and I needed friends that I could grow with.

How did you come around to the concept behind Beginning is Now?

It’s a community. So it was during COVID and I basically started my version of a blog. It was an online platform to bring together women who I had hoped would be like-minded because I found myself in this era of my life thinking, this is the beginning for me. There’s so much that I’ve done but now I get to focus on myself and I get to try new things. And all of a sudden doors were being slammed. Listen, I get it, in my industry. You’re no longer the ingeneue. But I’m not quite in Depends yet. I mean, I’ll get there, don’t make me laugh too hard. Whenever I have something that happens in my life, I think “This is so isolating. I feel like I’m the only person ever to feel like this, and then I sort of step back and say, there’s no way you’re the only person experiencing this. So I began this community called Beginning is Now.

What was your goal at that time?

I wanted to meet women — fabulous, beautiful women from all over the world – who are saying I’m not quite sure where I am in my life right now. And then we started talking and then I realized there is something here. There is research that needs to be done with them.

And that led you to the role you have now, which is CEO.

My best girlfriend said, “You’ve been a CEO since you came out of the womb.” And I thought that’s sort of true because part of what I realized by starting a business and actually being in this position is how I’ve lived my life. Because I’ve had to pivot and shift and reinvent and when one medium doesn’t want me I try to find another one. It’s this constant shift, and then you get to a point where you realize, OK, I know what I’m good at. But now I need to surround myself with actual industry experts. And that’s what I did. And what has happened is, it’s brought us to this place now which is exactly where I prayed and hoped that we would get because [the community] is continuously growing.

You’ve always seemed to be so comfortable with being vulnerable, including opening up about your struggle with postpartum depression. Is that why people came to Beginning is Now?

It’s a good question because I do think vulnerability is a sign of strength. When you’re someone who has been in the public eye for your whole life, everybody has decided who you are, what you are, what you feel like, what your experience is. And so from a very early age, I realized in order to own my own narrative, which I probably would not have been able to articulate at 11, but to to own my own experience, I had to get ahead of it before anybody else’s opinion [was out there]. And so it was about my saying, “Well, this is something that happened.” Once you say that, you can’t be negated. People can have opinions, but you’ve gotten ahead of it and you’ve owned your story. And so postpartum [depression] was the first thing because I could not believe the misery and the fear and the loneliness and the shame that I experienced. I didn’t understand it. So I started researching. I started learning and when I realized what it was, a very good friend of mine said, “You know, why don’t you write about it?” I said, “I’m not going to be another celebrity getting on a soap box and telling you all my poor experience.” I was like, “I can’t do that.” He said no, but if you share, like you have your whole life, then you’re opening it up for everybody to not feel so alone.

Taking the stigma away.

The interesting thing too is that at this age is we’re not just about menopause. Yes, all of those things are happening and there are things changing. They’re terrifying and they’re embarrassing, but why not talk about it and say “OK, yes, this is a product of being this age. However, it is not only who we are.” … So can we demystify it? Can I as an entrepreneur, as a CEO and as the person who said let’s get this company to find ways to help us do that, to help ease all of it? And to say, this isn’t about trying to look younger. It’s about looking your best where you are, and owning that it’s OK.

What do you think women most need to know about this time of life?

I think it’s about encouraging women to go into this to age, if you will, fearlessly. It means you can let go of things, you can experience new things. The women that I know who are over 40 are very different. And it’s so beautiful to see — we do these group conversations with the community, and it’s wonderful to watch them hold each other up. There’ll be a woman in France, and she’ll be saying, “Oh my god, it’s so great that you did that. I wish I was surrounded by more of these women.” When you start to feel that your little teeny, teeny seeds are growing, when that started to happen in like 2022 I thought, OK, that’s the magic. This is real and I cannot disappoint and I cannot let down or let go because there’s real need here.

Does feminism as a movement play a role in this?

Feminism is a really interesting word. I will say some things to my kids that are the least feminist thing you can imagine. I think true feminism is really appreciating when the value is not just fighting, right? This isn’t “I am woman hear me roar.” It’s “I am woman, hear me more.”

** [Editor’s note: Brooke Shields graced the cover of the Feb. 9, 1981, edition of Time magazine with the coverline: “The ‘80s Look”]

(Pictured: Brooke Shields and SHE Media CEO Samantha Skey in conversation at SXSW)