Beauty pageants were a financial source of completing an education for me and along the way I witnessed all sorts of beauty queens. The ones that always struck me odd were the little girls in party dresses made up to look like grown women like Jon Benet Ramsey. I often wondered what type of message is being sent to these young girls under the age of 10. Did they feel like they were just playing dress up? Did they feel oversexualized? Did they even understand what was going on? What was it like for a young Brooke Shields, who wasn’t part of the pageant circuit, but in a modeling world that had its own set of demons and challenges.
Brooke Shields, ’80s icon and household name, was a child model before she came to prominence in Louis Malle’s controversial film Pretty Baby at age 12. With a series of provocative Calvin Klein jeans ads and leading roles in 1980s teensploitation hits like The Blue Lagoon and Endless Love, Shields’ early career was defined by a sexuality that she could neither claim nor comprehend.
In this two-part documentary, director Lana Wilson reveals Shields’ story while creating space for the adult Shields to share her intelligence, vulnerability, and humanity as she reflects on a career and life, including her complex relationship with her mother, Teri, her marriage to Andre Agassi, relationship with Michael Jackson and her own struggles with motherhood.
That infamous Calvin Klein ad where Shields says, “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins” was actually banned by CBS due to its soft porn nature. Leaving us all to ponder the perceptional ideology of Shields as a child and ultimately an adult who had no control over being the object of someone else’s desire and the stress that comes along with it.
Embracing independence with her thoughts, choices and career seemed to embolden the star and create a path into becoming an authentically unique human being without expectations thrust upon her psyche was the most rewarding part of watching her life unfold before our eyes. It was heartwarming to watch her have candid conversations with her daughters about her work and comical as one of them bluntly stated how she would never watch The Blue Lagoon. She noted that she had no interest in seeing her mother naked – a sentiment most kids have about their parents regardless of fame.
Honest and incisive, Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields critiques a toxic culture and power structure that perpetuates misogyny and is complicit in the sexualization and objectification of young girls. But, above all, it tells the moving story of Brooke Shields discovering and embracing her own identity and agency.